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Operation Enduring DADDY'S ABSENCE

By From The Broadcaster By JOHN COLLINS

HUDSON Guard sergeant called up again, just months after returning from the war on terror


The Broadcaster

HUDSON Where in the world is Daddy?

Just four months after returning from a seven-month tour of duty in Oman, Tech. Sgt. John Dubuc, 39, of Hudson had to say farewell to his wife and two young sons again last month.

He could be gone for only six months.

Or for as long as two years.

Dubuc and more than 40 other members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard's 267th Combat Communications left Jan. 22 for an undisclosed strategic military destination, possibly to partake in a war against Iraq.

"It was a lot tougher to say 'bye' this time because now we know what to expect and exactly what he'll be missing here at home," said Sandra Dubuc. Unlike the previous time Dubuc's unit was activated to assist in the war against terror, Sandra chose not to go to Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod with sons Matthew, 3, and Christopher, 5, this time to see their father take off.

"I didn't want my kids to see everybody crying," said Sandra. "They think it's a good thing that Daddy is off to serve in the war. If they looked around at everybody else crying they would think, 'Why is this a bad thing?' The last time it was so depressing. We kissed him goodbye and then (the Guardsmen) all jumped on an old blue school bus (to take them to their plane). It was like an old movie!"

Although the Dubucs tried to downplay this latest parting at their home Jan. 20, the oldest boy, Christopher has had at least one nightmare about it, according to his mother.

"He woke up having a really bad dream a few nights ago. He was sitting up in bed, shaking and screaming with his eyes closed, saying: 'Daddy, don't go! Daddy, don't go!' He didn't remember it in the morning but it showed he does think about it."

Dubuc said she and the boys say a prayer every night.

"We say, 'God bless, Daddy and keep him safe.'"

Christopher's classmates at St. Louis Pre-school in Lowell are also thinking about his father.

"He asked if the kids in his class could draw pictures of their families to send to his Daddy," said Sandra. "They did, and they were the cutest drawings. I mailed them out today."

Dubuc addressed the package to a military post office box, one of the two ways she is able to communicate with her husband.

The other way is through the strictly monitored, 10-minute phone conversations that they are allowed to have two per week.

"I do know that he's seven hours ahead," said Sandra. "But that could be anywhere. And the connection actually was really bad, so it was hard to hear him. But at least he was able to call us."

Unfortunately, Matthew and Christopher are unable to converse with Dad on the phone because "the delay is so bad the kids think he's not there."

Sandra Dubuc, who has worked in the comptroller's department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell for 17 years, said she is tremendously proud of her husband for never thinking twice about going off to do the job he was trained to do, but she admits his time spent in service represents an emotional and financial hardship for the family. John Dubuc is a networking specialist who is currently on leave without pay from his civilian job at Sun Microsystems in Burlington, Mass.

"Military pay isn't a lot," said Sandra. "The one good thing is that it's tax-free income when you're (serving) outside of the country."

The best payment of all for her husband's service is an occasional "thank you" which they get, according to Sandra.

"John got word in December that his unit might be activated again this year, so I changed our booking on a Disney family cruise ship from May to Jan. 9," Sandra said. "Then he was activated on Jan. 6th, so he couldn't go. So my mom went with us in his place."

On the Disney cruise, Sandra chatted with some friendly shipmates about her husband's assignment.

"One couple said, 'Please tell him we said thank you.' I totally appreciate when people say that," Sandra Dubuc said. "I definitely think in general we don't thank military people enough."

"It is tough being away from the family," John Dubuc told The Broadcaster last September in a front-page story detailing his return from Oman. "But you know when you sign up that there's always a possibility you'll get called to active duty."

While Dubuc lived in a tent in Oman for seven months in 100- to 120-degree heat with no air conditioning and was battered by 30- to 40-mph desert winds, little Christopher and Matthew were spending more time than ever with their mom and her parents, Charlene and Richard Cohan of Lowell.

The boys also kept busy counting down the 270 days until Daddy's return.

"He didn't say it, but I think it killed him to have to leave the boys again after only four months," said Sandra. "When he comes back all depends on how the war goes."

And "how the war goes" is not something Dubuc follows minute-by-minute on CNN.

"Truthfully, I really don't pay too much attention to the news," she said. "And I don't have it on because I don't want the kids to see it. If they saw it and some negative news came on, they'd say to me, 'Isn't daddy at the war?' Right now, they need to know as little as possible."

Dubuc said her job is to maintain a positive outlook.

"I think I'm better mentally prepared this time. Like today, I'm home with a sick boy and he's clingy and whining. So what are you going to do? That's life. It stinks, but single parents have to do this all the time. I really don't know how they do it."