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War Made Couple's Relationship Stronger

ONE YEAR AFTER DESERT STORM

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THERE is a new "Home Sweet Home" doormat on the porch of Eugene and Bernadette Presta's small, ranch-style house here. In the nine months since Eugene returned from the Persian Gulf war on April 13, the values of home, family, community, and country have taken on heightened meaning.

"The war brought us together and gave us a greater awareness of everything we have," says Mr. Presta, a sergeant and tank commander in United States Army's Delta Company, first battalion, second armored division. In sweatshirt and jeans and with a Marine flat-top haircut, he helps seat his pregnant wife at the kitchen table. "We got busy on that right away," he says, pointing to her extended tummy and announcing a due date of Feb. 15. "Living through war gives an added urgency and makes you think a lot a bout the things that may not happen in your life."

The Prestas say the statistic of 30 divorces a day for over a month at Ft. Hood after the war is evidence of the strain of war on relationships.

The experience of separation for war, they say, was a hell they would never like to go through again. Extended time away from home in the spartan environment of desert encampments made Sergeant Presta seriously consider ending his career in the military. But his successful return has erased his earlier doubts. Overall, the couple says they have emerged with a strengthened relationship and have new respect for the US Armed Forces and the United Nations.

"I think [the war] has raised esteem for the armed forces in the general world public's view," he says. "They know we are not the army Jimmy Carter had after Vietnam."

With aw-shucks shyness, Presta reluctantly and most un-boastfully recounts that his 100 hours of active war combat resulted in several hits of Iraqi vehicles at over 2,000 yards. Presta was decorated with a medal of valor that now graces his living room wall explaining "heroism ... in direct and indirect enemy fire."

Press accounts continue to be generally favorable though there is the occasional report that gets under his skin.

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