The waiting wife

Jane Rice talks about life as a Bay Area-based wife of a solider in Iraq

While Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shurd Rice pilots a helicopter over bloodbaths in Iraq, his wife, Jane, peers at crustaceans through a microscope in a Tiburon laboratory 7,500 miles away and tries not to think about what's happening to her husband.

"I worry more about Shurd's sanity than his safety," said Rice, a research technician, who recently learned her husband won't be home from Iraq until Halloween, thanks to a three-month extension of his tour of duty that he found out about on CNN.

"Just like that, they pull the finishing line away," Rice told the Guardian. "It's soul destroying. I can't watch the news anymore, waiting for a withdrawal time line that just turns into dust."

Rice, who was born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, says she's "used to crazy leaders.... So Bush made an error, but to do it over and over again? And his refusal to discuss getting out of Iraq leaves me speechless."

Losing herself in the world of science doesn't protect Rice from learning about day-to-day horrors in Iraq, since the details spill into her husband's frequent calls and e-mails.

In a recent e-mail, he wrote about atrocities that happened in an Iraqi village after an improvised explosive device blew up one of the commanders in the Iraqi Army.

"Somehow [the Iraqi Army] knew [whoever detonated the IED] was from a nearby Iraqi village," Shurd wrote, "so they rolled in there to 'interrogate' the village and find the trigger man." The interrogation consisted of "beating the women and children of the village, until they finally gave up the fella," he wrote. "But the original call for medivac came in for the trigger man himself, and the injuries were as follows: multiple gun shot wounds to the feet and hands, and rectal bleeding. That's business Iraqi style."

For Rice, living in the Bay Area, where Shurd grew up and used to be a musician, means she faces painful judgments of her husband's decision to enlist.

"This attitude that because you signed up, you must deserve it, you have it coming — that's hard to field, but people like Shurd are the only ones standing between the self-righteous people and the draft," she says. "And Shurd turns all judgments on their heads. He's the most nonjudgmental person I know. He's always giving me a hard time for judging, so when people say, 'Where's your husband?' and I say, 'Iraq,' and I see that look in their eyes, I think, oh my god! They're judging him."

Rice met Shurd in South Africa when she was 18 and two weeks out of high school.

"I was working at a restaurant where I had to wear a big old 16th-century dress, and Shurd was painting a mural on the wall. He was so impressive, this world-traveling artist guy."

As a South African, Rice said, she didn't have any preconceived notions about the military when Shurd joined the US Army two years after they met.

"It sounds naive now, but at the time it seemed like an adventure," says Rice, who, along with her husband, never imagined that Sept. 11, 2001, was lurking around the corner.

As Shurd wrote in a recent e-mail, "Guess I wasn't paying attention enough to politics to see that coming. But I knew a vehicle for blind patriotism when I saw it and was sure someone was gonna pay, and a lot of people were gonna get paid because of it, and not only was I gonna be along for the ride, like it or not, I was sure to have a front row to see us do something foolish."