By As told to Alexandra Rockey Fleming
March 19, 2007 12:00 PM

A LAST HUG

(Marine Corps Air Station New River, Feb. 20, 2:31 p.m.)

PATRICIA: I’m proud of Matt because he’s willing to do what he does. It’s like he’s a different person when he puts on that uniform. When I see him in it, I’m just stunned … I knew it’d be hard, having your husband in the military. But I don’t think we ever imagined that in five years he’d be deployed as much as he has. And it doesn’t get any easier. It gets harder.

MATT: My relationship with my wife is very strong. We have spent probably only 2½ years out of 5 together. You’ve got to be strong to do that.

PLAY TIME

(At home, Feb. 18, 5:13 p.m.)

While Matt, a mechanic with the Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, is away—he’s due home in October—Patricia and the boys will go to Ohio, where they’ll live with Matt’s parents, Dale and Debbie Roberts, for a few months.

PATRICIA: Being stationed in North Carolina, we’re away from family and friends we grew up with back in Ohio. It’s easier when Matt’s home. Anything we’re having a problem with, I can talk to him about, and he’ll understand. We’ve just missed a lot with him being in Iraq. He’s missed a lot. Two of Isaiah’s birthdays. My birthdays. Stuff that means so much. Isaiah [on Matt’s shoulders, with Dale and a friend’s child in background] will start preschool in September, and Matt will miss that. I worry about the different ways I discipline and the way [Matt’s parents] discipline. Sometimes I think they’re too hard on the boys; sometimes I don’t think they’re hard enough. I think it’s going to be a little bit confusing for the boys. And sometimes I don’t even have to be thinking of Matt being gone, but if I see Deb crying about it, it’s like you can’t help but cry. If she sees something on TV, or hears certain songs—sappy country songs—she can get upset. I’m the same way.

A CLOSE CROP

(Quality Barber Shop & Styling, Jacksonville, N.C., Feb. 18, 3:32 p.m.)

PATRICIA: We’d been cutting Isaiah’s hair at home, with clippers. One day he said he wanted to go with Matt and get his hair cut like Daddy. Matt goes every Sunday, and now if Isaiah doesn’t go, he gets really upset. They both get a medium reg.

MATT: When I first took him to the barber shop, he didn’t want to go through with it. I told him I would buy him a gumball. I sat him on my lap and kind of talked him through it. Now he sits by himself. I know that Isaiah loves me very much. I can see it in his eyes.

DATE NIGHT

(Texas Roadhouse, Jacksonville, N.C., Feb. 19, 5:30 p.m.)

PATRICIA: The saddest part for me is our anniversary. It’ll be four years April 5 and we’ve only spent one anniversary together. Matt’s not a flowers kind of guy, but if he sees something and thinks I’ll like it, he’ll pick it up. Last time he went to Iraq, they went through Ireland, and Matt got me a pen and other things with clovers. On our anniversary I’ll go out by myself to dinner. The boys will stay with Matt’s mom. I’ll probably go to the Main Street Diner [back in Ohio] because I love it there. I’ll have grilled chicken fillets with mashed potatoes and gravy and breadsticks and iced tea. I will kinda sit there and think about how hopefully next year it’ll be different. He’ll be here.

MATT: I’ll call her. I’ll wish her happy anniversary, tell her I love her and miss her and that I can’t wait to get home to her. That’s about all I can do.

OFF TO WORK

(At home, Feb. 20, 2:11 p.m.)

PATRICIA: Isaiah [in red, next to Joseph, in orange] thinks his father hung the moon. When Matt has to go anywhere, he has to be right by his side. When he wants to go outside or something, it’s Matt he wants out there with him. I know he loves me too, but with Matt it’s completely different. He puts his dad on a pedestal. The boys play soldiers a lot. Isaiah has little military men and Army-men figurines. Isaiah and Joseph will sit there and act like they’re shooting. They’ll both put on Matt’s cammie blouse and his hat and boots and trudge around the house. Isaiah has a plastic toy rifle. They’ll put it up to their shoulders and salute and say ‘Yes, sir!’ and march around. Would I like for them to be Marines? If that’s what they want for themselves.

MATT: I’m sure for any kid this age, their daddy is their idol. I’m kind of uneasy about how this might affect the boys. Just when they get used to me being here, I turn around and leave.

MOUTHS TO FEED

(At home, Feb. 18, 7 p.m.)

Matt’s base salary is $2,171 a month. If he reenlists in December, he gets a bonus of more than $10,000.

MATT: We were not financially ready for a second baby; that right there is enough to put you on the couch in tears. If I do reenlist? It’s going to be hard. She’s trying to figure out how to keep going, take care of the family; I’m over there wondering what’s going on back home.

PATRICIA: I think it would be hardest on Matt because he’d be making the decision for the family. When he deploys, he’s eaten up by the fact that he has to leave.

MAN OF THE HOUSE

(Marine Corps Air Station New River, Feb. 19, 1:30 p.m.)

PATRICIA: After we left Matt, I was crying. Isaiah asked why. I told him because Daddy’s got to go to work and won’t be able to come home. He asked, “Is it my fault?” I told him no. Isaiah said, “Well, I’ll get my car and I’ll go get Daddy.” He said he didn’t want Daddy to work; he wanted Daddy to live with us. And he said he’s going to be a good boy for me until Daddy gets home.

SHIPPING OUT

(On the bus to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Feb. 20, 5:57 p.m.)

MATT: I feel pretty safe at Al-Asad [his airfield in Iraq]. I try not to think about anything happening to me. That causes stress. But I’m not going to say it never crosses my mind. I’m prideful being a Marine; everyone should take the opportunity to serve their country. But this war needs to see an end soon. It’s been going on for a long time now, and I think I speak for a lot of military members when I say we are getting tired.

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