Claire and Richard Crawford at the Atlanta airport recently as Richard returned to duty in Afghanistan. Claire Crawford works at her family's restaurant in Conyers while continuing her college studies. Richard, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, has also served in Iraq. The couple was married in Conyers in August 2010.
As a 22-year-old member of the home front, newlywed Claire Crawford lives with the unrelenting anxiety of knowing her husband is in harm's way each day with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Details of his responsibilities are off the record; his unit cannot be mentioned for security reasons; his location undisclosed. What is known is that her husband, 26-year-old Army SSG Richard Crawford, is serving his third tour in Afghanistan after three previous tours in Iraq.
Claire graduated from Young Americans Christian School on Honey Creek Road in 2007 before attending Columbus State University to study Health Science.
"I met my husband on a blind date," she said. "He was a ranger at Fort Benning and we hit it off from the start."
The couple dated for two years and married in August 2010 at the First Baptist Church of Conyers.
"We're planning to have kids later, and Richard said he'd love to have five sons," she said. "It sounds like my husband wants to start his own basketball team."
Claire experienced her first deployment as an Army wife in October, 2010. "We arrived in Baumholder, Germany, and took a bus to the base. While we were taking our baggage off the bus Richard was told he'd be back in Afghanistan within two months.
"My first emotion as an Army wife was 'fear.' Fear of the unknown," she said. "My husband lost his best friend, James Regan, in 2007 when they were fighting in Iraq. James was engaged to be married. That really hit home. Things like that are really hard to absorb."
Claire returned home one week after her husband's deployment to Afghanistan to continue her education at Columbus State. While tending the home front, she's been told to take one day at a time.
"That's not what military wives do," she said. "We take life minute by minute. I cringe with fear when the phone rings, and I'm nervous if I hear a car door slam thinking this could be the dreaded knock on the door."
Being an Army wife changed Claire.
"I was always smiling in high school; life was undemanding of emotions," she recalls. Now, I question the big things in life, like the future, more deployments for my husband, and why I feel so vulnerable."
After a pause, she continued, "I dream of being in the same room with my husband, but I can't. Life can be fairly predictable before you marry a soldier, but after 'marrying the Army' everything changes on a daily basis. That's vulnerable."
To occupy her time and thoughts between studies, Claire works at the family business, Glenn's Bar-B-Que in Conyers. Her grandmother, Jean Yontz, owns the business.
Claire recalls one day at work she'd like to forget. A customer complained because Claire was not punctual in service. She apologized, stating another customer had asked about her husband serving in Afghanistan. The man replied, "Congratulations, so does that qualify you for an award or something?"
Claire said, "I didn't let him see me, but I went to the kitchen and cried my eyeballs out."
An excerpt from a letter Claire wrote on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the many sacrifices by the men and women of our armed services in the years that followed 9/11 reads: "I hurt for the families left behind. I hurt for those who have an empty seat at the dinner table, where a loving mother or father, or a sister or brother, once sat. I hurt for the wife who has to go on without her beloved; the one she was supposed to grow old with. I hurt for the children who lost parents, and who forever will wonder why mommy or daddy is gone. I hurt for the soldier who misses the birth of his baby; and I hurt for the spouse who says 'goodbye' to their soldier, their love, their life, not knowing if they will return."
Claire is emphatic. "My husband protects you and me without complaint; fights for the rights of others, and loves his country. He is my hero."
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran and author of "A Veteran's Story," a regular feature of the Citizen. Contact him at email@example.com.