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Their honeymoon's on hold

Deployment separates couple married 11 days

Deployment separates couple married 11 days

April 08, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Eleven days. That's all Anthony and Leslie Merrill have spent together as husband and wife since they were married six weeks ago.

He's a U.S. Navy petty officer 3rd class aviation ordnanceman on the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

She's in Hagerstown, working at Mid-Atlantic Orthopaedic Specialists.

Instead of a honeymoon together, he's at sea, she's at home, waiting.

Leslie Merrill said she's used to being separated from Anthony for a month or even two, but nothing like this.

"He said at least eight months," she said.

Leslie Merrill, 28, would rather her husband were home with her.

But, in this case, honor and duty to country come before honor and duty to spouse.

"He joined before he met me, so his obligation is to Uncle Sam," Merrill said. "He's got to fill that obligation first."

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The USS Iwo Jima, the USS Nashville and the USS Carter Hall make up an Amphibious Ready Group sent to the Mediterranean Sea, according to the U.S. Navy's Office of Information. The ships are part of the United States' war effort against Iraq.

The group was supposed to go to the Arabian Sea, but the destination changed when Turkey decided not to allow U.S. soldiers to use Turkish bases on their way to Iraq.

Leslie Merrill said her husband's duty on the USS Iwo Jima, which is carrying helicopters, is building bombs and sending them to the flight deck.

She said she'd be more worried about him if he were one of the land troops. Nonetheless, she said she's watching and reading as much war news as she can.

Leslie Merrill has spoken to Anthony on the phone a few times since he shipped out, most recently on March 31. They've also been in touch through letters and e-mails.

Anthony Merrill, 29, hasn't said a lot that's specific. He got sick of chicken quickly, the lines for meals are long and the sea has been choppy at times.

And he's miserable about being away so long.

"He keeps apologizing," Leslie Merrill said. "I said, 'It's not your fault.'"

The couple knew that Anthony Merrill's Naval commitment could affect their wedding, but they went ahead with their plans.

They were married Feb. 22.

On March 4, Anthony Merrill shipped out.

Now, Leslie's only companion at the couple's Hagerstown apartment is her 3-year-old dog, Harley, who appears to be part shar-pei and part Rottweiler.

Harley is used to babying from Leslie and roughhousing from Anthony, so there's something missing in Harley's life, too.

"The first couple days, she's moped around," Leslie Merrill said. In the past, "When he'd leave, the first day she'd get into something, like a trash can."

From Harley's collection of holiday neck bandannas, Leslie has chosen one that's red, white and blue.

Leslie Merrill grew up in Frostburg, Md. Anthony Merrill is from Salisbury, Pa.

In November 2001, Leslie Merrill was supposed to meet a man on a date, but the man stood her up. Exasperated, she caught up with her sister at a local tavern, trying to salvage a bad night.

There, Leslie's sister introduced her to Anthony Merrill, who was home on leave. She liked that he was "a good ol' country boy."

"I think I went in there hating men," Leslie said, "and I came out with his phone number in my pocketbook."

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