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Coping With the War

Area family members describe their loved ones who are off to war.

With hundreds of loved ones away at war, area churches have been compiling lists of those within their congregation who have been called away. Below are profiles of some of those families who have loved ones serving in the Gulf.

Although Paula Puckett gets messages from people asking if she's discouraged, Puckett has experienced a number of good days since her husband Blake, a reservist, was called away in February. The former missionary said her children, her faith, and her future plans when Blake returns have given her hope.

"I like to look forward to things, so that's been giving me a lot of hope," Puckett, 33, said.

Until this year, the Pucketts were missionaries in Central Asia, working at a humanitarian law firm. Husband Blake decided to join the reserves, after being inactive in the military for four years. He had gone to West Point, and served for five years after graduation.

In January, the Pucketts got an e-mail. He had 72 hours to return to Maryland. His family decided to return to the States too. While Blake Puckett went to Maryland, Paula Puckett and their two daughters moved into her old home in Reston, with Paula Puckett's mother.

"I couldn't imagine staying in Central Asia without my husband," Paula Puckett said.

Returning to the States has been difficult. With her husband gone and her support network far away in Central Asia, Puckett has had to adjust to being a single mother and acclimating herself to living in America. Yet Puckett, a member of Vienna Presbyterian Church, said she's had many good days. She plays with her children and finds comfort from the people who had supported them when they were missionaries. Before her husband left, they often talked about their dreams for the future.

The children have "been laughing a lot, and I've been laughing with them," Puckett said.

Puckett said her husband felt that God wanted him back in the reserves. She herself has mixed feelings about the political perspective of the war, but supports the humanitarian aspect of freeing the Iraqi people from Sadaam Hussein.

"I'm fully supportive of him serving. It was a decision we made together," Puckett said.

Just two days shy of his 21st birthday, Fairfax resident Robert Oakes was shipped out to the Middle East on Feb. 12.

Oakes wasn't new to combat. He had been on the Theodore Roosevelt, the lead ship of the convoy that had bombed Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. The 2000 Fairfax High School graduate joined the marine corps thinking it would give him some direction in life. Both his parents, Jim and Peggy, had also served stints in the military.

Last fall, before Thanksgiving, Oakes and his compatriots were told that they would be on standby. In January of this year, they were told to box up their belongings so they could leave on short notice. His parents recalled when they did move out. Stereos and televisions were lined up on the sidewalk.

"It looked like move out day at the college dorm," Jim Oakes said. "Realizing how young they are, and yet what a terrific job they're doing, it's amazing."

The Oakes get e-mails from their son every few days. When they told him about the snow, he told them about the 50-degree weather in the evenings. With every e-mail, his parents tell him they love him very much, and that they're proud of him.

"You worry anytime your children aren't with you, even if they're in a fairly safe situation," Peggy Oakes said.

Although they don't know where Oakes is, they know he's a jet engine mechanic and plane captain who's responsible for approving aircraft before deployment. Peggy Oakes, a nurse at Fair Oaks Hospital, keeps his picture in the back of her name badge. When patients see it, they ask her about it.

"I have consistently heard, tell him thank you," Peggy Oakes said. "It's really been beautiful."

When Jim Oakes travels throughout the country for his job, he gets the same reaction. His business partner's daughter belongs to a Girl Scout troop who had sent Robert some cookies and letters. One girl wanted to dedicate a song to him on the radio, but she was too young.

"We pray for him a lot," said Jim Oakes, who is a member of Fairfax's Truro Episcopal Church with his wife. "I think it is very helpful and comforting to find people who are supportive of what he's doing...Just being able to talk about him and what he's doing is a real comfort."

Until the war ends, all the Oakes can do is sit and wait.

"There's nothing we can do. It's totally in God's hands," Peggy Oakes said.