Part 3 of 3
Sarah Burris was married May 27, 2004, at the age of 17. On June 20, her 18-year-old husband, Tracee, a U.S. Army soldier, was sent to Iraq. E2 Burris had been trained in driving military vehicles and was attached to the Army Reserve's 706th Transportation Company. Since that day Tracee's wife and his mother, Jeanne Burris, have worried continually about his safety. His family and friends wait for his return.
One of his best friends, Pfc. Devin Grella, was killed when the military truck he was driving was hit by a terrorist's improvised explosive device. Tracee was in the truck immediately behind his friend. He saw the explosion and watched Devin's body burning as he passed by. He was unable to stop to help because of Army regulations ordering soldiers under attack to keep moving if at all possible.
Devin's death had an impact on Tracee but Sarah said he's strong and keeps his emotions intact and carries on with his job as is expected of a soldier. His family is trying to stay strong, too, if only to give support to Tracee. It's hard, though, especially for his wife and mother.
Sarah tries to stay busy and not dwell on the dangers her husband faces daily. But the stress may have taken a toll. Sarah's been fighting a case of mononucleosis for several months. Recently it's gotten worse. She's unable to attend school now. In two weeks the school corporation will start tutoring her at home. She wants so badly to recover before Tracee's homecoming.
Due to her illness, most of Sarah's activities have been restricted. But she still keeps in contact with her legion of friends. They phone and visit and share their thoughts and feelings. They talk about school, who's seeing who, make-up, clothes, music, pets, college. They also talk about the election, the possibility of a draft and the war in Iraq.
Sarah met some of her friends just in the past few years through school. Others she's known since they were toddlers. The confidants recently shared their thoughts about Sarah and the world today. They agreed on some issues but not all. They remain good friends even with such diversified opinions.
Her sister-in-law, Sonni, laughed when asked how long she'd known Sarah.
"I knew Sarah before she married my brother," Sonni said, "and quite frankly, I didn't care much for her at all. My brother and I were so close. I told him I didn't want him to date her.
"That was before I got to know the real her. And I found out she's a totally different person. Now we're like real sisters."
The friends were asked what they thought about Sarah getting married so young.
"I think she rushed into things and should have waited until he got back," said Brad Hardesty. The Northview senior is a member of the Indiana Air National Guard 181st Fighter Wing of Terre Haute.
But Brad said he thinks Sarah has matured a lot and has become more responsible.
"She's a lot happier and I'm happy for her and Tracee," he said.
Miranda Caldwell, a 17-year-old senior, said she was very skeptical about the marriage at first.
"I thought we all had a lot of growing up to do," Miranda said. "My look on marriage was when we got older, after college and started a career. And I knew there'd be a lot of changes in our friendship after she got married. We wouldn't be able to do a lot of the girl things we used to do."
As Miranda got to know Tracee, however, the more she liked him and the easier it was to accept the idea of them getting married.
"She's had to grow up quickly," Miranda said of Sarah. "I believe she's grown very much as a person."
Another of Sarah's senior friends, 17-year-old Natasha White, agreed with Sarah.
"I agree with her that if she's really in love and feels sure that's what she wants, it's OK to get married," Natasha said. "She's a different person this year than last. She's more cautious and concerned. Tracee's safety is on her mind a lot."
The friends were asked about the election, the possibility of a draft which could include women and the U.S. being at war in Iraq. Because of being a member of the Indiana Air Guard, Brad chose not to comment on political issues.
Miranda had no reservations.
"I think I'm a typical kid," she said. "We discuss the war in government class but I'm not educated about it a lot. If I could vote I think I would look at it more."
She seemed to favor Bush because he took the country through 911, but had doubts about being in Iraq.
"I understand why we were there initially," Miranda said. "But now that we're trying to establish a government like ours, I don't know if it's a good idea. We're trying to force them to do something they don't want to do.
"It took a long time for us to establish our government and most of the people wanted it. They don't want this government so it's going to take even longer. I don't like the fact that we're over there. We have to think about our troops."
Sarah agreed with Miranda's ideas on the U.S. being in Iraq.
"I don't like it period," she said sternly. "How would we like it if they came here and tried to tell us how to make our government? Once we get out of there, they're going to go back to the way they were before."
However, Sarah favors leaving Bush in office, to keep things consistent.
Sonni said she didn't think most kids paid close attention to politics and the war unless they had a family member or close friend involved. She wasn't too crazy about either presidential candidate but she's leaning toward Kerry.
"Bush seems too aggressive, too jump-the-gun-nish," Sonni said. "I think it's good we're defending our country, but in the long run, I think it's a no-win situation."
The opinions varied on the possibility of the draft being reinstated and including women.
"I don't think it will be reinstated," Sonni said. "I don't think there's a problem with numbers now. If they did start the draft, I would definitely volunteer. Since my brother's over there, I'd go in a heartbeat."
Miranda had a different viewpoint.
"My dad and brother got upset when they realized it could include women," Miranda said, "I wouldn't want to go. I think it's awfully scary. I think about the troops over there, getting bombed all the time I don't think it would help to send people over there who didn't want to be there.
"It's not that the people who don't want to be there are unpatriotic," Miranda continued. "I just think that the people who want to be in the military and who want to be the best they can be, would do the best job."
Sarah didn't think she'd have a problem with a draft.
"Most of my family has been in the military most of my life," she said. "If the country needed me, I'd want to fight for our freedom."
Tracee had been in two other bad missions before the attack that killed his friend. There were no casualties with those missions.
No one knows for sure when he will be home. Most deployments are for a year or more. Tracee's been in Iraq just four months. But since he's attached to the 706th and their tour of duty is supposed to be up in January, everyone hopes Tracee will be home after the first of the year.
His family is anxiously waiting for his return.
"It will happen," Jeanne said, "God is good. He'll come home."
But a wife and a mother worry.