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Front lines of war find way home

Despite worry, spouses, kids, siblings and parents struggle to stay on an even keel

Marianne Donaldson never thought she would be getting married on a military base.

In fact, the catering manager of the Mallory Hotel never thought she would marry a military man. She only started dating Roosevelt Bradley because he was in the Oregon National Guard, not a full-time soldier.

But this Saturday, Donaldson and Bradley will be married at the chapel at the U.S. Army base at Fort Carson, just outside of Colorado Springs, Colo. The wedding will be attended by most, if not all, of the rest of Bradley's guard troop, which is scheduled to ship out overseas in late March as part of the possible war with Iraq.

'I'm very happy and very scared at the same time,' she said.

Donaldson is just one of many relatives of Oregon military men and women who have seen their normal family lives become the first casualties of a war still undeclared.

For many, like Donaldson, it has meant speeding up some events and putting others on hold. For others, it has meant financial worries as well as being both Mom and Dad to children who have no idea one of their parents might be heading into harm's way.

Here are the stories of some of those left behind:

• • •

Missing Daddy

Bradley is leaving more than a bride behind.

Since Donaldson and Bradley met 11 months ago, they've had one son, 11-week-old Jordan. Bradley has an 8-year-old son, also named Jordan, who lives with the family in their Milwaukie home.

'If I didn't have the two kids right now, I'd be going crazy. They settle me down,' Donaldson said.

Despite that, Donaldson has had to make many adjustments since Roosevelt left for Colorado, including taking her new son to work.

'We've set up a bassinet in the office, and the women take turns looking after him,' she said.

Despite the hardships, Donaldson believes Roosevelt is actually suffering more.

'The hardest thing is, he's going to miss the first years of his son's life, and that's really, really sad,' she said.

• • •

Many sacrifices

Tears of frustration and rage well up in Tracy Acuna's eyes when she talks about Portland's antiwar protesters.

'It makes me so mad when they say President Bush is an idiot and military is just his puppet. They don't understand that real people here are making sacrifices to make the world a safer place,' she said.

One of them is her husband, Anthony Acuna, a medic for the Charlie Company of the Oregon National Guard's 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, now training at Fort Carson.

For the past three weeks, problems have been piling up at the Acunas' modest Southeast Portland household. Tracy Acuna, a full-time Portland Community College student, hasn't been able to study. For one thing, she misses her husband so much it's hard to concentrate on school work. She's also busy taking care of the couple's three children: Hayley, 12, Taylor, 4, and Spencer, 3.

The family is facing financial problems, too. Anthony Acuna is an emergency room technician at Providence St. Vincent's Hospital, but since his call-up the family's income has dropped 75 percent. And the bills just keep coming.

'This is 100 times harder than I thought it would be,' Tracy Acuna said.

For one thing, she never realized how much her husband pitched in around the house until he left.

'He works a lot of hours at the hospital, and I always tell him he doesn't do anything around the house, but I didn't realize how much he actually did. He did a lot of little things that really add up, like the laundry, taking out the garbage, keeping up the yard,' she said.

She calls putting the kids to bed these days a 'nightmare.'

'First, they don't want to go to bed. Then they cry for two hours. They say, 'I don't want you, I want my daddy, and it makes me cry,'' she said.

The call-up has even become an issue for Hayley, who attends Kellogg Middle School in Southeast Portland. One morning on the bus, another student told Hayley she thought her father was stupid for being in the military.

'She said my father was too dumb to go to college. I said at least he's smart enough to fight for this country,' Hayley said.

Tracy Acuna called one of Hayley's teachers after learning of the encounter.

'We had a good conversation. I told her there are many of us here in town, and she understood and said she knew the comment was inappropriate.'

Tracy Acuna wishes more Portlanders showed their support for the people like her husband, who may be heading to war. She was outraged when the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution against war with Iraq, saying it was an insult to all the area's military families.

'It just made me crazy,' she said.

• • •

Bills pile up

Reality hit Victoria Lukenovich when her husband, Nikolai, brought home a will for them to sign.

'Until then, it really hadn't sunk in. When I started reading it, I just started crying and crying. I said, 'This can't be happening. We're not going to need this,' ' she said.

Pfc. Nikolai Lukenovich, a member of Charlie Company, brought the will home before flying off to Fort Carson, leaving his family behind in their Troutdale duplex.

Victoria Lukenovich has made many changes since her husband left. Among other things, she has temporarily dropped out of Portland Community College to take care of their three children: Nikolai, 7, and twins Kyle and Caitlyn, 4. She hopes to resume education in the fall when the twins start kindergarten.

The family's income also has dropped. Before being activated, Nikolai worked as a graveyard-shift security guard at Portland Shipyard. Now the family is struggling to get by on his guardsman pay.

'The first check was late, and we couldn't pay all the bills the first month. The gas and electric companies threatened to cut us off. Everything's OK now, but if we have an emergency, I'm not sure what we'll do,' she said.

• • •

Double the worry

Watching the news for updates on the possible war is no casual matter for Kris and Kristine Thomsen, whose two sons are on active military duty in two of the more dangerous parts of the globe.

The Vancouver, Wash., couple's oldest son, 22-year-old Kevin, is stationed with the U.S. Air Force in the fuels and cryogenics unit in Okinawa, Japan, south of South Korea. Twenty-one-year-old Kyle is an interior communications electrician with the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Constellation Ñ one of six aircraft carriers within striking distance of Iraq.

For their parents, that means twice the amount of world politics and news, twice the number of letters home and twice the heartache that comes no matter how many years their sons have been in service.

'It is hard having them be so far away,' said Kristine Thomsen, a legal aide for a law office in downtown Portland.

While Kevin Thomsen has been deployed several times, it's Kyle Thomsen's first time, and the first few months were particularly rough, his parents said.

Even when the ship is in a foreign port, there are long lines at the phones. They last spoke with Kyle on Thanksgiving; missing his 21st birthday last month was difficult, she said.

Kris Thomsen said he has mixed emotions about the war.

'I would hope there could be some more diplomatic ways to take care of this,' he said. 'What the world is waiting to see is what Saddam's going to do. No one really wants war, but sometimes it's necessary for the world as a whole.'

• • •

Uncertainty is certain

Twenty-year-old Jessie Woodrow of Gladstone is playing the odds.

She's hoping that despite the unpredictability of military action and the impending war, her brother will be able to make it home in time for her spring wedding.

'He's a big part of my life,' she said of 19-year-old Brendan Woodrow, a U.S. Navy sailor on the Constellation. 'He's my best friend.'

We're only 14 months apart. I really want him to be able to make it, and we're just not sure he'll be back in time.'

The wedding is planned for May 16, and through e-mails and phone conversations, Woodrow says her brother 'is almost sure' he'll be home in time.

The Constellation left port in San Diego in late October with its 72 aircraft and and 8,800 sailors and Marines. It spent six weeks cruising with its battle group toward the Persian Gulf, where it was scheduled to serve for six months. But nothing is certain.

• • •

Waiting game, war games

Patrick Thompson of Salem said having a son in the military doesn't get easier as time passes.

His son, Rick 'Lucky' Thompson, joined the Navy right after graduating from Oregon State University in 1990. Patrick Thomas chuckled as he recalls that his son watched the movie 'Top Gun' at least a dozen times and aspired to become a fighter pilot.

His dream came true. Thirty-four-year-old Thompson now flies F/A-18 fighter jets with the VFA-151 Vigilantes squadron, based aboard the Constellation. For the past four months, during 'Operation Southern Watch,' his squadron has been playing war games, enforcing the Iraqi Southern no-fly zone and striking targets as ordered.

'We are all getting a little anxious about the potential conflict,' Rick Thompson said via e-mail. 'We hear so much speculation in the news that it's hard not to think about it.'

He has been deployed three times before to various parts of the world, but his father said that this time is different because of world events.

'This is a for-real situation, so to speak,' said Patrick Thompson, a former pilot who flew for Louisiana Pacific for 20 years. 'I'm glad I spent the time with him that I did. Just before he left, I went down and spent a week with him. You take what you can get, when you can get it.'

Contact Jim Redden at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Jennifer Anderson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..