As Brian Williams has been reporting all week, the situation in Iraq is changing in some ways, but it's still violent and unpredictable, with President Bush's troop increase in its early stages. In a continuing series we're calling "On the Line," NBC's Mike Taibbi is following members of the Third Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, 69th Regiment to Iraq. Here, Mike reports from Fort Benning, Ga., as the soldiers — and their families — prepare for deployment.
COLUMBUS, Ga. — We're at the last "family readiness group" meetings before heading over, and in this atmosphere of such charged intimacy, reality is on the agenda, too.
Capt. Jim Browning provides information for pregnant wives and briefs the group on what happens if an injury or fatality occurs.
Listening carefully and taking notes is a young wife and mother named Kaylee James. Her 19-year-old husband Josh is about to leave her and their son Aaron for the family's first experience of war.
"It's really scary at points," she says.
Scary for Josh's mom Carrie, too, with her idea of how to get through his deployment.
"Turn off the TV, for one thing," she says.
Thought there are few laughs for Kaylee, a young mother in a new house with a husband leaving for a year.
"It's going to be hard with him being gone," she says, "missing a lot of what Aaron will be doing."
Josh, like his fellow soldiers after months of training, doesn't want to leave but says he's ready.
"I wouldn't consider myself a hero, I would consider myself someone who had the guts to volunteer," he says. "You know, somebody's got to do it."
For Spc. Juan Delgado and his fiance Estafania Lopez, Delgado's second tour in the war zone has them worried about whether they'll survive it — as a couple.
"I go over there and I fight," he says, "and it's not her decision. I made it, and I'm hurting her."
"It's hard," says Lopez, "[I] don't know how it's going to be when he goes back."
"It's hard, it's hard for our relationship, man," echoes Delgado.
War does change you, says Iraq war veteran Capt. Alex "Pancho" Perez-Cruz, because there it's mission first, and family — even his precious Jennifer and Lucas — second.
"That may sound a little bit heartless, but it's not heartless because that's what keeps you alive," says Perez-Cruz.
Jennifer understands that, but of course she still worries.
"It's right up front with me every day, you know, wondering when I don't hear from him, if he's OK," she says.
So while the soldiers serve, their families at home will wait.
"I don't really want to know the details," says Kaylee James.
They just want it to start and end so they can all be whole again — families again.
Love and pain — opposite sides of the coin of war.
Mike Taibbi will travel with Pancho, Josh, Juan and the 3rd ID to Iraq, telling their stories and their families' stories, in his continuing "On the Line" reports for NBC News.
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