Last week, Paul Sponholz wanted the menu for the family's holiday gathering in every succulent detail: his mom's cinnamon rolls for breakfast followed by a midday dinner of roast beef and mashed potatoes.
But the smell of cinnamon from his mother's oven is a faraway memory. Sponholz got the rundown by phone on a warship in the Middle East. The New Ulm native is a Marine captain aboard the USS Nassau, one of three ships in the region carrying amphibious assault units.
Sponholz and thousands of other members of the U.S. military greeted the New Year poised for action in the region surrounding Iraq.
"We pray for peace, but train and prepare for war," Sponholz said via e-mail, quoting a Marine maxim.
The tension in that mixed agenda bounces back to homes in the Midwest. When Sponholz's ship left North Carolina in late August, Nancy and Martin Sponholz planted Marine and U.S. flags outside their house in New Ulm, using a spotlight to show round-the-clock support for their son's mission.
Still, his absence from the dinner table hurt on Christmas. And as welcome as the phone call was, it left misgivings about the year ahead.
"I fear for their safety when there is this much hatred for us," Nancy Sponholz said. "He's doing this because of a love for his country and a hope to make the world a better place. Right now they certainly don't get the feedback that the rest of the world thinks they are doing something good."
The New Year prayer at the Sponholz home, she said, is "Lord, keep the cap on this whole situation so that it doesn't explode but instead is peacefully resolved."
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