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Fear of war at home, at work and in verse

The prayers are changing inside the chapel near Airside F.

Travelers jot down their thoughts in a registry inside the small room at Tampa International Airport, asking God to grant safe flights for loved ones or guidance for personal problems.

But these days the inscriptions _ some in English, others in Spanish or French or Arabic _ reflect new fears.

Dear God, Take care of my son who returns to his base today. Keep him and all of our soldiers safe . . .

The bombs are yet to fall over Baghdad. But the mere prospect of war in Iraq has changed lives and livelihoods far from the battlefield. From classrooms to boardrooms, from bear markets to bomb shelters, the threat of war has sent a ripple through daily routines.

While most Americans support the removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the near-certainty that guns will begin firing any day brings fear strong enough to alter how some people act, from their pocketbooks to their prayers.

Inside the TIA chapel, another traveler writes:

Dear God, please intervene, help us, the world, to find peace among men. . . .

And another: May God grant all of the world leaders the wisdom and courage they need . . . in this troubled time.

And so they go, these prayers, page after page.

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Last year at this time, Sylvia Reina had at least 10 groups booked for summer trips to Europe.

No more.

These days, the owner of Getaway Travel of Tampa is inundated with faxes and e-mails from European tour operators. Two nights' hotel stay for the price of one. Double commissions.

If only she would hear from some customers.

"People tell me they're going to wait," said Reina, who has been in the travel business 25 years. "They're not making long-range plans. Their greatest fear is if they get to a foreign country (and war breaks out), they won't be able to get home."

Those who have made plans for foreign travel have hedged their bets by buying travel insurance. Caribbean cruises and domestic travel are replacing trips to Europe, where Reina's contacts keep asking her what it will take to woo back U.S. travelers.

"I think the whole world is feeling the pain," she said.

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The faces staring back at Greg Byrd have changed.

Since 9/11, his students at St. Petersburg College seem less confident, less certain of the world around them.

Those unsure faces inspired a poem, Advice, the literature and creative writing professor submitted recently to the popular Web site www.poetsagainstthewar.org. It begins:

"What do you think?" they ask me,

their eyes uplifted and sullen.

Byrd admits he doesn't have answers.

I stand at the front of the classroom, lean

Against the podium, and wonder what to say ...

... I tell them to be careful whom they decide to kill.

Byrd hasn't altered his class assignments, but he said he hopes students realize how the readings apply to the situation in Iraq.

Like Ernest Hemingway's In Our Time, about the effect of war on a young man named Nick. And Robert Frost's poem, Mending Wall:

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

"I don't have any room to talk about what (war) is like," Byrd said. "But there are other people who have, and we can read what they have to say about it."

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Most times, trainers at AchieveGlobal jet around the country, teaching classes in customer service, sales and professional development.

But as war looms, many have been grounded.

Demand for the company's training classes dropped 30 percent last year. The result: a 40 percent cut in travel for the company's trainers.

"People are putting off decisions, saying "if, when, maybe,' " said Lois Raffel, a travel services manager with the Tampa company. "It's not industry specific. It's across the board."

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Hard-pressed for good news, Rick Metzger finds himself thinking back fondly to his early career as a Wall Street analyst.

The job's steady pay has become only a memory to Metzger, a commissioned salesman with AG Edwards & Sons in St. Petersburg.

"A salary?" he asks. "What's that?"

Things have gone from bad to worse for stockbrokers.

Investors have latched onto the impending war as an excuse to do nothing with their portfolios.

Metzger, a broker with 20 years experience, doesn't think things are going to improve soon.

"In the big picture," he said, "there's this psychological depression."

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Tampa doctor Timothy Yeko has been doing his part to prepare for war.

Two local servicemen have come recently to Reproductive Medicine Group in Hyde Park, freezing their sperm so their wives can continue fertility treatments while the husbands are stationed half a world away.

Both men have shipped out.

Yeko said most fertility programs urge couples to plan up to six months ahead. But servicemen at MacDill Air Force Base might be gone for months on end, hence the stockpile of sperm.

The twist: A soldier might receive word his wife is pregnant months after he last saw her.

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The war room.

That's where Ariel Musibay, 40, is heading if terrorism hits close to home.

"The bunker," as he calls it, sits near the Miami offices of his small telephone company, ANEW Broadband.

It has 8-inch-thick cement walls, secure phone lines, no windows, a fire compression system and a generator that would provide two weeks of power.

Musibay's company took over the $800,000 room in August. Like at many telecom companies, the 5,000-square-foot room started as a way to protect clients' communication lines in case of a hurricane.

It has taken on an added role.

Employees will head there in case the terror war strikes close to home. And Musibay will be right behind them.

"If I have to bring my family to one place," he said, "this would be the room."

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