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Monday, March 24, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A son somewhere on the front lines

Seattle Times staff reporter

Many people are watching the war in Iraq with great interest, but some have intense personal connections to it. This is our second report on the Job (pronounced "JOBE") family of Issaquah, whose son, Marine Pfc. Aaron Job, is in an infantry battalion in the Persian Gulf region. We will continue to visit with them as we illustrate how families around the region are waiting and watching with heavy hearts.

When Eric and Debbie Job hear the word "Marine" on television, it hits like a small electric shock: Nothing gets their attention faster.

And if it's linked to the word "casualty," the impact can be paralyzing.

"Every time, I wonder, 'Is it him? Is he there?' " said Debbie Job, 45. "And I know every other Marine mom is thinking the same thing."

A few nights ago, a simple unexpected knock at the door from Debbie's brother-in-law sent her heart racing, fearing the worst. "My instant thought was, 'Is it them?' That's the way they (military officials) do it; they send someone out to talk to you."

Searching for any hint of news about 19-year-old Aaron or his battalion, Eric Job, 51, has spent hours transfixed by the television. He sits, then stands, then kneels in front of the living-room screen, while the remote in his hand takes him on an endless circuit: CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News, CBS. ...

"He's right there on the front lines, somewhere," Eric Job said while watching the first few hours of the war. "And 10 months ago, he was in high school. Think about that."

Tension and uncertainty are visiting thousands of homes in the Puget Sound area as the families of military men and women in the Persian Gulf deal with emotions that can change with every bulletin, every official statement, every rumor.

Aaron is the Jobs' middle child, an outdoorsman who headed to Marine boot camp after his graduation from Sammamish's Skyline High School last spring. Although his parents don't actually know where he is, they expect that as an infantryman, he may be close to the front lines in southern Iraq.

Aaron's sister, Kelsie, 15, is a freshman at Skyline, and his brother, Ryan, 22, is in the Navy, undergoing training that could lead to him being a Navy Seal by the end of the year, at which point he, too, could be drawn into action.

To call these last days and weeks stressful for the Jobs is an understatement. On Debbie Job's birthday in late February, she got confirmation that Aaron's battalion unit had arrived in Kuwait, a staging area for the attack on Iraq.

Last Monday, hours before President Bush started his 48-hour clock for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq, Debbie learned her father, Will McCormick of Sammamish, had just died of a heart attack at 67.

Saturday, when she otherwise would have been at a support-the-troops rally in Bellevue, she joined hundreds of friends and relatives to remember her father at Bellevue's Westminster Chapel. Eric Job, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, read Psalm 91, which holds a special meaning for soldiers: "I will say to the Lord, 'You are my place of safety and protection. You are my God and I trust you.' ... "

And yesterday, they struggled with the news of Marines killed and injured in a battle in southern Iraq, and of American prisoners of war being displayed on Iraqi television.

Married 22 years, Eric and Debbie Job rely on one another to get through difficult times. After a long session of bulletin-watching as the war began, Eric stopped by the kitchen, first hugging Debbie, then Kelsie.

"Our son is going to help make history. He is going to help liberate Iraq," said Eric Job. His hope: a quick campaign with the fewest possible casualties on both sides.

Although Eric watches news reports, Debbie prefers to keep her distance from them. "I was thinking I don't really want to watch this all night," she said. "OK, so it (the war) is starting. Do I want to sit here and make myself crazy... er?"

Kelsie is somewhere in between. "I don't avoid it, but I don't avidly watch it," she said. She was on a computer e-mailing friends Wednesday night but rushed into the living room when she heard her parents shout, "It's started!" Kelsie wears one of Aaron's old dog tags on a chain, along with a small cross on a pendant.

For Debbie, a single thought — "God is in control" — reminds her the blow-by-blow developments of this war are not hers to tally, assess and analyze. She has received countless expressions of support from other members of Westminster Chapel. The nondenominational church, which draws a total of some 3,000 worshippers to its four Sunday services, has fortified the family's ability to cope.

Eric, business-development manager for a building-maintenance company, and Debbie, whose occupation has been raising her three children, each attend Bible-study classes; Kelsie goes Tuesday evenings for youth-group sessions.

"There are so many people who have said they're praying for us," said Debbie. "Maybe that's why I don't feel as anxious or in a panic as I thought I would."

The death of her father, bringing its own chores, demands and emotions, gave the family moments away from war news. At a kitchen counter, Eric took a break from war watching to look at two Bibles, one large and in traditional language, the other small and modernized, to study the psalm he would read at his father-in-law's memorial.

The Jobs sent notification of the death through the Red Cross to Aaron, though it's unclear when he may get it.

And Debbie spent about six hours, off and on, making arrangements and finding fares to bring Ryan home from Florida, his first visit in three months.

Although it was sorrow that drew the family together, the Jobs felt comfort in having one of their sons with them, even briefly, in this first weekend of war. In his black Navy uniform with white stripes, Ryan drew acquaintances and strangers at the memorial service, who expressed pride and support.

He got more handshakes and pats on the back when he stopped by the pro-troop rally of several thousand in downtown Bellevue.

In his current training, Ryan is learning to handle aviation-related explosives, a step toward becoming a Navy Seal. He notes with eagerness that Seals have been asked to cap the oil-well fires in Iraq.

Ryan has a special connection to his Marine brother, including trading gentle barbs about who chose the better branch of the service. As youngsters, they played soldier together, competed in every skill they could think of, hunted, fished and camped together and evolved into being one another's best friend and chief admirer.

"He's my 'little brother,' but I really look up to him," said Ryan. "He weighs the outcomes before he acts. I'm very impulsive."

Ryan was the last of the Jobs to spend time with Aaron. He made a two-night visit to San Diego in December, where Aaron's Marine battalion was stationed before its ocean journey to Kuwait.

Did they talk much about the impending war or the dangers that could lie ahead for both of them? No.

"All we did was hang out together," Ryan said. "We had a hotel room; we sat and watched Seinfeld and smoked cigars."

Aaron Job was able to call his family nine times during his five-week ride to Kuwait, but the last of those calls came in February, and there has been no word since. In his calls, he admitted being antsy about being stuck aboard a ship but remained confident about what lay ahead.

"He's no war-monger," his brother said. "But he has a job to do, and he's well-prepared to do it."

Although no mail has arrived from Aaron since he left San Diego on Jan. 17, the family continues to mail him messages of love, encouragement and news from home. Early on, Debbie sent a half-dozen small boxes with items he might need in the desert — sunscreen, Chapstick, packets of small moistened towels. But she cut back on sending packages when she heard they take much longer to be delivered — if they get through at all.

Still, she makes sure she puts something in the mail at least every couple of days.

"I'm numbering his letters, because he might not get them in the order I send them," she said. "I sent number 29 today."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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