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Thursday, November 25, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Absent from table, not hearts

Seattle Times staff reporter

Clasping hands around the oval table and bowing their heads in prayer, the Job family of Issaquah gave thanks for the turkey feast spread out in front of them — even for the mashed cauliflower.

And, in a soft voice, Eric Job asked God's continued protection for the family member missing, a young man who looms large in the thoughts of those present and who looks out from photos on and around the refrigerator.

The Jobs don't know exactly where their son, Marine Cpl. Aaron Job, will be this Thanksgiving Day. Or what kind of dinner he'll have. Or whether he'll have a chance to call or e-mail home.

But however he spends today, the 21-year-old will be in the hearts and prayers of those at home — as will thousands of men and women serving in Iraq.

"We are thankful that God is watching over him," said Eric Job, 53. "We're thankful for the hundreds of people who are praying for him."

Thanksgiving was celebrated early at the Job (pronounced JOBE) home this year, timed to a visit by their older son, Ryan, 23, home from a break in his training as a Navy SEAL.

The family recently traveled to San Diego to see Ryan's graduation from "BUD/S," the acronym for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school. In his months of rigorous training, Ryan battled back from an infected leg cut and a ruptured eardrum.

Now, after getting to spend about a week at home, he has headed for the next step in his training, jump school at Fort Benning, Ga. "I've flown airplanes but I've never jumped out of one," said Ryan, who earned a private pilot's license after flying lessons in high school.

Besides completing BUD/S, Ryan said he's grateful for recent word that, when he finishes his training, he'll continue to be based at San Diego. "It was a 50-50 chance, East Coast or West Coast," he said.

Ryan expects to be deployed overseas eventually, and in this family with a tradition of military service, he said he looks forward to the challenge.

But the San Diego assignment means that when Ryan's not deployed, he'll still be close to Aaron's home base, Camp Pendleton.

Though they scrapped as youngsters, the two have forged an ever-strengthening bond. Between Aaron's Iraq deployments — when he was at Camp Pendleton from September 2003 until May 2004 — the two spent virtually every weekend together, often just watching movies and relaxing.

"I have a best friend who is also my brother," Ryan said.

Eric and Debbie Job know the tension and uncertainty that go along with having a loved one in a war zone. Devout Christians, they place their trust in God that Aaron will return safely from Iraq, just as he did after a five-month deployment there last year.

There have been close calls. Aaron suffered a hand wound, and lost several comrades, in fighting in August at Najaf, where his company continues to be based, training members of the Iraqi National Guard.

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Although the Job family is cautious about any mention of return dates — Aaron's return from Iraq last year was delayed several times — a military spokeswoman said most of his 2,000-plus member 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit is expected home "somewhere around the February 2005 timeframe."

The Job's third child, daughter Kelsie, is a junior at Sammamish's Skyline High School who is also taking a history class at Bellevue Community College.

Kelsie, 17, is thankful "that Aaron hasn't been seriously hurt and that we've been able to talk to him. Even though he doesn't call very much and we don't get letters all that often, we're still able to talk to him some."

She sent her brother some music CDs, an assortment of stuff, she said, like soundtracks from "Top Gun" and "Rocky." "He thought it was kind of funny that we like the same kind of music."

When Eric Job counts his blessings, "I'm particularly thankful I've been blessed with such a good wife. She is kind of the rock that I lean on."

He and Debbie Job, 46, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in September, traveling to Bend, Ore., where they spent their honeymoon.

Besides her children's safety, Debbie Job is thankful for the support she's found from the Washington State Marine Moms Online Web page, www.groups.yahoo.com/group/WaMMO. "There's a core group of us that have become very close, and I can't imagine not having them."

The affinity she feels for other military mothers has prompted her to travel to the funerals of Marines as far away as Yakima and Vancouver.

She has her e-mail set up so that she gets a message each time the Department of Defense identifies a U.S. soldier or Marine killed in Iraq, and she knows other Marine mothers who do the same.

"I have to know," she says simply.

Debbie Job, who works as an elementary-school teachers' aide a few days a month, is keeping her emotions in check on the subject of Aaron's return date.

Last year, she found out his return would be delayed just after she had purchased plane tickets for the family to greet him in California.

"When it gets closer, I'll probably get excited, but still cautious, wondering if it's going to change."

Eric Job said the fact Ryan is nearing completion of his training means that before too long, they may have another son in a combat zone to worry about.

"We know that will start a whole new phase. And we'll just deal with it when it comes." he said. "But right now, we have a lot to be thankful for."

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

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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