Memorial Day: An Army Mom’s Reflection

Army Mom Tracie Ciambotti and her son, Josh.

I awoke this morning thinking about how different this Memorial Day is from 2011’s.  I recall—all too well—the dread that plagued me this holiday weekend last year as my son was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in early June.  Those last couple weeks prior to his departures are always difficult with the constant anticipation of having to say good-bye looming.

This year I am so thankful to have him home on American soil and relieved that my daily battle with the worry and fear that accompany his deployments has ended too.

Many of our nation’s sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers have come home from war over the past year.  Sadly, some will forever be remembered as fallen heroes; others are now wounded warriors fighting to recover from severe injuries or missing limbs; many are struggling silently to reintegrate into non-war life and regain some sense of normalcy—if there is such a thing.

Thousands of service members are currently deployed in war zones; others have just begun their tours of duty; some are now preparing for an upcoming deployment.

I doubt we will we ever know the full impact of war on our military families. Continue reading

Military Families Ministry’s Co-Founder Receives Award

Tracie Ciambotti is co-founder of the Military Families Ministry.

Paula Parker, staff assistant in the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute, is the 2012 recipient of the Barash Award for Human Service.

Created in 1975 by the family of the late Sy Barash, the award honors a full-time member of the faculty or staff or student body on the University Park campus who, apart from his or her regular duties, has contributed the most to human causes, public service activities and organizations, or the welfare of fellow humans.

Parker is being recognized for her work as co-founder and director of the Military Families Ministry, (MFM) which provides support to members of the U.S. armed forces and their families. In 2009, when her oldest daughter deployed to Iraq with the Marine Corps, Parker and local Army mom Tracie Ciambotti launched the Military Families Ministry at the State College Alliance Church. Six months later, Ciambotti moved to Colorado, where she started a similar group, and Parker took on sole leadership in State College.

Continue reading

Deployment Cycles: Stage 3 – Emotional Disorganization

The book cover of Tracie Ciambotti's book, Battles of the Heart.

Emotional disorganization, or stage 3 of the emotional cycle of deployment, occurs during the first six weeks of deployment.  My experience with this cycle, as the mother of a soldier, is different from that of a spouse; my husband is still here, my daily routine doesn’t change, and I don’t take on new responsibilities as a single parent and head of the household.

Although I try to prepare my emotions for my son’s departure, I can’t fully concoct, or practice controlling, the emotions that begin to flow once we have said our good-byes and I watch him walk away.

The thoughts and questions that I try to fight off always seem to slip into my mind in the first days and weeks of a deployment: Will I ever see my son again?  I already miss him and the sound of his voice. 

Josh’s last deployment was his third and I’ve learned new lessons with each.    He received the best training in the world for his role as a combat soldier; I was not offered any training or preparation for my role as his mother.

I learned the hard way that when he goes to war—I face my own war at home.  His war is physical, mine is emotional.  Unlike my son, trained and confident, I was unaware and unprepared for the emotional battle that takes place in your heart and mind when your child goes to a war zone.

Continue reading

Army Mom Shares Her Story: Boot Camp for Military Moms

“It is a mother’s instinct to protect her children.  From the moment we feel the first movement as they grow inside us; we take on the role of protector…

                …What happens to our basic instinct to protect our child when he or she is ordered to one of the most dangerous places in the world?  The one thing that comes so naturally to us, which we have done with ease for 18 years, is suddenly beyond our grasp.  Oh, we still feel the need, but we are no longer able to protect our children!  Worse than that, we cannot know exactly where they are, what they are doing, or if they are safe, injured or even alive.  What now?  How do we get through the day?  How do we survive?”  (Quote from Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms )

I started journaling the day my son left for his second deployment to Iraq in 2008.  What began as an exercise for my own sanity is now Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms.  I realized that I was not the only mother of a service member who was struggling with the emotional trauma of her child’s deployment and I became passionate about helping others.

In Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms, I share my personal experiences and challenges with the emotional side of deployment and offer a training guide to help other moms and family members cope with a loved one’s deployment.

In addition to writing about my experience, I co-founded Military Families Ministry (MFM) with another military mom, Paula Parker.  MFM is focused on supporting the entire military family through the establishment of ministry and support groups in churches and communities.  We unite military families who support each other while working on service projects to support our deployed troops, wounded warriors, and veterans.

Battles of the Heart: Boot Camp for Military Moms is a reminder that our nation’s freedom is not free.  Military families pay a very real price for that freedom.  I want to create awareness of the sacrifices made by our service members and their entire family. My goal is to inspire individuals, churches, and community groups to support the military families in their midst.  Visit Battles of the Heart on Facebook.

Army Mom Responds to Burning of Korans

An Afghan policeman aims at protesters by a burning police truck set alight during an anti-U.S. demonstration on Friday over burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. (Hoshang Hashimi/AP Photo )

It is unclear yet if it was a very bad decision or an inadvertent error, as the President stated in his written apology, which resulted in the burning of Korans at the Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.   In either case, it is deeply troubling and quite honestly mind numbing that this could happen.

Anyone who knows anything about the Muslim religion understands that the Koran is their most sacred possession; common sense should dictate that when you are occupying a country, you should not burn that country’s holiest of holy books.

This situation has undermined the mission of some of our troops who spend a great deal of time visiting with local Afghan village leaders in an effort to build relationships and mutual respect.  This incident has already claimed the lives of two American service members, the number of Afghan protestors killed increases daily, and the full consequences are yet to unfold.  Fox News reported Friday that protests have erupted in provinces across Afghanistan and riots have now spread over the border into Pakistan.

Call it a bad decision or an inadvertent error, does it really matter when you see the devastation this situation has caused?

Army Mom: Expecting the Unexpected from a Deployed Son

The Christmas tree, yet no celebration due to a change in orders.

My son’s platoon arrived back at Fort Carson on December 21st.  Alison had their new apartment all set up and decorated for Christmas—everything was perfect and the only thing missing was Josh.  Unfortunately, my son did not come home with his platoon.  Josh’s orders had changed and he would return at a later date.

All the planning and preparation for a wonderful Christmas with Josh came to a screeching halt.  Alison flew back to Montana to spend the holidays with her family.  The beautifully decorated Christmas tree stood in the cold apartment with no Christmas celebration in sight.

One thing I have learned as an Army mom is to expect the unexpected, but when it happens it still hits hard and sends my emotions on a roller coaster ride.  It was heart-wrenching to think about the tree that went up, with such anticipation of the wonderful Christmas to come, but would have to be taken down without any Christmas celebration.

Tracie receives her unexpected surprise - her son Josh returned from Afghanistan.

The worst for me was the irony that I, through Military Families Ministry, launched a project that sent almost 1800 stockings to deployed troops for Christmas, yet my own son would spend Christmas in Afghanistan with no stocking, not one gift or package from home.  I was angry at the Army and heart-broken for my son.

Last week, Alison called to tell me that Josh had been released and should be arriving within the week.    On Wednesday, she sent me a text to say she was coming up that evening and would stay with us until he got home. When the door opened and I turned to say hello, it was not Alison that I saw—it was Josh.  I sat, stunned for what seemed a long time, before I stood to greet and hug my son.  The hug was precious and full of relief; different from the hug that sent him off to Afghanistan last June.

Tracie in the arms of her son - getting her return home hug.

Army Wives and Army Moms Have a Bond All Their Own

The Army Wives at dinner.

In mid-December, I spent a week with my daughter-in-law, Alison, and some of her friends who are also Army wives.  A surprise announcement came that our deployment, which was to continue until June of 2012, was ending early for one company and approximately 500 soldiers were scheduled to return to Fort Carson in time for Christmas.

These particular wives had all left Colorado Springs when their husbands deployed in June of 2011 to spend the deployment with their families.  It was up to them to find a place to live and get everything ready for their soldier’s return.  They searched online for apartments or townhouses to rent, arranged for moving trucks and helpers, coordinated their moving dates, signed leases, and made arrangements for utilities.

The bracelets made by an Army wife for the others wives with husbands in the same platoon.

If you have ever moved across country, think for a moment about all that is involved with this transition.  These Army wives do it all—alone.    Once everything was in place, they began their journeys back to Colorado, some with small children and one with a new baby.

This experience was remarkable to me in that it was much more than renting an apartment and moving furniture. It was not about getting a house, but rather, making a home for their husbands.  They went together and purchased live Christmas trees and then each went to the others’ homes to help get the trees up and decorated.  I was amazed at how they just get it done.  Things that I would put on my “honey-do-list” and hand off to my husband, they just did because there were no husbands there to hand things off to.

Tracie (left) bonding with another Army Mom at the dinner.

The experienced wives, seasoned from prior deployments, helped the first-timers.  They laughed together and talked, with anticipation, about their husbands coming home.

They arranged a dinner for the platoon’s wives to reconnect with one another.  One of the wives made bracelets for the others with their last name—the name their men answer to in the Army.  I attended this dinner with Alison and had the pleasure of meeting a fellow Army mom whose son is in my son’s platoon.

There is a special bond between soldiers created by the harsh realities of their service; a bond which is incomprehensible to the civilian world.  Like their men—Army wives have a bond all their own.

An Army Mom Given Glimpses of Afghanistan

Tracie's son, Josh, traded a village boy a bottle of Gatorade for a ride on his bike. "Just for something fun to do," he told her later.

The Afghan summer, with average daily temperatures of 115 degrees, has ended and the extreme cold of winter replaces the heat.   It was hard to imagine what those hot summer days were like for my son, Josh, who has been deployed in Afghanistan since earlier this year.

He described long days out on missions, vehicles stocked with cases of cold water bottles that, within a couple of hours, became hot water bottles.

Josh enjoying some watermelon during a rest at an Afghan village.

Chef Boyardee pop top cans of raviolis were favored food items; he would pop the top, set the can on the hood of his vehicle, and within ten minutes it was steaming hot.

Josh posted pictures on Facebook and in one photo he is riding a bicycle with Afghan children surrounding him; I wondered what in the world is he doing.

I emailed him to inquire about the picture and asked him to share his normal day.

Most days we go on patrol with our Afghan soldier counterparts and do walk-throughs of villages: check on security, do well projects, and stuff like that.  We help them provide security so money can be pumped into the area for wells, schools, and clinics. Without adequate security the Taliban would just come in and take it.  Anytime we walk through a village we have an entourage of children following us. In the bicycle picture I traded one of the kids a bottle of Gatorade to ride his bike down the road, just for something fun to do.   We go to a lot of places to meet with the village elders and they offer us tea, grapes, and watermelon, so we take a break and talk with them for a while.

Tracie's son always tells her "I'm doing good Mom." She knows some things a son won't tell his mother.

Obviously, they do other missions which he cannot share, but it’s nice to see him having a fun moment with the local children.

Every time I talk to my son I ask him, “How are you—really?”  And each time he answers, “I’m doing good Mom.”  I know that he tells me that whether it is true or not, it is his way of protecting me.  There are just some things the mother of a soldier doesn’t need to know.

Heroes Among Us: Military Spouses

Army wives at Fort Carson on deployment day, June 11, 2011. Photo courtesy of Tracie Ciambotti

How do you define a hero?  I immediately think of those in uniform—the men and women serving in the Armed Forces or the first responders who protect us in our communities.  Heroes, however, don’t always wear uniforms and carry guns; they live among us in most neighborhoods in this country.

My husband, Jeff, and I have been living 2000 miles apart since the middle of July when I came to Pennsylvania for a summer visit with my family.  My plan to return to Colorado mid-August changed due to a medical situation with my daughter.  Jeff and I have been learning how to manage our relationship, two households, and the myriad of other things that couples encounter—from separate locations.

The U.S. Army soldiers walking into the gymnasium on deployment day at Ft. Carson.

The challenges that Jeff and I have faced over the past months, as difficult as some have been, seem minor in comparison to what military couples endure.  I call him anytime I have a question or just need to talk, he can come here and visit me whenever he wants, and he is not in a dangerous war zone.

This experience has given me fresh perspective and deep appreciation for the courage it takes to be a military spouse, particularly during deployments.  They can’t call their spouse; they must wait for calls to come to them.  They don’t have the luxury of arranging a visit whenever they want and they awake every morning to the reality that the love of their life is fighting a war.

Tracie's daughter-in-law, Alison, and son, Josh, prior to deployment.

Despite how they feel or what they are going through personally, they make themselves available to help and support another military spouse when a need arises.  The bond they have is unbreakable and many say their combined strength is what gets them through.

I have watched my daughter-in-law, Alison, grow into a courageous and admirable Army wife over the past several years and I applaud the way she has become a mentor to new wives.

I think back to deployment day, this past June, as I stood beside real Army wives watching their husbands disappear into the gymnasium; the soldiers heading to war were not the only heroes at Fort Carson that day.

Military Families Ministry’s “Stockings for the Troops”

Tracie Ciambotti is co-founder of the Military Families Ministry.

Military Families Ministry (MFM) has launched their 2011 Christmas project:  “Stockings for the Troops“.

Please join us in sending stockings to our deployed troops who will not spend this special holiday with their families. This is a great family project to reinforce the importance of giving to others–particularly those who sacrifice so much for us.

How can you help?

Make or buy a stocking (max 18 inches) and stuff it with items from this suggested list:

  • candy canes
  • Hard candy (no chocolate)
  • hand & foot warmers (small packets)
  • lip balms
  • tooth-brush and small tooth paste
  • hand lotion  (small – unscented)
  • hot chocolate packets
  • individually wrapped cookies
  • (no homemade cookies – they won’t survive the shipping)
  • beef slim jims
  • Ramen soup packets
  • Small packets of trail mix or pretzels
  • Christmas card (home-made or bought ) with a personal message from you

Then, spread the word;  ask everyone you know to make one stocking, get groups or clubs involved,  talk to your local schools and community organizations (they are looking for projects this time of year).  Download our flyer HERE and pass it around.

Stockings must be shipped by November  23rd to ensure Christmas delivery for our troops.

Drop off locations available for our CO and PA MFM groups, otherwise email tracie@militaryfamiliesministry.com with the number of stockings you have collected and we will provide you with an address to ship directly to the troops.  Those outside our local MFM groups will be responsible for paying their own shipping costs.

Questions: Email Tracie Ciambotti at tracie@militaryfamiliesministry.com

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