Military Moms and Wives Share Deployment Coping Skills

Many couples schedule pre-deployment photos to preserve their memories.

Tracie Ciambotti writes eloquently about the emotional cycles for a mom when a child deploys. Her words resonated with some military moms and spouses. Their comments follow:

Lynlee Darby – The fear at times becomes almost too much

Thank you for putting into words what is on our hearts. My son Chance is going for his second deployment soon and we are at the stage 1. I want to be with him every second I can…..and he has many people he wants to spend time with. Its one of the hardest things I have ever done. I tried to make his time at home Christmas as special as possible. And to cherish each second I had with him. We have a large family and he has lots of friends. It is so hard to get everything in.

I am not sure how to describe how I feel! How do you describe so much pride and belief in your child at the same time your heart is aching knowing he will miss meals, be cold, be in danger, not sleep in comfort and be away from everyone he loves. And the fear at times becomes almost too much. I try really hard to keep in the front of my heart and mind that God has a plan for him. And He can keep him better than I can (which is hard to admit since he’s my baby!)

I know a lot of parents are facing deployment of a child right now and I hurt for them also. Just like I hurt for the girlfriends and wives and children of those who are deployed. I wish there was some way to ease the pain and fear, just one day at a time and a constant reminder that God is ever-present.

Tracie with her son Josh prior to his deployment.

Gerry Overbo – I am trying to be very strong

Thank you so much, my son deploys out at the end of this month. His first and as a mother this is very emotional, as I sit here reading tears are streaming down.

I am trying to be very strong because I don’t want him to worry about the home-front. As a single parent, he always was my rock … what I need to do as a military mom is make this as easy on my solder as possible.

Deployment day at Fort Carson.

Laurie Hammerschmidt – We are so much stronger today

This is my husband second deployment. I believe that these stages of deployment are different for Moms vs. Spouses, New Spouses vs. Seasoned Spouses, and then there are spouses with children, young and old. Deployment affects many in many different ways. My husband and I believe that these deployments will either make or break your marriage. We have been fortunate as we feel we are sooo much stronger today, together than we were at the beginning of the first one.

I give you credit for trying to put into words what its like., but really there is no describing the absence of your spouse in your life for a year out of a time, not having your dad there for all the special things in your life. I have dealt with natural disasters alone, college life and expenses alone, broken down cars, sickly, near death family members, illnesses, broken bones in our children, car accidents, broken down appliances, boy friend issues, holidays, some deaths, snow removal….and many other things to numerous to mention….

But my husband is a proud soldier, a good soldier, a good husband and father. He loves his country and what he does. He is respected by his superiors as well as his charges. No matter how hard it has been for me, I will always be here for him and support him, because I know this is just as hard, if not harder, on him.

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A Military Mom: Don’t Take the Small Things for Granted

Here’s a second contribution from Momma B – also known as Elaine Brye. She has four children and writes a blog: 4 star military mom. All are serving in the military – one in each branch – Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Elaine Brye's four children who are rarely home at the same time.

BY ELAINE BRYE

As a military mom it is not only the big things that get to you-it can be the every day things that most take for granted. For example getting all four of mine in one place at the same time is quite a challenge. As I sit on our hilltop farm and look out on a holiday I can see clusters of families gathering together-not my kids. I may be lucky to get a double or a triple but very seldom do I get a home run of everyone together.

It’s funny – when they were home all the time –  I think they got the basics of hand-to-hand combat completed in my living room. I would head to town and war would break out. The battles raged, casualties abounded including lampshades and then the phone would ring. ” Kids, I am on the way home, anything else we need?”

Immediately they sprang into action just like Thing1 and Thing 2 (out of Dr. Seuss) – in this case – also Thing 3 and Thing 4 – and all worked together to put things back in order.  A few days later I might ask, “What happened to this lamp shade? ” to be met by silence. Of course all of this has only recently been disclosed now that the statute of limitations has run out.

They work hard to see each other when they can, but that little thing of normal life together is a thing of the past.

When they were home, I knew their friends,their comings and goings, and supported them in their activities. I sat on so many bleachers  that I developed bleacher bottom – an increase in girth directly attributed to hours sitting in the car or the bleachers.

Now, the questions remain unanswered – what did you do at work today, where are you, when will you be home? OPSEC (Operational Security) reigns supreme and I find myself reading the news to figure out if my kid might be there. The not knowing – and being less a part of their lives because of it – those are little things I took for granted in years gone by.

Momma B's first grandchild.

I have to say the one thing that really has upped the ante when I think of the little things is my grandchildren. During my sons’ first deployments they were newlyweds. Their wives stepped it up and bravely held down the home front. They dealt with all the things that can go wrong.

As it says in Mrs. Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will happen when he is out of town-or on deployment.

But this time around – well – it is different. There is a little girl left behind. Six months old when Daddy left and she will be a year old when he comes home. The first tooth, the first steps – no amount of technology can replace missing those milestones. When we talk about personal sacrifice,  it can be the little things that mean so much.

A Mom, 4 Kids, 4 Services: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines

Off the Base has a new contributor. She goes by the nom de plume of Momma B on her blog: 4starmilitarymom. She’s mother to four children – all are in the military – one in each branch Navy, Army, Marines and Air Force. So far, as a mother she’s gone through four deployments in the last two years with her children. The youngest is still in ROTC in college. She is an “Army brat” growing up and currently is based in Bangladesh. Here’s her first contribution. It’s important to note three of  her children are pilots.

Momma B in a flight simulator.

September 7, 2011

CRASH

“Mom, I was surprised you didn’t call me about the crash? ” CRASH?! I had heard about a possible F/18 crash but I had been very busy that week. When I Googled, I could find no mention of it. Besides my Marine was sick in Florida not in California….My mom radar was definitely on the blink. As an aviator’s mom (make that triple aviator’s mom ) I scan the news daily for any mention of a mishap that might remotely involve my boys or any of their compadres. And when a news crawl or Google alert pops up I am on the phone, if possible, checking  to make sure my kid is safely on the ground.

Such is the life of a military pilot’s mom. It doesn’t matter if they are deployed or not. Every day, they do battle with physics. My Marine in his F/18 defies gravity and the speed of sound, flying way too close to another airplane to make a mom comfortable. My P/3 NFO is up for hours in OLD airplanes-thankfully soon to be replaced. And my Army ROTC cadet in helicopters-those things fly way too close to the ground, don’t you think?

Momma B in a Bangladesh market talking to her sister in New York.

But this accident sneaked right past me. Thankfully the pilot – a buddy from flight school – and the “Whizzo” escaped to tell the tale, despite sustaining serious injuries.

I should mention I am also the wife of an aviator who has flown for 40 years in and out of the military. I have seen the black smoke of an accident more than once. But when it is your kid at the stick, it brings the word worry to a whole new level.

When two of them deployed last year to the far east, people would ask me if I was relieved they weren’t in Afghanistan. Not really – the skies they flew near were not necessarily friendly. But that is what they do – and they are proud of it. So I pray, and scan the news, and pray some more. The Navy Hymn has a verse for aviators ” Lord guard and guide the men who fly…” yes please do.

Citadel Mom Cycle Completed – A Blue Star Mom Emerges

The Bravo Company sophomore clerks stand behind the first sergeant, a junior, as a knob checks in on Matriculation Day 2010.

It’s been a month since we were in Charleston for our son’s commissioning service, the Long Gray Line graduation parade, and then graduation. Since that event filled weekend, there have been many new experiences. The most significant for me: passing along my contact lists and notes from the past three years as the coordinator of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group.

The new coordinator is Lynda Goodfellow. Her son, Niles, is a rising sophomore. Lynda will do a terrific job making sure the new families are informed of the new life their child is entering.

Passing along the information is a mixed bag of emotions for me. I know the friendships I have formed the past four years will continue, but I’ll miss the regular contact with the school, the families and regular visits to Charleston to take part in the various big weekends. The role of coordinator and also, for the past 2 years, Area Rep coordinator for the Citadel Family Association felt more like a calling to me.

I have a master of divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. During my time there, I took a number of classes in pastoral care and clinical pastoral education, which is the training you go through to be a chaplain. In many ways, I used what I learned in seminary to be a supportive caring presence to the families I came into contact with the past several years.

Writing for the Off the Base blog has helped me ease into the eventual graduation of my son and his move into his new role as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. By writing down what I’ve learned, I hope to help future classes of Citadel cadets and their parents navigate the fourth class system.

Dorie and Nelson pose in front of Murray Barracks after the Class of 2011 receive their rings. Photo by Stanley Leary.

By the number of hits the most recent entry, A Letter to The Citadel Class of 2015, is receiving, I can tell the preparation for Matriculation Day has begun. The official information for the Class of 2015 has not been posted yet, but that doesn’t keep incoming cadets and their families from searching for all the advance information they can find. The Success Packet from 2014 can be found online, but will be revised for 2015.

All academic institutions have their cycles. For military schools in particular, the cycles are very predictable. Beginning in late April and going through July, families begin the preparation process of sending their student off to become a cadet.

Some parents begin to do their own research. Since my name remained on the Citadel Family Association web site as a contact, I have received emails and phone calls for the parents doing the early research. I’m sure the new contacts in each position are now getting the early inquiries too.

In the next few months the Class of 2015 will be (or SHOULD BE) running, doing push ups and sit ups in preparation for Matriculation Day in August.

The rising 3rd Class cadets, or sophomores, are looking forward to not being a knob. Some are preparing for their new role as part of the cadet command system, attending various military camps, and in general enjoying their summer.

The rising 2nd class cadets have similar outlook, but they know they will have even more privileges and will have more responsibility in the cadet command. The juniors who have set their sights on becoming a Bond Volunteer Aspirant and eventually a member of the Summerall Guard silent drill platoon, are spending their summer working out (or SHOULD BE) to prepare for the tough year ahead. These cadets have a tough road ahead of them.  They will hold rank which is like having a full-time job outside of their class work, and they are treated like knobs by the current Summerall Guards.

The rising 1st Class cadets spend their summers looking forward to the day in the fall when they receive their rings, one of the best days in the life of a cadet. If they are on an Army ROTC scholarship, many will attend the Leader Development Assessment Course (LDAC) held each year at Joint Base Lewis McCord. There are other training courses and events for all the branches of the military. The cadets who are not entering the military begin to see their time as a student is coming to an end and begin to focus their energy and thoughts to what they will do in the “real” world after graduation.

Each step of this process means the cadets and their parents and guardians are learning their new and changing roles. It’s a time of life when our role as parents shift a bit. We are about to watch our children launch from adolescence into full adulthood. Some will make that transition completely for others it will be more gradual.

The Griggs/Leary Family attend the annual “Roswell Remembers Memorial Day” celebration. Dorie, left, with daughter, Chelle. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In the past month, my son attended at least three weddings of his classmates with more on the horizon. Some former classmates are still hunting for jobs. Most are beginning to realize they spent four years looking forward to graduation and now they miss their classmates and the life they complained about for those four years.

My son reported to Ft. Benning May 30, Memorial Day. He is living in an apartment complex in Columbus, Georgia where at least 20 other classmates from The Citadel are also living. Each young man is serving in the Infantry or Armor branch of the Army.

We spent our Memorial Day morning at a large ceremony in our hometown. I met several other Blue Star Mothers that day. When the national anthem was played, we all stood with our hands over our hearts and tears in our eyes. I’ve attended this ceremony before and didn’t feel as connected to it as I do now.

The cycle continues. As the cadets and their parents prepare for the next school year, I’m moving on from my role as a support person to Citadel parents, to a student of how to be a supportive parent to an officer in the U.S. Army. I know this next role will last a lot longer than the previous one.

Blue Star Mothers’ White House Tour Fails Expectations

Dorie Griggs (left) and Tracie Ciambotti (right), two Blue Star Mothers outside the White House Saturday for the group's tour. Both Blue Star Moms contribute entries to Off the Base.

On Saturday, 50 mothers whose sons and daughters are active duty military were on an invited tour of the White House. The Blue Star Mothers came from around the country, some from as far away as California and Arizona, for what they thought was a special event. But, some left disappointed.

The invitation on the Blue Star Mothers Facebook a few weeks ago was vague according to Dorie Griggs. She’s a new Blue Star Mothers member, so she called before booking and paying for her flight from Atlanta. She wanted to make sure the Blue Star Mother’s event was more than the routine White House tour.

Griggs said she was told the tour would be special (more than typical tour anyone can schedule through their member of Congress.) And she said there was supposed to be entertainment and a photographic exhibit.

What the event ended up being was a an exhibit of a couple of dozen photos showing President Obama visiting military bases, the White House tour was self-guided, just like the Congressional tours, and there was no entertainment.

“After our welcome by one of the White House Tour staff person, one of our Blue Star Mothers made an announcement,” Griggs said. “(She) … reminded people ‘I understand there’s a level of disappointment’, but we are military moms and we’re resilient and you can make the best of this or you can be upset.”

The group of mothers Griggs was with “made the best of it” using the event to cement friendships with other Blue Star Mothers. “It was a good example of what your life is like when you’ve got a member in the military.”

Griggs is quickly adjusting to that mindset. Her son, a new Citadel graduate and Army officer, has already had his reporting date to Ft. Benning, Georgia moved up a week.

Dorie Griggs writes frequently for Off the Base. Here are a few of her recent entries:

The Making of a Military Mom

The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

How The Citadel “Ya-Yas” Came to Be

Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel

The Citadel Trained Me as Well as My Son

Care Packages for Cadets: The Citadel Heroes Project

A New Blue Star Mom Shows Supports for Fallen Soldier

Celebration, Tradition, Ritual: The Long Gray Line

Ad Campaign Aims at Helping Blue Star Families

Multiple deployments and Permanent Change of Station (PCS) are two of many stresses unique to military families. There’s a Public Service Ad Campaign aimed at letting the Blue Star Families know they are not alone.

For help, military members and family members can call 800-273-8255.

As an aside, two contributors to Off the Base who are Blue Star Mothers are part of a Blue Star Mothers event Saturday hosted by the White House. Congratulations to Dorie Griggs and Tracie Ciambotti both excellent examples of supportive and proactive military moms.

A New Blue Star Mom Shows Supports for Fallen Soldier

The Patriot Guard Riders line the drive to shield the fallen soldier's family from any possible protestors.

As I get ready to transition from the mom of a cadet at The Citadel to the mom of an U.S. Army 2LT, a fellow Citadel Ya Ya suggested I join the Blue Star Mothers (BSM), a nonprofit for mothers with children in the military. I signed up just last week. 

Two days later I received an email from the BSM asking members to please attend the funeral for a fallen soldier from our area, Spc. Gary L. Nelson, III of Woodstock, GA. The Westboro Baptist Church group was threatening to protest the proceedings and they wanted to get as many people as possible out to show support for the family and keep them from seeing or hearing any protesters.

The Patriot Guard Riders wait outside the sanctuary for the family of Spc Gary L. Nelson, III to arrive.

I posted a note to my Facebook page to ask anyone who was in the area to attend too if they could.  I received a flood of supportive responses from friends, many of them mothers of cadets at The Citadel. Since I had never attended a military funeral, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  As the mom of a future Army officer, I felt it was my duty to show the Nelson family support.

I arrived at the church an hour and a half before the funeral.  The crowds already formed along the road to the church. After parking in a neighborhood across the street, I walked to the church. Along the way, I met a man and his young son. He was a Baptist pastor who lived in the neighborhood.

I began to take photos of the gathering crowd. Some wore patriotic clothing, others carried signs of support for the Nelson’s and many had American Flags. They represented all different generations. When I crossed the street and saw the crowd gathered there, my eyes began to tear up for the first time since arriving.

Johnny “Swatt” Badger of the Patriot Guard Riders instructs the people gathered to salute if you are a veteran or put their hands over their hearts as the family passes.

A huge gathering of the members of the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) was just inside the parking lot.  Scores of motorcycles of varying sizes and types were lined up.  Many of them had American Flags flying. The riders were gathered in a group apparently receiving instructions for the morning. Once the group broke up a line formed at the rear of a car as 2 people began to hand out large American Flags to the PGR members. They took the flags and began to line up on both sides of the entrance to the sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church.

Also watching the events as they unfolded were a group of ROTC cadets.  I could tell they were cadets by the leadership patch on their arms, but I didn’t know which program they represented. I said hello and asked where they went to school. They were all with North Georgia College and State University, which has an excellent Army ROTC department. After a brief time of good-natured kidding (The Citadel and North Georgia are rivals) we had a great conversation. I took a group photo, which by then also included a few members of the National Guard who came over to say hello.

Army ROTC cadets form North Georgia College & State University and visiting National Guard members wait in the parking lot of the church for the family to arrive.

Like most of the crowd they did not know the fallen soldier, but the cadets and a hand full of National Guard soldiers heard about the funeral and the rumored protest and decided it was important for them to come and support the family.

I moved on to take photos of the scene unfolding in front of the church. The Patriot Guard Riders were evenly spaced from both sides of the front door of the sanctuary and along the sidewalk. Each person held an American flag on a long white flag pole. They wore their leather vests, which displayed patches of the organizations, and/or ideals they represent.

The Honor Guard during their practice.

At quick glance I could tell many of these mostly men were Vietnam Vets.  A few children members joined the tribute. A little farther away from the front door a group of JROTC cadets began to take their place along the sidewalk. As I took photos my eyes filled with tears. I can’t imagine the grief the Nelson family feels. Seeing so many people come out to support the Nelson family filled me with emotion. I hope the family will be able to find some small comfort from all those who gathered to honor their son and to thank them for their ultimate sacrifice.

Members of the Georgia Department of Defense pay their respects.

It was time for the family to arrive so I moved to the entrance of the parking lot and met a number of people who came from some distance to support the family. People with large flags lined up along the street. At one point a woman stepped forward and asked the crowd to recite the Pledge of Allegiance together. A group of easily a couple hundred put their hands over their hearts and recited the Pledge.

An announcement was made that the family was almost to the church. A representative of the Patriot Guard Riders stepped forward to instruct us that current and former members of the military should salute and all others could place their hands on their hearts. I watched as this group of strangers quietly followed the instructions.

The Patriot Guard Riders surround the area where the service is taking place.

When the procession of police escorts, funeral home vehicles and family members arrived they were greeted with scores of supporters at attention quietly paying tribute to their son.  As cars with family and friends drove by where I stood, I could see the passengers and drivers were all filled with emotion, wiping the tears from their eyes.

Once the family and visitors were inside for the funeral some people began to leave for the Georgia National Cemetery. I decided to go as well. Along the 20 minute ride from the church in Woodstock to the cemetery in Canton, I could see members of the local fire department on the overpasses hanging American flags.  A group of people waited in a shopping center parking lot along the route.

The Army ROTC cadets stand at attention during the Honor Guard practice prior to the family arriving to the cemetery.

The cadets from North Georgia College were at the cemetery along with the Honor Guard and representatives of the Georgia Department of Defense (GDoD). I took photos as the honor Guard began to practice.

When the family arrived, they were escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders.  Once again the PGR took their flags and lined up around the gathering spot for the service. The Honor Guard, cadets and the GDoD members stood at attention.

Fortunately, the protestors never arrived. The Nelson family and friends could say good bye to their soldier in peace.

Previous entries by Dorie Griggs:

The Making of a Military Mom

Mom Readies for Son’s Military College

The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

How The Citadel “Ya-Yas” Came to Be

Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel

The Citadel Trained Me as Well as My Son

The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards

The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring Weekend

Care Packages for Cadets: The Citadel Heroes Project

The Citadel Bond Renews Parents’ Long Time Friendships

The Citadel: Unofficial Tips for Families of Incoming Knobs

The Citadel: Saying Good-Bye, But Always Connected

A Sister, a Mom, A Family Prepares for Military Life

Survival Skills to Succeed as a Citadel Mom

Here’s an open letter to the Westboro Baptist Church  from another contributor asking the church members to stop protesting fallen soldiers’ funerals and instead protest at government venues where policy is changed.

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