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Hattiesburg American (Hattiesburg, MS) March 30, 2003

Soldiers, families stay connected during war

By Melonee D. Gaines

Technology has made keeping in touch with loved ones overseas fast and relatively easy during the war with Iraq.

Unlike World War II and Vietnam, when mail would sometimes take months to be delivered, some Pine Belt families were able to exchange e-mails instantaneously with their soldiers prior to the start of the war March 19. Families can even watch the war live on TV thanks to satellite communications networks.

"I wish I could tell you what it's like here and to explain the mission we are all aggressively training for but I don't think I could find the words," Beverly Filbey reads from an e-mail from her husband, Sgt. Mark Filbey, who is in the 4th Marine Aircraft Unit out of Belle Chase, La. He left for Kuwait on Jan. 14, and has not been able to receive any e-mails from his wife or their children, Marie, 14, and Chad, 3, although he has been able to send a few.

Marie Filbey sends her father a postcard every day through www.amazingmail.com. This free service allows people to write a message online, and a written postcard will then be delivered to any overseas military address.

In the times they have talked on the phone, Mark Filbey has thanked his family for the mail and said he hopes it keeps coming.

When Filbey was preparing to fly out, Chad told him he did not want him to leave.

"I remember him telling us 'I love you, I'll be OK, and I'll be back soon,'" says Filbey. She and the kids repeat this every night as their mantra and part of their prayer for his safe return.

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Frederick Varnado has received e-mails from his wife, Col. Sheila Varnado, and his daughter, Specialist 4th Class Tenishia Varnado, who are both members of the U.S. 3rd Army. Hearing from them has helped him deal with the stress and anxiety of their separation. The three of them are holding strong to their spiritual beliefs to remain grounded during these trying times.

"Because we are believers, we know that God has given them to serve our nation," says Varnado, the academic coordinator of the McNair Scholars program at the University of Southern Mississippi. "They are prepared and trained well to do their mission."

Prior to the start of the war, Angie Lancaster received an e-mail from her husband, Kenneth Lancaster telling her, "This will probably be my last e-mail for a while."

Her husband is an Army helicopter maintenance inspector, and his unit was about to move. In their last phone call, Lancaster was amazed at his resiliance. "When I fall apart, he falls apart. He said, 'Angie pull it together, hold it together.'"

Hearing from their soldiers helps, but having a support group of others who are going through the same loss and fear also helps, say organizers of a Military Family Support Group started recently by the South Central Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross in Hattiesburg.

"I think those families need to come together and support each other," says Mary Ann Iverson of Hattiesburg, whose husband, E9 Command Sgt. Major Gary Iverson, is in Ft. Stewart, Ga., waiting to be deployed.

Debbie Haskin, an organizer and member of the sub-committee, is married to Sgt. 1st Class Nelson Haskin of the 114th Area Support Group of the Army National Guard. "Through Red Cross, we are trying to set up a one-stop shop of information and assistance for military families," says Haskin.

Haskin says the group is filled with military spouses, parents, and retirees who want to develop a network of support for those families affected by their loved ones' deployment.

On April 4, the support group will host a potluck dinner at the Girl Scout Activity Center, 500 Hutchinson Ave., across from Hattiesburg High School. For more information contact the Red Cross at 582-8151.

Many soldiers are trying to remain strong for their families, even when they are facing combat on the other side of the world.

In one of Mark Filbey's last e-mails before the start of the war, he writes what many soldiers may be telling their families: "We are the closest to Iraq than any unit and we are going to have a vital role in America's success in this war. I'm not worried about my personal safety. I'm a Marine over here doing a job that has to be done."

"I wish I could tell you what it's like here and to explain the mission we are all aggressively training for, but I don't think I could find the words."

- Letter from Mark Filbey, husband and father in the 4th Marine Aircraft Unit

Mark Filbey wrote this letter to his wife, Beverly, and their children.

GRAPHIC: s by ANNETTE KENNEDY Hattiesburg American; Beverly Filbey reads a letter to her 3-year-old son, Chad, from his father, Mark Filbey, a Marine serving in the war with Iraq. In the letter, Filbey writes: "... Tell my little buddy we will make up for lost time and spend many quarters (on the) firetruck at the mall." The letter was written Feb. 14, 2003, from Kuwait. Helpful Web sites; Global Security: www.globalsecurity.org; Provides satellite imagery around the Middle East, maps of the locations of many military units, where loved ones may be located, information on the war in Iraq; Amazing Mail: www.amazingmail.com; Sends real postcards to any address for free; Operation Dear Abbey: www.anyservicemember.navy.mil; Provides online messages and words of encouragement to the soldiers overseas, for any branch; American Red Cross: www.americanredcross.org; Provides supportive information about the war and what to do in times of crisis; other links of interest

Copyright 2003, Hattiesburg American (Hattiesburg, MS)