Video: 101st Airborne returning home

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 2/2/2004 8:15:25 PM ET 2004-02-03T01:15:25

Members of the 101st Airborne are coming home. They’re combat veterans now. Their lives have changed. They’ve been gone a year, most of them, and they’ve suffered the heaviest losses of any Army division: 60 dead and hundreds wounded.

They are trickling back, but still, Fort Campbell feels desolate. Because most of the soldiers here — and they are mostly men — are off doing what they train for, what they do for a living: fighting a war.

“You’re on pins and needles 24 hours a day,” according to soldier’s wife Kristine Schroeder.

For every soldier over there, there’s a family over here. They’re waiting for the rest of the 13,000 members of the 101st to come home. “It hits home when you see the pictures of the children,” Schroeder said.

Some of the wives of the 101st told us the most trying time is that moment when word arrives that something has happened — unnamed soldiers, killed or wounded.

What happens then, at that very instant?  “I take a deep breath … breathe, sit, relax, cry. Do what you have to and then if you haven’t been notified in the first 8-12 hours, then no news is good news,” Schroeder added.

But when the news is bad — if one of their own is killed — these women come together and go to work.

It was depicted in the film “We Were Soldiers” — a tight-knit support group of spouses, helping families on the base through the worst possible news.

“You feel so badly for them…. They’ve made a huge sacrifice, and they’re so strong,” said Beth Anderson, wife of Col. Joseph Anderson.

In an Army that loves acronyms, they’re called FRGs, or Family Readiness Groups.  This one is run by the boss’s wife.  Beth Anderson’s husband is the colonel heading up the 101st Strike Brigade in Mosul.  “Without her, I wouldn’t survive,” said Col. Anderson.

The colonel knows that back home his wife is caring for families, visiting the wounded and arranging funerals while raising a family.  “It’s an awesome strain. Plus dealing with separation herself and raising two children,” Col. Anderson added.

“I do ultimately do it for Joe, because I care about him. And it allows him to do his job and it allows other soldiers to do their jobs, to know that they’re secure, that their families are secure,” Beth Anderson said.

“She has sacrificed a lot of family time to just make sure that we’re taken care of.… It’s not her job.  She’s not getting paid to do this,” said another soldier’s wife, Sheila Gervais.

Beth Anderson gets no compensation from the U.S. Army.  “But she’s working very hard to do it,” Gervais added.

And the male soldiers will tell you the same thing.  Three, just back from Iraq, have 22 years service and four Purple Hearts among them.  They share an admiration for the spouses here at home.

“It’s a tremendous responsibility, and they are just as much heroes in this war as the American soldier is,” said Sgt. David Ainslee.

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