Sonja and Duane Laabs pose with a picture of their son, Wacie, in their Craig home Thursday night. Wacie, who is 19 and graduated from Moffat County High School in 2006, is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq on Monday.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Sonja and Duane Laabs pose with a picture of their son, Wacie, in their Craig home Thursday night. Wacie, who is 19 and graduated from Moffat County High School in 2006, is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq on Monday.

Waiting on Monday

Craig couple braces for Marine Corps son's deployment to Iraq

— This is the kind of kid Craig native Wacie Laabs was: The kind who talked endlessly about joining the United States Marine Corps.

The kind whose bedroom at home - with its Marine Corps posters and books, flanked by pictures of his beloved New York Yankees - could double as a recruiting office.

The kind who wrote out the phrase, "How motivated are you to become a United States Marine?" on duct tape, and stuck it on the ceiling above his bed.

The kind who fell asleep each night with that question rambling in his mind, and the kind who came up with a fresh answer each morning. The kind who pushed childhood dreams into adult reality.

"This," his father Duane Laabs said, "was his dream since the fifth grade. This was all he thought of. : He's got books back there on nothing but Marine Corps history he's read 20 times. They're the best of the best."

"When Wace sets his mind to something, he does it" his mother, Sonja Laabs, said.

Now 19, this is the man he grew to be: The kind who pledged allegiance to country and Corps in January 2006, a few months before graduating from high school.

The kind who comes home to his folks when he can, and who calls his mother when possible. The kind who is on the cusp of deploying to a hostile territory to uphold the principles he swore he would.

"Now, he's ready to go over there to defend his country and do the job he's trained to do," Sonja said.

Laabs, a lance corporal and a machine gunner in the Mobile Assault Platoon in Twentynine Palms, Calif., is leaving for Haditha, Iraq, a city in the Al Anbar province along the Euphrates River, on Monday for a seven- to nine-month deployment. He was not available for comment.

It's a day his parents learned about a week ago, and one they haven't stop thinking about since.

"Before now," said Duane, who served in the Army from 1983 to 1986, "I knew what to expect. Now : there's some fear with me. Anything can happen."

"I'm sure he'll be on my mind every minute of the day," Sonja said. "I'll be standing next to that phone until he leaves.

"Your first instinct is fear because they are no longer under your watch. The letting go is very difficult."

Duane and Sonja will use Monday to hang a service flag from the front window in their home, and a yellow ribbon from a tree in their yard - both symbols of having a loved one in a war.

Laabs left for the Marines on June 19, 2006, three weeks after graduating from Moffat County High School, where he wrestled and played football and baseball.

In April of that year, he and his parents took a trip to New York, and caught a Yankees game. Sonja paid a small fortune for seats two rows behind the Yankee dugout.

"That's the benefit of only one child," Sonja said. "You can spoil them rotten."

There, in "The House that Ruth Built," they wandered the stadium, soaking in the glory of immortals such as Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio in Monument Park. An awe-struck Laabs waited around after the game for a Yankee player to autograph a foul ball he snatched.

When Wacie got home, he gave the signed ball to his grandfather, Bryan Harder, of Craig.

The gesture wasn't unusual for someone like her son, Sonja said, and is another example of the man he's become.

"Not for Wace," she said. "He knew grandpa was a fan long before he was. Wace figured he'd get back there. : What a privilege it's been to be his mother. I couldn't have asked for a better kid."

Today, another day closer to him leaving for a land of violence and danger, the memory of the trip is comforting to Duane and Sonja, if not distant.

Today, they face the prospect of him being out of their grasp. Sometimes, they look for hours at a map of Iraq, wondering what lies in wait for their son in the hostile desert of the Middle East.

"I wish that time would just stop right now so Monday would not get here," said Sonja, who wears a rubber, camouflaged band around her wrist emblazoned with the phrases, "Defend our freedom," and "Pray for our troops." "It's hard knowing he's not going to be somewhere I could get to him quickly."

The parents said comfort will elude them until their son comes home.

"He's doing something that a lot of people aren't doing," Duane said. "It scares me. All of them over there are always on my mind."

"I don't go to bed without saying my prayers, and neither does Wacie," Sonja said. "God is the only one that I trust with my son's well-being right now."

In the living room of the couple's Pershing Street home, rests a framed poem, "A Marine Mom's Prayer," and above it, a framed picture of Wacie in his Marine Corps uniform. The poem and picture are sources of pride and anxiety for the parents.

"It's going to be the day from hell," Sonja said. "He'll be my everything. Everything I do will be centered around him."

Then, as her eyes steadied on the photo, she said "He looks scared in that picture : and he had such a baby face."

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