Juneau parents of soldiers stick close to TV for updates

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

When Linda Rusaw got home from her overnight shift at Fred Meyer early this morning, she turned on the news instead of going to bed. Then she and her husband, Ray, spent the morning attempting to make a still image of their son, 22-year-old Army Spc. Will Rusaw, from a video of his appearance on "Good Morning America" last month.

For a few precious seconds on Feb. 7, Rusaw watched her son and some of his buddies from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division standing on a tank waving Will's Alaska flag.

Will Rusaw has been in Kuwait since September, and that television image plus a few e-mails - the last one came Feb. 23, when Will wished his father a happy birthday - are all his parents have heard of him.

Even so, they are more fortunate than others.

Lisa Viteri slept with the television on last night, hoping to wake up if the 101st Airborne Division, stationed in Kuwait, came on the screen. Viteri's son, Spc. Michael Moniak, 22, is with the 101st. He also recently served in Afghanistan.

A friend had called Viteri on Wednesday to tell her that a large group of men from the 101st had appeared on television, holding up a sign for their parents and their families.

"They yelled out greetings to their families, but I missed it," she said tearfully, her voice breaking. Viteri hasn't heard from her son in three weeks.

News of the U.S. attack on Baghdad put her on edge. She'd like to stay close to the television all day long for updates, but can't because the children in the child-care business she runs command her attention 10 hours a day.

"The only way I can is to peek off and on at the TV in my room," she said.

Linda Rusaw says that, of course, she'd rather see her son home, but she believes in what he's doing.

"I agree with President Bush. Something's gotta be done," she said. "I think the most important reason we're there is to get rid of Saddam Hussein, because I believe he's a big supporter of al Qaida."

Will Rusaw joined the Army in 2000 after graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School. He enlisted for four years, and has been based in Fort Stewart, Ga. He has talked about re-upping for another four, his mother said. After that, he wants to come home to Alaska and become a state trooper.

Though she hasn't spoken to him in several weeks, Linda Rusaw says her son is probably glad he doesn't have to wait around anymore.

"He thought it was justified, that we needed to go in there and take care of business, and waiting around was just a waste of time," she said.

Pat Wheaton's son, Pvt. Patrick Wheaton, is preparing for deployment to Iraq from Fort Polk, La.. She said Wednesday's attack on Baghdad left her unsure about how she feels about the war politically, but it does make her concerned for her son's safety.

"I'm scared to death about him going over, but somebody's children have got to do it," Wheaton said.

Choking back her tears, Viteri said she has to remember that she believes in what her son is doing.

"Everybody wants peace, but those people over there won't allow it, and that's why our kids are there and husbands and everybody that's over there," she said.

She said she is personally saddened by the anti-war protests.

"They're complaining about this happening, but how would they feel, and what would they write on their signs if suddenly we were hearing explosions at our airport and our terminal and our gas depot? They'd be writing something else on their signs, 'Send the Army,' 'Send the Marines!' "

Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.

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