ST. PETERSBURG — In her worst moments, Mary Becker grips her son's Holy Communion rosary in her hands.
"I don't want anything to happen to them," Michael Becker Jr. told his mother two years ago as he left for Camp Lejeune to become a Marine. "You hold on to them."
Mary Becker has been holding the prayer beads a lot lately.
After six months in war-torn Afghanistan, the 20-year-old lance corporal was supposed to begin the long journey home April 7. But on Monday, Becker remained ensconced with hundreds of other international troops at a U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, where, a week ago, a political revolt killed 83 and forced the exile of the country's president. Security forces shut down a civilian airport that shares space with the military base, known as Transit Center at Manas.
A flight from the civilian airport into Germany is Becker's ticket home.
His parents have spent the past week waiting for the latest e-mail or automated phone call from Camp Lejeune. Their son's departure has been delayed more than a half-dozen times as U.S. and Kyrgyzstan security officials closed the air base, briefly opened it only to close it again.
"They've been calling us and e-mailing us almost every day, saying, 'The flight's going to come in tomorrow,' " Mary Becker, 59, said. "On Monday, we got another e-mail. It said his flight has been canceled until Wednesday."
They also got a phone call from their son Monday night. He said he was safe and expected to fly out today.
Meanwhile, military flights out of Manas into Afghanistan were being diverted to other air bases, said Maj. John Redfield, spokesman for the MacDill Air Force Base command center overseeing U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Some 50,000 troops moved through Manas in March, he said. About 1,100 troops from the United States, Spain and France are stationed at Manas.
Redfield said Manas is about 20 miles from the capital, Bishkek, where the political unrest occurred and is considered extremely secure.
But Mary Becker worries her son is now in more danger than in Afghanistan, where he was assigned to a unit that maintains electronic equipment. "God has to keep him safe," she said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Luis Perez can be reached at [email protected] sptimes.com or (727)892-2271.