Lance Cpl. Matthew Cote is spending Easter in Auburn – at home.

GREENE – Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Cote waits for the order to go to war. And he waits.

Since the end of January, the Auburn husband and father has trained with his battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Other Marines have gone to Iraq and fought. Some have died.

“It kills me every day that there are Marines, my brothers, fighting and I am not with them,” said Cote, 21.

It doesn’t bother his wife, Taylor-Paige. This Easter, the young couple is together.

Cote began a 96-hour leave from the Marine base on Friday. That night, he had dinner with his family in Auburn. On Saturday afternoon, they went to the Kora Shrine Circus. At night, they went to his father’s church, the Fellowship Church in Greene. They played games, hugged and simply enjoyed being together.

Jason, 4, played at Matthew’s feet and ran around the church hall. And Madison, 20 months, played, laughed and wrapped her arms around her father’s neck.

“Last night, she played Daddy’s little girl,” said Taylor-Paige. “If I wanted to sit on his lap, she’d try to push me off.”

It’s a short spring respite for the family, which was pulled apart in the coldest days of winter. In the time between, Taylor-Paige visited him once at the base. The children hadn’t seen him at all.

Taylor-Paige, 23, smiles at the way the kids hold their dad tight, but she doesn’t know when they’ll see him again.

It could be more months of separation. And Matthew knows he may still be sent to the Middle East.

It’s his hope. His battalion is one of the last remaining groups left at the massive base, one of the primary embarkation points for Marines heading to the war.

Outside its main gate, a long fence is covered with signs of hope and patriotism for so many who have left there for Iraq. And a few of this base’s Marines will never return.

The casualties drew President Bush to make a speech there two weeks ago. Matthew was in the audience that day.

But most days are devoted to training as infantry. Members of his group have been taking turns serving on alert status, prepared to leave the base in a matter of hours at a call that has yet to come.

“Morale is just up and down and up and down.” he said. “We want a mission.”

But he knows that he has been more fortunate than many others. He can call his wife and talk with his children. And he can visit his home for a couple of days.

“It’s just not long enough,” he said.

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