Transcript Staff Writer

War is hell. And Oklahoma National Guard Captain Clinton T. Ward should know, having spent the last 11 months stationed in LSA Anaconda, Balad Air Base, Iraq, his second tour of duty in the past three years.

But nothing, he says, compares to the hardships his wife Monica and their three children have gone through in his absence.

Ward and his fellow guards from E Company 245 from Lexington and First Battalion 245th Aviation from Tulsa were welcomed home Nov. 19. Since then, the father of three and his family have had to readjust to civilian life, one day at a time.

"I was pretty lucky where I was at," he said, "My job in the military is pretty easy compared to Monica's -- she by far has the harder job."

The Wards' youngest daughter, 9-month-old Holly, was born while Clinton was in Iraq. Though he came home for nearly three weeks after her birth, he wasn't able to bond with Holly until now.

"It's so hard," he said. "She won't come to me and she doesn't know me yet... You just have to take one day at a time and have no expectations of how things are going to be. (His children) were alone without me for the better part of a year and I kind of have to re-assimilate into their lives."

Clinton's older children, Lilly and Megan, kept in touch by writing letters and e-mails and drawing pictures. Even so, Monica said, the strain of his extended leave affected everyone.

"If I wouldn't have had a baby to focus on, I don't know how we would have made it," Monica said. "The kids were in school this year and the house, sometimes, just got so empty."

Watching news was out of the question too, Monica said, as each mention of war evoked thoughts of her husband and fear of the unknown. Hope of a quick return, prayers and the support of her family and phone calls from Clinton kept the family together, she said.

"It's weird," she said. "Now that he's back, it's like he's never left. I know that's not normal, but that's how it was for us."

"I've already been put to work," Clinton said in between smiling and holding his daughters on his lap. "Since I was gone once before to Bosnia, we all knew a little more of what to expect, and Monica's already got a bunch of little jobs she needs taking care of -- it's incredible."

Though post-traumatic stress syndrome gets a lot of media attention, luckily, Clinton said, he's not experienced any symptoms. Instead, he savors every moment he's at home with his family ? even the particularly loud moments all three children are exercising their vocal capacities.

"I'm absolutely thankful to be here," he said. "And I was thankful this Thanksgiving that everyone of the two companies out of Oklahoma were able to come home. We didn't lose a single person."

A formal welcome-home ceremony for Ward and his fellow Oklahoma National Guard members will be held 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Hillsdale Freewill Baptist College, 3701 S. I-35 service road in Moore. The ceremony is open to the public.

Melissa A. Wabnitz 366-3550 mwabnitz@normantranscript.com

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