Kristin Juliussen feature

NIMMONSBURG -- On Tuesday, it came just before the start of the game.
A huge military plane flew low over the BAGSAI complex and the Broome Community
College campus.
Sometimes, it'll be a man in uniform she'll see on the way to her game. It might
be a military transport vehicle she sees as she heads to the park.
When she sees these, Kristin Juliussen thinks of her husband in Iraq.
She takes them as signs.
"They tell me that he's OK," she said.
Watch her during a BCC softball game, and you'd never know that her mind should
be on anything but softball. Watch her drop textbook bunts, field hot-hit ground
ers at shortstop and cheer her teammates from the dugout and you'd never know wh
at she's enduring. You'd think she was a typical second-year community college s
And that's the point.
That's what softball has done for Juliussen this season. It's given her an outle
t. It's given her something to do to keep her mind off what's going on just sout
h of Baghdad, where her husband, Arne -- A.J. to everyone who knows him -- is st
ationed as an Army specialist with the 3/3 ACR Platoon, L-Troop.
"I think she treasures (softball) more this year than ever before," her father,
Steve Merrell, said.
They met in their freshman year of high school in Harpursville. Her best friend
was dating his best friend, so the two started hanging out. Things just kind of
happened from there.
A.J. played football and wrestled at Harpursville. Kristin Merrell was an all-st
ate softball player.
A.J. enlisted in the Army out of high school. He proposed when he was home for C
They were married on June 19, 2004, in Harpursville and moved to Colorado. A.J.
was stationed at Fort Carson. Kristin, who spent her freshman year at BCC, took
classes at Pikes Peak Community College.
Gradually, the couple began to realize that A.J. was going to be sent overseas.
"It really hit home when he got his bulletproof vest," Kristin said.
On March 6 of this year, A.J., 20, was deployed to Iraq. Instead of staying in C
olorado by herself, Kristin, 19, moved back home. She enrolled in some online cl
asses at BCC and rejoined the softball team.
Kristin has played softball since she was 5 years old. Her father's an accomplis
hed former player and coach. She played in youth leagues and on a state-champion
ship under-16 squad. This season, she brought a .403 batting average into this w
eek's games for the undefeated BCC squad.
"She knows how to play the game," BCC coach Tim Brink said. "When I say that, I
mean she knows how to do all the little things well. She's a very smart player."
Brink also needed an assistant coach. He brought Merrell aboard.
"I wanted someone from her family to be around at all times," he said.
Kristin and A.J. talk almost every day. He calls her cell phone when he gets a f
ree minute.
When things are ideal, he calls her when it's morning here (Baghdad is eight hou
rs ahead).
Of course, in his line of work, ideal is a rare state.
As an E4 Specialist, A.J. does a lot of reconnaissance work. There are times whe
n he's on missions for five days.
There have been days where the two haven't talked, and Kristin has called her mo
ther-in-law crying -- only to learn that A.J. had called in tears because he did
n't get a chance to call his wife.
At first, he told her about his missions. That lasted until the first time a mem
ber of his unit was killed.
"We try to keep it positive," Kristin said. "What he's doing isn't positive."
Kristin's always got her cell phone nearby, waiting for the call. Because no one
knows when A.J. will call, the Hornets have had to make some special arrangemen
ts this season.
There have been times this season when Kristin has been playing catch in warmups
, her glove in one hand and cell phone in the other, talking to A.J.
"It's a delicate situation," Brink said.
But her teammates understand.
They're always there to listen. They have small yellow ribbon decals (the 'suppo
rt our troops' ones) on the back of their batting helmets.
"I have two friends over there, and I'm not liking it," said Shelly Forsburg, BC
C's freshman pitcher. "I can't imagine it being my husband. I don't know how she
does it."
But mostly, they support her by being normal teammates. By making softball her e
scape, even if it's just for a few hours a day.
"It helps keep my mind off it," Kristin said.
Right now, the Juliussens don't have concrete future plans. They'd like to build
a house in Harpursville and start building their lives. But that might not happ
en for a while.
A.J. was supposed to return home in September. Now, Kristin said it looks like h
e won't he back until June 2006.
"When I go to sleep, I want him there," Kristin said. "When I wake up, I want hi
m there. When it's 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. and he should be coming home from work, I wa
nt him there.
"It's hard all the time."

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