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Sending a Son to War: A Mother's Story

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2003 – It wasn't easy sending her only son off to war last February, Nancy Fowler admits. And it's no easier now that he's home, knowing that his unit, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, is preparing to return to Iraq again this time, for a full year.

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Nancy Fowler hugs her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Gregory Smith, at Reagan National Airport in Washington after his return home from Iraq. Courtesy family photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

But Fowler, an administrative assistant for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration here has learned to rebound gracefully from life's curve balls. A two-time cancer survivor, she's come to terms with the fine line between sickness and health and life and death.

And she said the same old-fashioned values that gave her strength through her personal ordeal sustained her during Marine Lance Cpl. Gregory's Smith's nine- month deployment to Kuwait and Iraq: faith in God, country and family.

Fowler said she drew on that faith constantly through the first days, then weeks of the war, when she waited six weeks before receiving her first letter from Greg, written five weeks earlier. "It was so hard watching the nightly news and wondering where that angel was and if he was okay," she said.

But as she waited, Fowler exuded an unfaltering confidence in her son, his unit and the U.S. military as a whole. She told her friends and coworkers how proud she was of her son and how committed he was to the mission at hand.

What she didn't so readily share were those isolated moments when she'd slip away from her desk at work to release tears harbored inside from within the private confines of a bathroom stall. "You look to others to help you, and they're very supportive," she said. "But I also learned that sometimes you have to ask for their help when you need it."

When the first letter from her son finally arrived, Fowler said she felt "a tremendous sense of relief," then a deep-seeded pride. "Greg showed that he had his head straight on his shoulders, that he was thinking positively and that he was dwelling on the task at hand," she said.

Greg wrote in later letters to his mother how touched he felt when infantry soldiers told him that the work he and his fellow Marines were doing -- maintaining Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicles that provided the "eyes in the sky" to root out enemy threatswas "helping to save so many lives."

"This is exactly where I need to be at this moment at time," Greg told his mother during their first phone conversation, five months after he deployed from Twentynine Palms, Calif. "I'm trained, focused and honored to be a part of this effort!"

Throughout his deployment, Greg's letters revealed that he was "always very proud of what he was working toward and of being part of a team," Fowler said.

Greg's unit returned home in late September, then learned less than two months later that his unit is slated to return to Iraq in late January or early February. But Fowler said she hears no grumbling. "He tell us that he's been thee and he's ready," she said. "He remains positive, focused and honored to continue to play a role in Iraq's fight for freedom."

Fowler admits that she's the one struggling with conflicting emotions about her son's upcoming deployment. But she said she draws tremendous strength from a realization that came to her during Greg's first deployment to Iraq.

She said and her husband Ed had been trying to send daily letters "to be cheerleaders and encourage Greg with our words of wisdom," she said. But one night, the words simply wouldn't come.

"I humbly realized that I was not the wise one," Fowler said. "My usual words, to focus on the task at hand, say his prayers and remember that he was a child of God seemed so empty."

Fowler said she realized that her son had faced experiences through the military and Iraq that she could barely imagine and that along the way, he "had become a man."

"My letter that evening was simple," she said. "I told Greg that I loved him and was honored to be his mother."

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