Jamie McDermott retired his Marine Corps uniform in 2001 after 11 years of active duty. He wanted to raise his children in Juneau and spend more time with his family, so he kept a commission in the Marine Corps Reserves and took a civilian job with the Coast Guard, conducting intelligence work related to homeland security.
He didn't expect to get called up.
"I got a call on my cell phone on my way into work and they said, 'Is this Capt. McDermott?' And right away I knew," said McDermott, 36.
He left Alaska on Monday, but said he could not divulge his destination. He will not go to the Persian Gulf, and is not going to be directly involved in the war in Iraq. But he will be stationed overseas in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, which began with the campaign in Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Left behind are his wife, Laura, and three children ranging in age from 3 to 9 years old. Laura McDermott comes from an Air Force family and spent several years in the service herself. Three-year-old Abigail probably will feel abandoned, Jamie McDermott said regretfully.
"My older two, they're wise to it. But there's no timeline attached to this and that's really hard to address. Dad's supposed to have all the answers and I don't have the answers to this one," he said.
McDermott knows he'll be gone at least a year, but said he has no further indication of how long his assignment will last.
Laura McDermott has weathered long separations in the past, but never this long. She is preparing by resigning her full-time position as a certified nursing assistant at Bartlett Regional Hospital and talking to her children about their father's departure.
"(Nine-year-old Sarah) is really the only one who understands what it's going to be like. I'm just talking to them about how we have to stick together and we'll get through it," she said. "The best thing to do is stay busy and keep the life as normal as possible for the kids."
And while Jamie McDermott wishes he didn't have to leave his family for such a long time, he's proud to serve.
"You buy the ticket, you take the ride. I knew what I was getting into 11 years ago when I signed on the line. It's duty ... and it's meaningful service. It's something that has to be done, so if not me, then who?" he said.
Other Juneau families continue to cope with the lack of news about loved ones in military service in and around Iraq.
Both of Mary Williams' brothers are serving in the Gulf with the Air Force. Joshua Williams, 21, is an airman first class based out of Spokane, Wash. Leslie Williams, 28, is a staff sergeant whose unit is headquartered in Goldsboro, N.C. Both were born and raised in Juneau, and joined the Air Force to make a better life for themselves. Joshua had planned to start college this spring. Leslie has a wife and two children in North Carolina.
But when they got the call to go, they went willingly, Mary said.
"They wanted to do what they had to to make it better for our country, to serve our country and protect us. They weren't thinking about themselves. They were thinking about everyone else they were going to protect, including the people in Iraq," she said.
Their family hasn't heard from them since their deployment.
"It doesn't worry me because I know no news is good news," Mary said.
Juneau resident Cathy Jensen agrees. She hasn't heard from her daughter, 20-year-old Pfc. Moraya Safford Kidd, since she went to Kuwait a month ago.
Kidd is an Army chemical weapons expert based in Tennessee. Jensen sends care packages and letters once a week.
"She was pretty strong and saying, 'I'll be OK,' and then when she got the deploy order she was a little nervous," Jensen said.
Jensen works as a nursing assistant at the Wildflower Court nursing home, and said residents help her keep her spirits up.
"They're always asking, 'Well, have you heard from your daughter?' and 'Oh, we'll say a prayer for her.' It actually helps a lot," she said.
Masha Herbst can be reached at email@example.com.
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