by Kenneth Todd Ruiz
Editor in Chief
Rebecca Cote is your typical over-committed, over-achieving University of La Verne student. As a senior journalism major, she is busy with a full load of classes, including editing the La Verne Magazine and finishing her senior project.
But unlike most college students, her thoughts are often continents away.
Rebecca is also a newlywed, and her husband of five months, Shawn Cote, is a Marine currently operating in the embattled city of Fallujah in Iraq as part of U.S. efforts to pacify the city.
“He can’t tell me exactly where he is, but he drops hints that make it clear,” she said.
In the three years since they met, Shawn has spent more time abroad than at home. First in Afghanistan as part of “Operation Enduring Freedom” and then in Iraq for “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
These names define chapters in their relationship and her life.
After Shawn returned from Iraq in September, the two married. Before the year was out however, he received new orders. He would be going back. Rebecca darkly refers to this as “Operation Iraqi Freedom Two.”
“He was promised he wouldn’t have to go,” she said.
“Just as he was settling in and stopped having nightmares, he received his orders.”
In what has been the deadliest month for U.S. forces since entering Iraq last March, marines like Shawn, who is based out of Camp Pendleton, have faced off with insurgents in the Sunni stronghold after four American mercenaries were killed there at the end of March. More than 100 soldiers have been killed in Iraq so far this month.
As she speaks, her mobile phone is laid carefully out in front of her. For Rebecca, is not ever a question of remembering to bring it.
It is how quickly she can get to it.
“I’m the biggest spaz,” she said. “If I go inside somewhere and there is no service, I get out as quickly as possible. Every time it rings I stare at the caller ID and my heart stops beating for a moment.
“I hope and pray it’s him, and when it is, I am so grateful. And when is not him, I get so depressed.”
Rebecca said that their contact is irregular. He had his own mobile phone in Kuwait, but they were not allowed to take them into Iraq. Shawn, a truck master in the 1st Force Service Support Group, calls when he has time and can get access to a satellite phone.
“They have lousy reception,” Rebecca said. “If any bombs are going off, you can’t hear a thing and the conversations can be very short.”
Some weeks she speaks to him three or four times, but when he is on the road, on a mission, she can go days without hearing from him.
Danger is never far from any marine in a combat zone, and with regular attacks on vehicle convoys, Shawn’s responsibility for his battalion’s vehicles worries Rebecca.
“The people getting killed and kidnapped are from these convoys,” she said.
She said it is better for her sanity not to follow the news.
“I go on the Camp Pendleton Web page to find out who died that day,” she said. “I check Yahoo! News, but that’s it. It’s amazing to me that what the media reports and what the military reports are entirely different things.”
She said that despite media reports of quiet in Fallujah during what is being called a cease-fire, military Web sites such as Camp Pendleton’s describe ongoing violence.
“He tells me not to worry and that everything is okay, but I think he says it as much for him,” she said.
But life has to be lived, and for Rebecca that means immersing herself in school. Shawn is only paid around $20,000 a year for serving his country, and the two hope to purchase a home eventually.
“It’s a lot to deal with,” Rebecca said. “But I’ve always been one of those people, the more I’m overwhelmed, the better I do with things.”
She find support through friends of hers with husbands deployed overseas, and distracts herself by taking brush to canvas.
“I oil-paint to take my mind off of things,” Rebecca said. “I promised I would make him a painting while he was gone.”
Despite claims that the military presence will be scaled back after the transfer of power back to Iraqis in nine weeks, she said Shawn is not scheduled to return home until October.
“He may stay longer,” she said.
“I don’t really agree with us being over there, but he tries to reassure me that he is doing a good thing. Shawn has a sense of duty to his job, and even more so, to the men in his unit.”