The war in Iraq came to the Nova Scotia home of Anne Marie Augustine yesterday as she watched television images of her son's U.S. Marine Corps division marching from Kuwait into enemy territory.
Then the Indian Brook woman, who has a U.S. flag flying over her home and tree branches festooned with yellow ribbons of hope, began preparing a package of potato chips and cookies for her son, 23-year-old Ronald Augustine. He is one of Canada's unrecognized soldiers -- a group of more than a dozen natives from Canada who are part of the United States invasion force that is now rolling into Iraq. As many as eight of the U.S. soldiers are Mi'kmaq men from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick who joined the U.S. Marine Corps following a U.S. military recruiting drive about five years ago.
Their families, some of whom feel betrayed by the Canadian government's decision not to join the military campaign and by the widespread protest against the war, are fiercely proud of their sons' actions in the U.S. campaign and defend the war effort.
"We didn't expect the ground troops to go in so quickly and that's why we're kind of in shock," Ms. Augustine said yesterday as she and her husband Jerry Sack watched the bombing of Baghdad on television. "We thought the planes would go in first and then the ground troops would just clean up. It's a little bit scary for us."
Their first scare was news that four marines were killed in a helicopter crash. Then there were news flashes that two marines had been killed in combat. "It's hard because we don't know what could happen. Hopefully nothing will happen and they'll be safe," Mr. Sack said.
Corporal Augustine chose the U.S. Marine Corps over the Canadian army three years ago because he wanted to be part of the elite military unit. He trained as a machine gunner, and in recent letters written as his unit waited for orders on the Kuwaiti border, he tried to reassure his parents that he was ready for combat.
"There's nothing but desert out here," Cpl. Augustine wrote in late February from northern Kuwait. "Nothing is going on right now so we just sit here in our tents."
He also asked his mother to send over all-dressed potato chips and cookies. The waiting and the intense training that began when Cpl. Augustine had to cut his Christmas vacation short, after he was recalled to his unit in late December, ended yesterday when his Second Marine Division crossed the Iraqi border.
Ms. Augustine said she supports her son's decision to join the U.S. military and the campaign in Iraq.
"Ronnie joined the marines and he has to do what he has to do. I really believe if the U.S. doesn't do something, then they [Iraq]will attack us. We see the United States and Canada as being one, and if they attack the United States, they are attacking us," she said.
Ms. Augustine said she recognizes that there is opposition to the war in Canada, but she wants Canadians to recognize that there are soldiers from this country fighting in Iraq and to pray for their safety.
A few houses away from Cpl. Augustine's home in the small community of Indian Brook, about 80 kilometres north of Halifax, the family of another marine, Corporal Ryan Hamilton, is also proudly flying the Stars and Stripes.
Cpl. Hamilton was with the first wave of marines to enter Iraq and his mother Rose Nevin was so upset by war anxiety that she couldn't go to work. She hasn't seen her 22-year-old son's unit on television and she hasn't talked to him for several weeks.
Ms. Nevin said she has to be at home to watch the war coverage on television and to give emotional support to the husky soldier she still sees as her little boy.
She was shocked by the news of the helicopter crash and then relieved to realize his unit was not involved.
"I want to be by the television set and I want to know where he is," Ms. Nevin said. "When I heard about the helicopter, it went right through my body -- the nervousness, the panic, and then I listen for what unit they belonged to and I think that's okay, but it's not because it was someone else and they are all one big family."