While the men and women of the armed forces are fighting the war in the gulf, their family and friends are mobilizing their frustrations and fears into group support.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait occurred on August 2; five days later President Bush ordered troops to the gulf. But until now, no support group existed in this area for people with loved ones serving in the Middle East.
Anne North, a Kansas University senior, said goodbye to U.S. Air Force Capt. John Miller on Oct. 2 as he headed for the gulf to serve aboard an AWACS early-warning radar aircraft. North refers to Miller as her "future fiance."
"We were supposed to be engaged, but all of this halted our plans," said North, 21.
Sending letters and packages was not enough for North. She looked for support to help her cope with her boyfriend being placed in such a volatile and dangerous situation. But she said she couldn't find what she needed because the only people who understood her feelings were people who also had friends or family members serving in the gulf region.
That's why North decided it was time to form a support group. "I felt that by helping others I could help myself," she said.
WHEN NORTH spread the word about starting such a group, Teri Avis contacted her. North said Avis, whose husband is a Vietnam veteran, has a relative stationed in Turkey and was eager to help out.
The two women's initial efforts were very positive. After publicizing the group in the local media, the response was overwhelming.
North said she expects a big turnout at the first meeting, which will be at 7 p.m. today at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 15th and Iowa. The group is non-denominational and North encourages people of all ages to attend.
"I want as many different situations as possible so we can all learn and get through this," she said.
North said she wants the first gathering to be an informal "get to know you" session. After that, she hopes the group will guide itself.
"I will need the group to express themselves and establish a network of support," she said. "Unless you've got someone over there you can't be expected to understand these types of feelings."
NORTH SAID she shies away from being as optomistic as others about how long the gulf war will last. She said the conflict will last months rather than weeks.
"We'll continue to meet every Sunday night until it's no longer necessary," she said.
While North just spoke with her boyfriend on the telephone less than 48 hours ago, Lynsey Moore, another Lawrence resident who wants to start a support group, has been unable to find out anything about her boyfriend, Pfc. John Wales.
Because she is not a family member, Moore said the army will not give her any information about Wales, who drives an armored personnel carrier for "The Big Red One," the infantry division based in Fort Riley.
"I don't think you have to have a marriage license or be a relation to care about someone," Moore said.
FOLLOWING Wales' departure for the gulf on Jan. 7, Moore called Army 800 numbers listed by the media. The frustration resulting from her efforts convinced her to do something.
Moore said her plans for a support group are still in the organizational stage. She believes there are a lot of people who are not family or spouses of servicemen and women who need guidance and support. She wants to form a group to fill that need and provide a forum where anyone, including people whose only link to the gulf is through the media, can meet and share.
One of Moore's ideas for a group project is to barrage the gulf with care packages. She said there are a lot of people serving in the gulf who don't have friends and family to care for them.
"I know they will really appreciate the support. By sending them packages, hopefully we can get their minds off where they are and boost their spirits," she said.
THE DOUGLAS County chapter of the American Red Cross also is organizing a support group for friends and families of military personnel stationed in the Persian Gulf.
Jo Byers, chapter director, said members of the group will learn about Red Cross services. Byers said that people who attend will be able to take advantage of all the services provided, such as counseling or social and support programs.
The Red Cross also sponsors military support groups during peacetime.
The first meeting of the Red Cross group will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Douglas County Senior Center, 745 Vt.
Byers said she would like all the newly formed support groups to consolidate.
For more information about the Red Cross support group, call 843-3550. Anne North can be contacted at 843-0290 for more information about today's meeting, and Lynsey Moore can be reached at 843-3250 for more information about the group she'd like to start.