Thursday, March 18, 2004

Soldier's family stoically bore burdens



By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Michele and Morgan Grob are happy to have Mike back home. His absence was hard, but his return required adjustments, too.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
ERLANGER - It is probably good that Sgt. Mike Grob did not know everything that was going on back home while he put in long, grueling days on dusty convoys in southern Iraq a year ago.

It might have broken even as strong a heart as his.

At home in Erlanger were his wife, Michele, and his only child, Morgan, then 13.

What he did not know from the letters from home that occasionally found their way to whatever desert camp or Iraqi town he was in at the time, or from the infrequent chances to make a faint and scratchy phone call home, was just how deeply troubled his daughter was over his absence, just how much weight his wife had to bear.

The two people in the world he loved the most couldn't tell him how much they hurt.

"When I would get a chance to talk to him, I never gave him all the details, of how hard Morgan was taking it,'' said Michele, sitting with her husband and daughter in the living room of their home. "He was already in that awful place. He had so much responsibility. I didn't want to put more on him.''

ONE UNIT, ONE YEAR LATER
Special section home
War just another bend in couple's road to future
Sheriff's deputy gets reacquainted with baby girl
After time apart, family returns to normal
Coming home, changed by war
Finding purpose, perspective
Voices from the survey
Slideshow: A year in Iraq
Six weeks of war: Interactive timeline
Reconstruction of Iraq

When the Fort Thomas-based 478th Engineer Battalion was deployed to Iraq a year ago, Grob went along as supply sergeant for Alpha Company. He is a former Regular Army soldier who enlisted in the Reserves after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

While Alpha Company was logging 150,000 miles in support of convoy operations deep into Iraq, Grob's 13-year-old daughter could be found every night in her room, the blue glow of a TV set seeping through the crack of the door, as she sat transfixed watching the Iraq war unfold on the cable news channels.

She saw it all - the blinding flashes of bomb strikes in Baghdad, the grisly aftermath of firefights, the breathless reports of the embedded reporters racing through sand storms.

"I couldn't stop watching,'' said Morgan. "It was horrible, but I had to look. I was so scared for him, all the time. I was afraid he wouldn't come back.''

Michele, who home-schools her daughter, saw changes in the normally quiet but happy girl. Morgan would burst into tears, often and for no apparent reason. She was short-tempered, irritable. She became nervous, often trembling.

Michele was afraid that her daughter might be having a nervous breakdown.

"I took her to the doctor and he said that it was no wonder that she was having problems," Michele said. "He said, 'Being a 13-year-old girl is hard enough, without having your daddy go to war.' ''

For Michele, there were other problems. A sister was having a difficult pregnancy. Her father, Bob Gambrel, who lives next door with Michele's mother, Lana, was diagnosed with cancer.

"I felt like I had the whole world crashing down on me,'' Michele said.

She would parcel out the information carefully to her 35-year-old husband, not telling him the whole story.

"I really had no idea what was going on,'' said Grob, who works as an environmental technician in his civilian job. "I knew something was up, but I didn't know half of it. People call us heroes, but the real heroes were the people back home. Like Michele and Morgan.''

Even after Grob and the rest of the 478th returned in late July, it took weeks for family life to return to normal.

There were, says Michele, "a lot of awkward silences."

"In the back of my mind, I wondered if he had changed," Michele said. "I kept asking myself, 'Will he like the same things he liked before? Should I ask him about what he did or should I just not talk about it?' It was hard to know what to do."

For Grob, moving from "Army mode" back to family life had some difficult moments. One summer night, he and his family were at home when, down the street, a neighbor started shooting off fireworks in his front yard.

"I heard this 'pop, pop, pop' and I dove; I hit the deck," Grob said. "For a moment, I was back there."

Even, now, eight months later, there is still some uneasiness - Grob has another five years on his current enlistment. Not a day goes by that Morgan doesn't think about her father having to leave again to go into harm's way.

"I don't want him to ever leave again," said Morgan, smiling at her father sitting on the other side of the living room. "I just want us to be together."

Email hwilkinson@enquirer.com




TOP STORIES
He was too good to be true
Alert gambler ended the hunt
Critics: Mentally ill shouldn't have gun
Soldier's family stoically bore burdens
Road work affects 10 spots
Women's heart risk higher
State gives Mason 34 acres

IN THE TRISTATE
Batavia's levy victory called model for schools
Two indicted in child-related incidents
Lost people, lost jobs spur business study
Driver guilty of dog distractions
Empire fiasco's principal sues city
Frailey looks at costs and returns
Franklin wants community groups to save activities
Popular bar faces crowding charge
55 school districts to take part in job fair
Luken pushes tax breaks for LabOne
Residents could owe city taxes
Packages keep coming
Sewers inadequate for proposed houses
Pool hours, parks funds cut by Mount Healthy
Neighbors briefs
More fixes for charitable gaming statutes
Oxford argues who can write tickets
Robotics used in prostate surgery
'Forum' and 'Birdie' among musical choices
Public safety briefs
News briefs

ENQUIRER COLUMNISTS
Bronson: Whose idea was it to hire these people?
Crowley: Surprisingly, redrawn district gives Democrat the advantage
Good Things Happening

LIVES REMEMBERED
Francis Williams served the poor

KENTUCKY STORIES
First Baptist ousts its dissidents
Church in pain seeks healing
CovCath gets loud sendoff
House balks at Fletcher plan
TV ex-anchor testifies in soldier's case
Chase leaves wreck trail
Teen center opens today