Wife copes with her husband's return to Iraq

By Reggie Ellis

Fighting the war on terrorism has taken its toll on the American soldier and, maybe even more so, the families they must leave behind.

After graduating from Exeter Union High School in 1991, Lisa Estrada fell in love with U.S. soldier Eddie Bryan Rojas. In October they will have been married for seven years and now have three daughters -- Shaianne, 10, Chelsea, 5, and Maria, 3. Eddie, now a staff sergeant in the Army, returned from a 13-month tour in Iraq in March. Lisa said the family took some vacation time and spent the last several months together. But the pain of separation and anxiety of family hardship will return as her husband returns to war.

"You are always thinking in a worst case scenario, because you know people who have gone through that," she said in a phone interview from Ft. Lewis in Washington state.

Living on one paycheck, taking care of three daughters and managing a home without a husband is a daily battle in itself. Lisa said their three daughters often ask "Where is daddy?" and "When will he be home?" There is also the sleeplessness nights of worrying that any family member of a soldier must endure.

"We stopped watching the news altogether," she said. "Even when he comes home I still don't watch it and I don't bother with newspapers. It is just too difficult."

Lisa said she takes full advantage of support groups for spouses of soldiers and has the benefit of her parents living close by. Her parents, Stephanie and Raymon Estrada, moved from Exeter to the outskirts of Tacoma, Wash. to be closer to their daughter and her family living at Ft. Lewis in Puget Sound, Wash.

"You have to be an independent person," she said. "You can't freak out about things. One of my neighbor's husbands was deployed for the same time and she had trouble managing everything on her own."

Lisa went through training to be a Family Readiness Counselor at Fr. Lewis. After a few classes, she was a leader for the support group that helps spouses and families cope with finances, questions their children may ask, and what to do if the unthinkable happens.

"You have to know what you are getting into," she said. "Being a military wife is different than being a civilian wife. Fortunately I have an awesome husband who makes it easier. But the worrying never gets any easier. Mostly you worry about him being over there," she said. "You keep thinking that a general is going to knock on your door or waiting for the phone call no one wants to get. You often feel like that everyday, all day long."

Lisa said dealing with the emotions of another tour in Iraq will be difficult and is one of the reasons her husband turned down a mid-tour opportunity to return home for a little R&R.

"He is an awesome person and soldier," Lisa said.

Staff Sgt. Rojas was in charge of 21 soldiers in Iraq. For his bravery and leadership he has received the Bronze Star, for his leadership when an Army convoy was attacked by Iraqi insurgents using IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and several soldiers were killed; the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award, named for the most highly decorated U.S. soldier of World War II; and an Outstanding Non Commissioned Officer award.

"I just wanted to brag about him for all the great things he has done," she said. "You always have to support our troops even if you don't agree with the way. It isn't there decision to be there. It's their duty."

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