By Katie Weitkamp/Around&About editor

Left behind…Last week the United States launched an attack on Baghdad, beginning war with Iraq. Troops are now on the ground, helicopters have gone down and men have sacrificed their lives. Some Eastern students have been left behind as their boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, family and friends are serving overseas. The following is the story of how one student is learning to cope with the conflict on her own while her fianc defends our country.

Christa Bilski’s wedding dress is hanging up at home. In the tradition of marriage, her fianc hasn’t seen it. In fact, right now he doesn’t even know she bought it. Her wedding with Kevin Carlin, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, is scheduled for November. Bilski hopes he’s back in time for it.

On Feb. 6, Carlin was sent overseas to fight for the United States for six months. He’s due back in August, but there is the possibility of staying a whole year.

“He says ‘expect the worst, but hope for the best,’” Bilski, a pre-med biology major, said. “He’s so negative in his letters. He wrote my mom and told her he feels like he’s going crazy sometimes.”

Bilski has tried to keep a positive outlook on the war so far, and tries to reflect a positive attitude in the letters and packages she sends to her fianc. Right now, the most important thing she sends him are her words, the next is baby wipes.

“What he keeps telling me that he really, really needs is baby wipes because where he is they have no access to showers.” Bilski said. “He called me not long ago and told me that he had his first shower in like 11 days.”

Bilski hung on every word Carlin said, knowing the phone call she received was even more rare than the showers her fianc was able to take. Bilski said her fianc hasn’t even spoken to his parents since shipping overseas — he only calls her.

In the latest call, Carlin told Bilski he was stationed five miles from the Iraqi border. He told her he and his troop stay in tents, which aren’t warm enough over night and get too hot during the day.

Because Bilski isn’t sure of his exact location, she worries constantly about his well-being.

“It’s dangerous all the time. My aunt told me she was watching the news and an Army mechanic unit had been captured and he (her fianc) is an Army mechanic,” Bilski said. “The first thing I thought was oh no, it’s Kevin.”

“Later we found out, you know, it wasn’t him. But you have to wait so long to hear. They said sometimes it could be at least two weeks to find out if it was him or not.”

While Carlin wasn’t captured, Bilski found something else to worry about: the conditions he’s living in.

“He doesn’t eat enough and he’s skinny already,” Bilski said. “He said he’ll go somewhere to get hot food, but by the time he gets it it’s already cold because he had to wait so long.”

Tucked away in some of the packages she sends him are cans of beef stew and other high protein foods.

“I always send a lot,” Bilski said. “I send enough so he can give some out. He’s a sergeant, he needs to look out for his men.”

Bilski and her friends and family put together several care packages and hope the other soldiers are getting some things they can share. Also, she hopes people will send things to troops to help boost their spirits while they’re away from home.

“Nobody wants war. Kevin even said he did not want the war to happen,” Bilski said. “Everybody knew it was coming, nobody was going to change it. People walking out in the street are not going to change it. All that’s left to do is support your country.”

“Over (Spring) Break I saw protesters saying ‘no death for oil.’ They have no idea what this is all about. We are not over there for oil and that makes me so mad to hear.

“Kevin even told me in one of his past letters that ‘this isn’t a party.’ He’s sleeping in a tent. We’re not over there for oil. We’re over there to help people. People just don’t understand that I hate that he’s over there saving the lives of people like that,” she said.

And this war will keep Bilski and Carlin apart for two important dates, Bilski’s 19th birthday and their one-year anniversary.

“He bought me a birthday card before he left because he knew he wouldn’t be back,” Bilski said.

The media coverage, especially live television views, have Bilski glued to the television set. She said she watches FOX News constantly, trying to stay updated on the latest developments, which is having an effect on her grades.

“I’m not doing as well this semester,” Bilski said. “I’m expecting to see my grade point average go down.”

But she also tries to distract herself. The wedding dress she bought over Spring Break helps keep her spirits up and helps her focus on her future with Carlin.

“He wanted to help plan the wedding so bad, but then he said to just go ahead and do it (without him) because he wants to get married as soon as he gets back. He just said to keep him updated,” Bilski said.

Bilski hopes Carlin will be back this August. She plans to take a semester off to plan her wedding and move to Virginia, where Carlin is stationed when in the states, but also is preparing for him to be gone an entire year. Relying on the support of friends and family helps keep her strong to send encouraging messages to Carlin and others in the military.

“I was at Wal-Mart and saw a book where you can write to the soldiers. I wrote a little note to help lift their spirits.”

When Bilski misses her fianc, she looks at her engagement ring, which he gave her just before he left the United States.

“When I went up to see him before I left he gave it to me,” Bilski said, smiling at her ring. “I was really, really glad we got to spend that time together before he left. It helps me remember the good times we have together.”