SHERERVILLE – Three can be the loneliest number for Stacey Wheatley these days.
Two constants rule her life: One is caring for her spirited 2-year-old daughter Taylor Leona, and son Nicholas Ian, 5 months.
“I am together with them 24-7,” she said recently over coffee and homemade pecan pie in their spotless apartment here.
The other is the ache in her heart for Sgt. Travis Wheatley of the Indiana National Guard’s 113th Engineer Battalion, which is nearing the end of a year in Mosul, Iraq. Sgt. Wheatley’s crew has spent much of the last year riding shotgun for bomb disposal units, dealing with terrorist booby traps.
“I constantly think about it every day,” she said. “There is not a moment during the day that I don’t.”
She is one of 19 wives in the 113th who delivered babies while their husbands were serving in Mosul.
I was embedded with the 113th in Mosul shortly before the baby was born. As her husband’s leave didn’t coincide with Nicholas’ birth date, she e-mailed me asking for a photo of Sgt. Wheatley that had appeared on The Sentinel website. She received one of her crisp soldier in body armor with his assault rifle at the ready and took it to the delivery room. She had it framed and displays it prominently in the living room.
When the baby came, she missed her husband profoundly. “I wish Travis was there for that because that was like the worst day of my life and the best day of my life.”
Nicholas was fine, but there was a big ‘however.’ Her uterus was ruptured. She would not be able to have any more children.
Sgt. Wheatley got to see young Nicholas when he was 11 days old. His wife, still a little shakey from her ordeal in the hospital, greeted him at the airport with a pair of his favorite sandwiches from Munster Gyro.
“He is the greatest father and the greatest husband in the world – the best person they (Sentinel readers) will ever get to know,” she told me. Sgt. Wheatley is thinking about becoming an accountant one day.
The Wheatleys e-mail often. “I do get a phone call every now and then,” Mrs. Wheatley said. “I just got one for my (Nov. 3.) birthday.” But they don’t say much about the danger he faces. “I’m kind of glad that he won’t tell me even if I did ask him,” she said, “because that would make me worry about him even more. If he wants to tell me eventually, after he’s home, that’s fine.”
She has become close with another soldier’s wife. “She and I have talked since they left and I have myself a pretty good friend now for the rest of my life. That’s one person I sometimes do call when I’m getting really irritated or I’m really missing Travis.”
Stacey Wheatley wouldn’t mind having a little more social life. She finds it hard to do the grocery shopping with her kids in tow. Tears flow when she remembers being approached by folks at the store.
“They are like, ‘How do you handle this?’ One lady asked me how I handle my kids. I said ‘I’ve done this for almost a whole year now without my husband ... She said ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ Her and her husband were both like, ‘Tell him that we’re both proud of him, glad that he’s doing that for our country.’ They told me that they admire me for taking care of the kids.”
She agrees with other 113th wives who describe their separation as like being on a roller-coaster. She says she has had more bad days than good days.
“Like, I’ll be okay in the morning and I’ll talk to him (via instant message e-mail). Then, I don’t want to get off the Internet. Then I have to start my day with the kids and I think about it and it’s like all that weighs on my mind is him coming home and what he’s doing and how he is and I think about that all day.
“And then it gets worse when it’s time for them to go to bed because I have more time to myself and I sit there and tend to dwell on it more. And that makes it worse and it’s pretty much like that the whole night.”
Like other 113th wives, she wonders what changes her husband might have undergone after spending so much time nine time zones away in a combat zone.
“We face a lot of big challenges when he comes home, I think,” she said as Taylor bounced around the living room from one toy to another.
“Him being changed – not being the same man he was when he left and I know that – he’s never going to
be the same. That’s a life-changing experience that they go through. I know we’ll never have
that back exactly the way before he left. It don’t work that way.”
Sometimes she gets a little spooked when she comes home. What if one of those government cars is there? The ones with the the grim officers with the grim news about her husband?
Sometimes, she says, she’ll come through the gate into their apartment complex and be especially wary. “Every time I go to the grocery store, no matter where it was I went, I wouldalways think the worst. There is somebody waiting for me when I get home. And that was like the hardest thing to think about when I was driving home was whether or not somebody was going to be there waiting for me or if somebody was knocking on my door and I wasn’t expecting anybody.
“Just who’s at my door? That was the biggest thing.”
The Wheatley’s met via the Internet. Yahoo personals. She was 23. It was love at first sight. That was December, 2000. He came to her graduation from U.S. Navy boot camp in February, 2001. They married in April – the third time they saw each other. Her Navy mess specialist training meant no honeymoon.
She figures she might whip up some of her homemade spaghetti for his first meal home. “He loves it,” she said.
These families hatched while the 113th was in Mosul.
Sgt. 1st Class & Mrs Paul Scott – Twin Boys Staff Sgt. & Mrs Lester McSwain – Girl
Cpl. & Mrs Jonathon Martin – Boy
Spc. & Mrs Byron Chambers – Girl
Sgt. & Mrs Adam Davis – Boy
Sgt. & Mrs Richard Smart – Girl
Spc. & Mrs Luis Jamie – Boy
Sgt. & Mrs Travis Wheatley – Boy
Spc. & Mrs Scott Buikema – Boy
Spc. & Mrs Angel Lozano – Boy
Sgt. & Mrs Jon Pitts – Girl
Spc. & Mrs Thomas Canchola – Boy
Spc. & Mrs Rodney Kreft – Boy
Sgt. & Mrs William Loubriel – Girl
Spc. & Mrs John Koch – Girl
Spc. & Mrs Richard Freeman – Girl
1st Lt. & Mrs Matthew Bisig – Boy
2nd Lt. & Mrs. Elijah Gray – Boy
Source: Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Smith. Some ranks have changed since the births.