Military Families Deal With The Heartache Of Being Apart

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When the five o'clock hour rolls around and other husbands are getting home from work, Katie Gnagi is feeding her two-week-old son, Kyle, alone. Across town, Jessica Weinland, is deciding what to feed herself and 10-month-old daughter, Hailey. She is also alone.

They aren't single moms. They married men who are currently deployed with U. S. military forces in Baghdad, Iraq -- each with a month tour to complete.

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Joshua and Jessica Weinland with their daughter, Hailey. A picnic to celebrate Joshua Weinland's short leave from Iraq will be at noon Saturday, May 27 at Green Valley Park.

"Missing my family, that's the toughest thing about being deployed," Army Sgt. Joshua Weinland said. He is a line medic and is responsible for the health and well being of a platoon of 34 soldiers with whom he patrols southern Baghdad.

Joshua was deployed when Hailey was just four months old.

He is back in Payson for a two-week leave, getting reacquainted with the daughter he has only seen in photographs and by Web cam the past six months.

"She cried as soon as he went to pick her up, but she has warmed up to him now," Jessica Weinland said.

When Joshua was stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky. they could handle the daily challenges of a new baby, insurance and things that crop up, but having her husband in another country is a different story.

"It can feel like being a single mom sometimes," she said.

She moved to Flagstaff to be with her mom and siblings and have the support of family around her. E-mail, instant messaging and prepaid calling cards have made communication between families and deployed loved ones "instant" compared to the hand written letters of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

It is one of the things that helps keep the couple's long-distance relationship thriving.

"I hate e-mail even though she likes me to send it," Joshua said. Jessica said calling is expensive, but Joshua loves to hear his wife's voice on the phone. He still remembers when they first met and how they fell in love.

"I was riding my bike to school one day and saw her," he said. "The kid I was with liked her but I told him it wouldn't be long before she liked me." He was a freshman at Payson High School and Jessica was an eighth-grader at Rim Country Middle School. The two dated on and off through high school and were married Dec. 23, 2002 when he returned to Payson from boot camp.

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National Guardsman, SPC Will Gnagi, with his wife, Katie, and their new baby boy, Tyler.

Will Gnagi met Katie Davidson while he was training with the National Guard at Camp Navajo near Flagstaff.

"I was kind of shy so it took me a few days to ask Katie out," Will said. He said he knew from her laugh and her smile that she was the one for him.

"I've found my soul mate and I am lucky to have found someone as perfect as her," Will said.

The couple has been married for eight months but only lived together for three of them because Will was deployed to Iraq as an SPC, a specialist attached to Special Forces in Baghdad. He is an ammunitions handler responsible for inventorying the weapons Iraqi soldiers are issued for training.

"Mail takes from three days to a week between the states and Baghdad," Will said.

"I send him lots of care packages," Katie said. "I send homemade cookies, stuffed animals and CDs."

Between care packages, Katie and husband Will send a lot of e-mails.

He has told her about having fun playing soccer with some of the Iraqi soldiers, drinking the chai tea and eating the flat bread the Iraqis make that he likes, and riding in a convoy. He has driven once, but is usually turret gunner.

"I don't interact with people but I have seen Iraqi children wave flags and make peace and thumbs-up signs as the convoy goes by," he said.

For her part, Katie sent him updates on her pregnancy with hopes he would make it home in time for the birth of his son.

Will arrived in time to be in the room while Kyle was born, May 10.

Will has not decided whether he will transfer to the Army when his tour in the Guard is up and commit to a military career. He would like Katie to stay home and raise their son. The family is discussing options.

Joshua plans to stay in the Army and go back to school to become a nurse. Once he becomes a nurse, he can also become a commissioned officer.

Joshua, Jessica and Hailey and Will, Katie and Tyler have a few more precious days of leave together before they face, respectively, six and 10 more months apart.

A picnic is being held to celebrate Joshua's short leave at noon Saturday, May 27 at Green Valley Park. Jessica and her aunt, Debbie Kelly, are hosting the event.

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