Families of deployed Red Bulls miss loved ones during holidaysby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Kesson, Minn. — Margarita Wunderlich struggles to keep busy, hoping that work, school and her household routine will fill the empty space in her life.
Her husband, Specialist Brian Wunderlich, is among the roughly 2,700 members of the Minnesota National Guard on duty in Kuwait until May 2012, even though most U.S. combat troops left Iraq last week.
To help bide the time until he comes home, Margarita Wunderich helps her son with his homework and sends her husband two care packages a week with pictures and candy.
But Wunderlich said she underestimated how hard the quiet moments would be without him.
"I thought, 'you know, it's a deployment, I can handle it. I got it, we're good. And keep on going,' " she said. "Ah, no. I was wrong. I was way wrong. It's been hard. Thanksgiving was really hard."
Wunderlich said her 9-year-old son Joseph cried for about three hours after talking to his step-father on Skype that day. She cried, too.
"I think that's the hardest," she said of the holidays. "You have to find that strength. Do not show weakness. You have to be the strong one. But that doesn't always work out."
Eight months ago, Brian and Margarita Wunderlich scrambled to plan their wedding before Wunderlich left for Kuwait.
At the time, they described their decision to marry as an emotional decision, but also a practical one. It would allow Margarita to handle the couple's finances.
"I want to be married before be leaves because it's almost like a form of sealing the deal. You're complete," she said then. "I wanted him to know before he walked out that door that I'm committed to him. And I think that just makes him feel better because it is scary."
The Wunderlichs married in a small white sanctuary near Kasson on a Saturday morning. About 30 friends and relatives showed up for the ceremony. A few months later, Brian Wunderlich headed for Kuwait with the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division.
His wife said having the wedding before he left the best thing she could have done.
"The communication has brought us closer," she said. "As bad as it sounds, we're sort of stuck together. And we made a vow and it's been hard, but we always try working together on it so it's never easy, but we have this bond... It changed us a lot. It almost matured us as a couple more."
But staying in touch isn't easy. At dinner time, as Wunderlich checked on a pot roast, she kept her open laptop next to the stove. She frequently logs on to Facebook, Skype and email.
When her husband isn't on his computer, she tries to track him down through other soldiers who are, sometimes enlisting their support with offers of banana bread.
"Two minutes later Brian will get on Skype and say, 'whadya want?' "I'll be like 'Hi, love you,' and all you hear in the background is, 'I got banana bread,' she said, laughing. "So it's sort of funny."
Funny, but that's how Wunderlich has learned to cope while her husband is away.
It'll be at least another six months before the family is back together again.
- All Things Considered, 12/29/2011, 3:24 p.m.