Thousands of miles away, Sgt. Amber Scott's heart broke. "Mommy, where are you?'' 5-year-old Jacob asked. "Are you in Iraq? Can you pick me up at Grandma's house?'' So it went during several phone calls as the soldier and her husband, Sgt. Chris Scott, reached across the miles to their young children in St. Petersburg. "Our 3-year-old doesn't ask so much,'' Amber said, speaking by satellite phone from Iraq recently. But Jake, who will turn 6 on Sept. 13, wanted to know what was keeping his parents away. "I think finally it sunk in that we're working, and I told him that we will be back home soon,'' said Amber, 26.
The Scotts are what the military refers to as a "dual military couple," a designation that for the Scotts brings both comfort and worry. Deployed together in Mosul, they can discuss their concerns about work and share the emotions that come with being apart from their children. The downside is that their children have both parents away from home.
The couple met in 2003 during basic training and married two days before Christmas seven months later. Initially, Chris, 25, who is from Oregon, was attracted by her good looks. As he got to know Amber better, he was captivated by her outgoing personality. "She was different from what I was,'' he said.
"He was really, really quiet,'' said his wife, a Gibbs High School graduate. "We seemed to have the same kind of humor. We talked for hours on end. He was really sweet. He was always surprising me.''
Chris had always wanted to join the military. "I like to help people,'' he said.
Amber had been holding down two jobs and attending the University of South Florida, planning to major in music education, when she decided to join the Army. It sounded exciting.
Her job is to make sure soldiers get the training they need. She's also responsible for keeping the battalion's Facebook pages — a source of information for families back home — up to date.
He is a truck commander, providing security on convoys.
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There is an advantage to sharing a military career, said Chris, the second of five children.
"Being over here, neither of us has to worry'' about the other, he said. "Having my wife here makes things a lot less stressful. I can talk to my wife about what is going on here.''
"He understands what I am going through,'' Amber said. "Being deployed together, there is so much less worrying I have to do.''
This is his third deployment to Iraq.
"The first one was quite hard because I had just had our first son,'' Amber said. "My family was eight hours away.''
Chris had to leave when Jacob — Jake, to the family — was just 4 months old. He was deployed again a week before their daughter, Ilyssia, was born. Amber had to leave the infant behind two months later.
Military couples with children are required to file a plan detailing who would be responsible for the kids while they're away. Jake and Ilyssia are with Amber's parents in St. Petersburg, the Rev. Steven and Debra Wiley. The first time they cared for the children, Ilyssia was 2 months old and Jake was 3. This time, Jake and Ilyssia have been with their grandparents since October.
"There are days when they really miss Mom and Dad,'' Debra Wiley said. "Having them in preschool has helped a lot, because that keeps them around other kids."
She says the family makes a point of being upbeat around the children, who hear from their parents often.
"We do pictures on the Internet. They get letters from Mommy and Daddy,'' Wiley said.
The Scotts have missed practically every holiday with their children and most birthdays.
"I have been away from my son for three of his six years of life,'' Chris said. "My daughter, for two of her three.''
What gets him through the separation?
"The thought of getting back to them,'' he said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.