Wives remain alone

The NAS Whidbey-based crew of Prowler squadron VAQ-139 will return to a heroes’ welcome. They just don’t know when.

The “Cougar” squadron is stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which has been ordered to return to the Persian Gulf for an indefinite period of time.

The carrier had been scheduled to return to base at Everett in mid-January, and families were preparing for the homecoming. Instead, they are preparing for what could be a long wait.

“It was not a huge surprise,” Sandi Pollpeter, wife of the squadron’s commander officer, Scott Pollpeter, said.

With the impending showdown with Iraq dominating the news, she knew the deployment extension was a possibility.

“I can put two and two together,” she said.

After days of rumors whirling, the families got the official word New Year’s Eve. Pollpeter was able to switch gears quickly, from planning the squadron’s homecoming to calling all the officers’ wives. Then the wives went on with their planned New Year’s Eve party.

“We made a toast to the Cougars,” she said. “I’m so proud of the wives for keeping on schedule. They understand the sacrifices they have to make.”

Dawn McElroy, wife of crewman William McElroy, spent a quieter evening.

She had talked to her husband aboard the ship earlier in the day. She said the conversation was casual, and he was anxious to come home to his wife and two young children after six months away.

Later, she was shocked to learn he would not be home soon. Her main concern was how the kids were going to take the news. She was also concerned about the morale of the crew, as their routine on board the ship can get boring.

Pollpeter said her husband had reported that the morale on the ship had actually improved with the news.

“They’ve made a 180-degree turn,” she said. “They’re pumped.”

McElroy put the kids to bed and watched Seattle New Year’s Eve celebration on TV with her mother.

Although this is the first time either wife has faced the spectre of war, they remained upbeat.

“I pray for his safety,” Pollpeter said, “but I always have. To allow fear into my mind is not an option. I’d go crazy.”

“My husband always says he’s in one of the safest places he can be — on board a ship, launching planes,” McElroy said. “I’m confident that he and all the Cougars will be safe.”

“My husband says he feels safer in the air than on the highways,” Pollpeter added.

Advances in communication have made the separation easier than it once was. The families are able to keep in almost constant e-mail contact, and phone about once a week.

McElroy said her husband sends personal e-mails to their son, which helps keep them connected. The Lincoln crew has also had several video teleconferencing sessions, in which the crew members get 10 minutes of private time with their loved ones.

Pollpeter said the Navy has come a long way in the 13 years she’s been a Navy wife.

“The Navy is really good about remembering the families,” she said. “They know if they support us, there is less for our spouses to worry about.”

Both wives said the hardest part is not knowing how long their husbands will be gone.

“You just can’t think about it,” Pollpeter said. “You’ve got to go on with your own lives.”

Pollpeter, a 13-year Navy wife, said she gives all Navy wives one piece of advice: “Make a life of your own.”

She works part-time as a hairdresser, while McElroy is a full-time stay-at-home mom. Either way, their main goal is the same: to provide support for their men.

“We can take care of business here,” McElroy said, “We want them to know we support them fully.”

Until the day they can hang the homecoming banner, they will continue to do that in any way they can.

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