Soldier shares husband's Bosnia experiences, by Spc. John Barrett, (Mar. 6)


FORT SILL, Okla. (Army News Service) -- The call came at 10:25 a.m.

It was Thursday, Dec. 7, 1995. It had been a relatively normal morning for Cpl. Mary Worstell of Personnel and Support Battalion; just a quiet, routine work day in the AG.

Worstell is an administrative clerk, and this day seemed no different than most others in the nearly three years she has worked for the personnel services branch of the AG.

Then came the call from the Fort Sill military police station, where her husband, Sgt. Doug Worstell, works as a military policeman. A friend of the Worstells was calling to inform Mary that her husband was one of the seven MP's from Fort Sill's Law Enforcement Command selected by Department of the Army to be deployed to Bosnia as part of the peacekeeping force. Mary Worstell found out the news before her husband did -- when the call came, Doug was walking into the MP station to see his first sergeant.

"When I first heard the news, I thought the guy was kidding," Mary said. "I was trying to just play it off as a joke, but I had this weird feeling in my stomach that he wasn't joking."

Doug then took the phone and talked to his wife about the news. "He said he didn't really know anything about it, but that he was there to see his first sergeant, and he would let me know more later," Mary said.

As it turned out, the information was correct; Doug was to leave within 10 days.

Then, as the Worstells began to come to grips with what was actually happening to them, they sat down and talked about it. According to Mary Worstell, her husband was not dismayed by the news.

"Of course he wasn't too excited about leaving me for a long period of time, but he understood why he had to go and looked forward to the challenge," she said, adding her husband was handpicked, along with six other MP's from his unit, to go to Bosnia.

"He was in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm for eight months, and he used to be an infantryman before he was an MP. That may be why he was picked," she said.

Worstell says she didn't hear from her husband for the first two weeks that he was in Bosnia, and even now he only gets a chance to call every few days. He is assigned to 2nd Platoon, 501st MP Company, 1st Brigade. The couple communicates through letters. "I write him every day, and he writes whenever he can," she said. "It's almost like visitation, but of course it's not the same." Through Doug's letters and phone calls, Mary has an idea of how her husband is living, day to day.

"He and several other soldiers sleep in a tent. They just recently got wooden floors for the tents. Up until then, they were sleeping on a floor of hay and mud mixed together," she said. According to Worstell's letters from Bosnia, the tent leaks, so the soldiers put their sleeping bags into body bags to prevent the water from soaking them while they sleep. It was impossible to take a shower until just a couple of weeks ago, and until then, the MP simply had to do the best he could.

"All he's had to eat in the month that he has been there is MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and care packages. He works seven days a week, and only gets about three or four hours of sleep a night. Life is pretty rough over there," she said.

Sgt. Worstell's job in Bosnia is to serve as a perimeter guard and to man certain checkpoints throughout the region. According to his letters, he's already been shot at twice in his time there, and he has had to go as far as pulling his weapon on one occasion. Mary states that the soldier who recently drove over a land mine and received the Purple Heart was only a couple of HUMVEEs in front of her husband when it happened.

Worstell shared her husband's outlook on the situation in Bosnia.

"He wrote me that even though a lot of people may be unclear as to why we're over there, to him the children over there are reason enough. He says that it would make Americans sick to see the way the kids live over there. No shelter, no food, and in constant fear. He told me stories of him and some of his fellow soldiers trying to throw candy from their MREs to the children from their HUMVEEs as they passed by, but the children would just scatter in a hundred different directions from the candy, because they thought the soldiers were throwing grenades at them. It's really sad," she said.

Cpl. Worstell said she's trying to cope, but sometimes it's difficult not to think about it. "I try to keep busy doing a lot of things," she said. "I go to school four nights a week, I crochet, needlepoint and write lots of letters. It's still hard, though." She said she has received a tremendous amount of support from her husband's unit.

"Sgt. Maj. Yarborough, the MP sergeant major, has been very, very helpful and supportive. Doug's unit has been very good about getting me his LESs and any other information that they can. Different people in his unit also call the spouses of the guys over there and see how we're doing and if we need anything. They really take care of us."

Worstell says she also attends ACS spouse support meetings with other wives whose husbands are in Bosnia, and that has helped a little. Warrant Officer 1 Mary Collins, Worstell's officer in charge at the Personnel Services branch, said Worstell has handled the situation very well. "Cpl. Worstell has displayed a positive attitude from the very start of this. She keeps a good outlook on everything, and helps in keeping the other spouses informed as well. Through it all, she has maintained the utmost professionalism and confidence."

When Worstell deployed, he was a specialist, but, when the promotion cutoff scores became official on Jan. 25, he had enough points to make sergeant. Mary said it was a bittersweet experience for her husband.

"He was glad to hear that he had made it, but he wished that he would have made it back here, because he had always wanted me to help pin on his stripes."

Worstell said her husband is expected to be in Bosnia for about six months.

"Whenever he does come back, we have already decided to get with our friends Neal and Michelle Fulks and renew our wedding vows. Neal is over there now, also," she said.

Worstell has some advice for other spouses in the same situation, as well as for all Americans. "We sit here and worry a lot, and complain about some things, but we have to remember that they have it worse over there. We wake up and walk outside to go to work in the morning; they wake up and might step on a land mine at anytime. All these soldiers have is the support we give them back here on the home front. Every word of encouragement means a lot."

For the time being, Cpl. Mary Worstell, soldier and spouse, is doing just that, and trying to simply make it through each day, one day at a time.

(From a Fort Sill Public Affairs news release.)