The Choice: Her Country or Her Children

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laura fears her husband will die in the Persian Gulf, where he's been for five months.

She fears she may die there too, if she's forced to go.

She fears for her children, ages 7 months and 2, already affected by their father's absence and their mother's fragile emotional state:

"My 2-year-old doesn't understand. All he knows is daddy is gone, and asks for him every day. He's regressing, crawling on the floor like his baby brother. If I went away, it might do damage that would last his whole life."

Most of all, Laura fears what she is about to do: If a letter comes telling her to report for active duty, she will not go.

Laura, who doesn't want her real name used, isn't a troublemaker: "I am doing this within their guidelines, trying to put a more comprehensive case of hardship before them so I can be released."

But she will not leave her children voluntarily. "This is America. It sounds so cliche, but I can't believe they want me to choose between my country and my children. Especially when their father is already at war."

Laura is 28. She was single with no dependents when she joined the reserves in 1985. She married and had her first child in 1988.

"When I had my first child, I asked personnel how I could get out of the military," she says.

"Then I had complications with my second child and was on medical leave of absence when I heard about Desert Shield."

Laura says she was told by a Navy personnel chief that only one parent would have to go.

Even so, she started paperwork for a hardship discharge.

Laura's husband, also a medical technician and in the same Navy unit as hers, was notified of his impending call-up, but "we were confident about me," she says.

Her orders to report for active duty came the same day as his.

"I didn't just cry. I got hysterical. He's got orders; I've got orders. It didn't make sense. It had to be a mistake," she recalls.

She rushed to the reserve center and was reassured that the mistake would be fixed.

"We thought it was taken care of. A day before mobilization, after all that reassurance, I was told I would have to go the next day anyway," she says.

Later, halfway through a special review-board hearing, she was told her unit had been changed, that she was free to go. She has not heard what her new unit is. Laura has contacted a lawyer and is trying to get a hardship discharge.

But every day she fears word that her new unit is going to the Persian Gulf. And that she must go with it.

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