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War moms struggle with pride, anxiety

Two women share thoughts about their children serving in Iraq

The sandstorm that is Operation Iraqi Freedom may be settling, but for local moms whose loved ones remain on duty in the Persian Gulf, the war is still far from over.

Two Portland area moms share the worry and pride they feel for their son and daughter as Mother's Day approaches.

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Decorated with yellow ribbons and with an oversized image of her son Ñ Army intelligence officer Jason Thompson Ñ featured prominently, Judy Cooper's Tualatin apartment leaves little doubt as to what occupies her heart and mind these days.

Thompson, 27, has been in Iraq since November. Cooper says news from her son is rare, given the secretive nature of his work.

'I haven't heard from him,' she says, 'but I know he's safe Ñ bad news travels quickly!'

She says she's growing accustomed to the mix of emotions that comes with being a soldier's mother.

'I go up and down,' Cooper says. 'I have moments of pride and real inspiration knowing that he's living his dream. Jason has wanted to join the Army since college. He's long been inspired by his grandfathers and his stepdad's father, who were all soldiers and fought in World War II and the Korean War.

'But as a mom you're protective of your child no matter what their age. After reading his letters, my impulse is to go over there and get him. But he's 27 years old Ñ I can't tell him what to do anymore.'

Cooper says her son has never shied from challenges. Before his deployment, Thompson was a social worker in Tennessee, employed as a case manager for mentally ill patients.

'Part of his job was to identify potential clients,' Cooper says. 'He used to crawl under bridges to talk to people.'

Despite her concerns for her son, the soft-spoken Cooper has strong opinions about the necessity of war with Iraq.

'I think we're dealing with different values and principles,' says Cooper, whose adopted daughter, Luminita, 13, was born under Ceausescu's regime in Romania. 'Saddam had a choice in this; it wasn't exactly an overnight declaration. There comes a point when you have to say, 'Enough is enough.'

'I'd like nothing more than to live in a world where there's no conflict,' she continues. 'But I also recognize that there are times when you have to make difficult decisions based on the situation.'

Cooper says each day brings a mix of emotions as she wonders about Jason and cares for her daughter and her two other sons, Ian, 18, and Michael, 15.

She says that for Jason, who is married but has no children, there probably will come a time when he feels as she does now.

'I've lived in five countries over the years,' Cooper says, 'and I believe that there are certain principles that exist for parents everywhere. We can all identify very closely with the other parents and families who've learned that a loved one isn't coming home, as well as with any civilians that are harmed. We all want our children to do better than us, to have a good education, and to be safe and happy.'

And even though she doesn't know when her son will return, Cooper says the yellow ribbons won't be untied until that time.

'They'll stay up until he sets foot on American soil,' she says.

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Oregon City resident Candy Schade loves her daughter, Krista Schade, a 30-year-old Marine Corps reservist, but she isn't waiting by the phone to hear from her.

'Excuse all the stuff, but we're getting ready for a Grand Canyon rafting trip,' she says, gesturing toward supplies for the family's two-week outing. 'Her dad (Dave) and I hate to be gone, but Krista can call her grandparents if she needs to.'

Krista, a 1991 graduate of Canby Union High School, is a Portland-based paramedic who was inspired to join the Marines by her father's Desert Storm experience. She was scheduled to leave Camp Pendleton in Southern California several weeks ago.

'The last time I talked to her, she said, 'Mom, I really want to go, but I'm really scared,' Schade says. 'And I said, 'Well, honey, that's normal.' '

Schade says her experience as a hospital nurse helps temper her emotions at this time.

'I have mixed feelings,' she says. 'The part of me that's a nurse is proud of her, but the part of me that's a mom is scared.'

After the publicity over Jessica Lynch's prisoner of war ordeal, Schade was relieved when Krista's duties were moved farther from the front line.

'She was kind of glad when she found out that she wouldn't be up front, and so was her boyfriend,' says Schade, who also has a son.

During the fighting, Krista was an ambulance paramedic, but now that the worst of the war is over, Schade says, her daughter will take on a different role in Iraq:

'She'll probably be a part of the humanitarian aid that the Marines will be doing; I'm sure that they'll be there for at least a year.

'Hopefully she can take this trip with us next year.'

Contact Jill Spitznass atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..