Holding out for a hero

Heather Beyer

Loved ones cope with soldiers fighting overseas

Andrea Napoletano, freshman architecture major, has her boyfriend overseas with the Marines stationed in Japan. The teddy bear Napoletano holds was a Valentine’s Day present from him.

Credit: Jason Hall

It’s a heartbreaking setting – a crowded room filled with wives, parents, siblings, children and girlfriends who are all gathered for one purpose – to say goodbye to soldiers going off to war.

They get as many hugs and kisses in as they can, hoping with all their hearts this won’t be their last chance to show their affection. As their soldiers march away, they fight back the tears, and they realize the tough road that lies ahead.

“It was really hard not thinking about saying our goodbyes, (that day) I cried,” said Colleen Stankiewicz, freshman nutrition dietetics major.

Stankiewicz said that her boyfriend of three years, Kevin Norris, became a marine because, “it was just something that he wanted to do.” The events of Sept. 11 also impacted his decision.

Norris and Stankiewicz met at a party she was throwing.

“He kept following me around all night,” she said. “Later during the night, I watched him go get a drink, and that’s when I knew I was hooked.”

Before she knew that her boyfriend was going to be deployed to Iraq in July of last year, Stankiewicz and Norris went to Cincinnati to visit his relatives.

She told him she wanted the necklace his parents bought him when he graduated Marine boot camp. She further explained to him, if he ever was sent to Iraq, that he would have to come home to retrieve it. The necklace is a gold chain with an eagle, globe and anchor, the Marine Corps emblem.

“He was completely shocked that I said that, and then I told him, if he ever had to go, I would wait for him,” she said.

Unbeknownst to Stankiewicz, Norris knew he was going to be deployed.

On the day of Norris’ sendoff in January, the couple was leaving to go to the drill center. He put his necklace on her, she said.

“It hasn’t been off since,” said Stankiewicz.

Norris was deployed to Iraq with the Brookpark 325 unit in March. He first had to go through intensive training in California for two months before deployment to Iraq.

Having her boyfriend overseas has been “kind of hard, you have to get used to it,” said Stankiewicz. She said it’s especially hard not being able to call him when she wants to.

Norris is scheduled to come home in a few weeks, and Stankiewicz is eagerly anticipating her boyfriend’s return. She is looking forward to doing the normal things like lying on the couch and watching a movie, going to Cedar Point, attending the annual marine ball and celebrating their anniversary on Halloween. There will also be a homecoming ceremony thrown in honor of Norris’ unit’s return.

“It will be a mass of people. We won’t be able to find each other. It will be the best day of my life,” Stankiewicz said.

While some students have their soldiers over in Iraq, others have them serving in other foreign locations.

Like freshman architectural major Andrea Napoletano’s boyfriend, Jeff Smith, is currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan.

“He’s doing it for the right reasons,” Napoletano said. “He’s very dedicated. He’s living his dream.”

The couple has been dating for more than a year and have known each other since high school, where they met in French class five years ago.

Learning the news that Smith was leaving for boot camp prompted Napoletano to reveal her true feelings to him. Ironically, he had felt the same way about her but was also afraid to confess what he had been feeling for the past four years.

Being apart from her boyfriend certainly has been difficult for Napoletano.

“We had to say our goodbyes the day before,” she said. “I couldn’t take him to the airport; it would be too hard.”

She left that difficult task for Smith’s family and his two-year-old niece, who seemed to be under the impression that her Uncle Jeff lives at the airport.

Smith and Napoletano still communicate frequently.

“He calls as much as he can,” she said.

Smith is due to return home in April, 2007 but he might get to leave this January for 16 days. Like any Marine, he could be shipped off to Iraq at any time but is currently not scheduled to.

“It’s only a year, not a lifetime.”

“He wants to see combat,” Napoletano said. “If he doesn’t he wouldn’t feel like a Marine.”

Contact features reporter Heather Beyer at [email protected].