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Surprise phone call brings assurances, worries

Ring, ring. The caller ID digitally flashed a call from a number in the 312 area code.

My finger hovered over the "ignore call" button on the cell phone.

"I don't know anybody from 312," I thought to myself. "It must either be a wrong number or someone trying to sell me something."

For some reason, however, I hit "answer."

The voice on the other end was a familiar one.

"I bet you never thought you'd get an international call from Kuwait, did you?" my nephew, Matthew, asked.

Or should I refer to him as Specialist Matthew Cooper with the 155th Infantry? I'm not sure.

The 19-year-old had just completed a long flight from the U.S. into Kuwait and was waiting to be flown into Iraq.

The Kuwaiti base he was at temporarily was much like the U.S., he said.

"They've got all kinds of fast food places here, just like home."

The only difference he could see in those first few hours in the foreign land were the heat and the bizarre realization that he was on the other side of world.

"It was 140 here today," he said. "It basically feels like you've constantly got a hair dryer blowing at you."

"Wait," he said, "I forgot you probably don't have a hair dryer, you don't need one any more."

The references to my bald head reassured me that Matt hadn't lost his sense of humor, the sharpness of which only rivals that of my brother, Todd, Matt's father.

"The other thing that's weird is the time difference," he said. "I can't get use to that. We're going to bed and the 'Today Show' and 'Good Morning America' are on TV."

Matthew's arrival in Kuwait was the first realization that the ongoing war in Iraq has taken on new meaning for our family.

No longer are the news reports of U.S. soldiers wounded or killed just a matter of national pride. Now each report is a study in patience, hope and worry.

One of the amazing things is the level of communication the family is able to keep up with him.

He's now in Camp Anaconda, known affectionately as "mortaritaville" because the insurgents in Iraq regularly launch mortar assaults on the base.

One of the first nights he was there, he was awakened by a mortar attack.

He tried to be reassuring, by saying, "Don't worry, they aren't that accurate."

I pray he's right, for his safety and the thousands of others like him.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1445, ext. 12 or by e-mail to kevin.cooper@irontontribune.com.