MOMS AT WAR; on Mother's Day, with Women Serving Key Roles in the Military, Separated Families Look for Better Days Ahead

Article excerpt

Byline: Dana Treen, The Times-Union

Joella Davis feels guilty about going out for a glass of wine with friends. She finds herself thinking about her mother, who has been serving in Iraq and is there this morning.

"Sometimes I go out and I look around and say, 'Why am I here?' " said the 23-year-old Jacksonville college student. "How is this bettering myself when she is over there bettering a country?"

This Mother's Day, as moms are opening cards and taking cross-country phone calls, Davis is far from alone coping with having a mother who is away serving an increasingly unprecedented role in America's military.

Davis' mother, Naomi Garamonte, is one of 25,000 service women serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Cathy Gramling, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said 18,000 of those women are in the Army. According to the Department of Defense, about 15 percent of all military personnel are women.

About 9,000 of the women serviing in the Iraq theater as of March are mothers, representing 3.3 percent of the forces deployed there. In all branches of the service, about 92,000 women on active duty and in the reserves are mothers, representing 4 percent of the armed forces.

In Northeast Florida, those called include women like Alberta Davis, who was uprooted suddenly from her home in Orange Park and sent to Iraq as a chaplain's assistant, leaving her husband and four children at home.

They are mothers like Stephanie Battle, a career Army sergeant now in Korea.

"When we're on the phone, we don't talk about the bad things," said Battle's 12-year-old daughter, Kiara Battle. A Landon Middle School student, Kiara is with her grandmother until her mother's posting ends in June 2005.

Stephanie Battle's stay in Korea was just extended for a year but not until after a month of uncertainty about her orders. For weeks, the family thought her new post could be Iraq.

"I don't know why they are sending people over there," Kiara said. "All they were doing is dying. That's what I kept thinking about when they kept switching orders."

Worries come with the territory, said Army reserve Maj. Murray Kramer, whose wife, also an Army reserve major and a nurse practitioner, is stationed in Hawaii treating soldiers coming from battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It is a sacrifice," said Kramer, a full-time captain with Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. "There is no question it is a sacrifice. There are a whole lot of people who are dying for what we have and what we stand for."

When their single mother was called up, Davis and her 16-year-old brother, Anthony, moved into a new apartment together. Garamonte shipped out to Kuwait in March and then into Iraq in April.

IMAGES OF IRAQ

The living room is dominated by a widescreen television that lights the space with steadily running CNN images of Iraq, presidential politics and other news of the day. They follow the news more closely now that Garamonte is in Iraq, and issues like armoring on Humvee transports catch their attention.

"When she was in Kuwait, I wasn't thinking about it too much because that's kind of friendly," said Joella Davis, who begins as a junior at the University of North Florida this summer. "I'm just kind of nervous. Really, I'm scared that something is going to happen to her and I won't find out about it for a couple of weeks."

From across the world, Garamonte prefers to reflect on more motherly things.

"My children really are such a blessing," she wrote in an e-mail to the Times-Union. "I do worry about their welfare though. As a parent I guess it is a normal feeling to worry all the time regarding one's children."

Joella Davis said she tries to keep her mother from worrying, and has a new perspective after tackling family finances and issues like insurance.

"I just now seriously understand how hard my mom had it," she said. …