While her men go off to war, mom waits

When her husband, John, told her that he wanted to voluntarily deploy to Afghanistan, Barb Werner said it was a difficult but understandable decision.

Barb Werner
Barb Werner of Rice Lake Township holds a photo of her two sons and husband, who are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Clint Austin /]

When her husband, John, told her that he wanted to voluntarily deploy to Afghanistan, Barb Werner said it was a difficult but understandable decision.

"I knew it was something he really wanted to do," she said. "It was how he wanted to end his career."

But soon afterward, she learned that her sons, Andrew and Tom, would be deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Now she has feelings of pride mixed with fear.

"When they all first left, I honestly thought I couldn't stand it," said Werner, 58. "Being the way the war is now, you don't know who the enemy is. They could be riding along a road and blown to smithereens. It's a big worry. I pray a lot."

Barb and her husband were born and raised in Duluth and met in fourth grade playing marbles.


"He jokes that I took his marbles and he never got them back," she said.

The worrying goes both ways.

"One word is 'constant,' " John said in an e-mail interview. "I worry for her and how she handles the strain. ... Her constant fear [is] that one of the boys will be lost. It's hard to explain the constant emotion you have living this, knowing that fear is with you every minute of every day."

John Werner has been in the military since 1969, taking his first out-of-country tour in Vietnam, and now serves as the command sergeant major for the Army Reserves in the southern district of Afghanistan, where he has been since last August.

Though she has never enlisted herself, military service runs through Barb Werner's blood. Her grandfather fought in World War I and her father fought in Italy and Africa in World War II.

Still, with their father away from home so much as they grew up, Warner said she didn't think either of her sons would enlist.

"They always said they would they would never join the military because they wanted to be with their families," she said.

Then one day her oldest son, Tom, said, "I'm going to go sign up."


"My jaw just dropped," she said.

Their dad says the first question many people ask is if he pushed them into the Army.

"No," John said. "Nothing could be farther from the truth. They were raised to think for themselves and to find their own path to follow. We raised them with a sense of pride for what it means to be Americans."

Barb said her son, Andrew, enlisted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and is now in Iraq with the Army Reserves. He

wasn't able to be reached for this story.

To Tom Werner, enlisting was a way to make money for college, but also to "do my part for my community and country."

Werner, who is now in Afghanistan working as a technical engineer, said he's been in the Army Reserves for 15 years and is serving his second tour; the first was from 2003 to 2004 in Iraq. He said he's able to keep up with his family through e-mail, and he was recently able to spend a few days with his dad.

He said it worried him that all three family members would be away from his mother at the same time, but he calls her "a remarkable lady."


"The three of us would not handle the roles being reversed with the dignity and grace that my mother has," he said. "She has to endure something that has rarely been seen since the draft was lifted, having so many from one family gone at once. She's one example of what sacrifice means in a post-draft era."

Barb Werner credits other family members, including her daughter, Julianne, and her daughter's husband, a member of the 148th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, for helping her during the deployments. When she's not working as an interlibrary loan specialist at the College of St. Scholastica, much of her time is spent with her six grandkids.

She said that while she and her family will worry about the three men until they return home, which should be before Thanksgiving, she's also thankful they're serving.

"As much as I worry and pray that they come home safe, somebody has to be there fighting for our country," she said.

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