On A Personal Note: Merry Christmas Daddy!

My father's grave at Dayton National Cemetery, December 2014.

My father’s grave at Dayton National Cemetery, December 2014.

I am warmed this Christmas season knowing my father has a wreath on his grave. The Dayton National Cemetery Wreaths Across America volunteer who took the time to place it and send me a photo, Norman Spurling, has my undying gratitude. He is caring for my father’s grave. That’s a comfort since I live in Florida and don’t have ready access.

So a huge thank you to Mr. Spurling and to the volunteer who placed the wreath at my father-in-law’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. May the families of all veterans rest easier knowing there are such good people who care for those who have served.


A Marine’s Christmas Song from Afghanistan

Master Sgt. Robert Allen, a native of Pawnee, Okla., serves as the aircraft rescue firefighting chief for Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 in Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. An avid musician, Allen wrote a Christmas song for his wife, Carla, as he spends the holidays away from her and their three children. Photo by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Brian Adam Jones.

Imagine Christmas without the colors of green and red surrounded only by desert brown. Imagine Christmas without eggnog and snow angels,  instead there are MREs and sand-filled Hesco barriers.

Imagine Christmas without your wife or children – your only family – fellow Marines.

That is the world Marine Corps Master Sgt. Robert Allen sings about in this Christmas Song for his wife. Allen is currently deployed at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

Click on his YouTube video. Take 2:35 to watch it and then help make it go viral – a fitting gift for a Marine and his wife.

You can read more about Marine Master Sgt. Allen in an article by the American Forces Press Service HERE.

“Will You Ever be a Normal Family?”

One purpose of this blog is to help civilians better understand military families and the demands on their lives. Several military members, veterans and their spouses contribute to that end. Here’s an entry from a new contributor who I met through the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club.

Michael and me on my 21st birthday, May 2006.

By Alexandra Fuller

While talking to a neighbor about my husband’s current deployment she asked me many of the normal questions that a civilian wants to know.  “Will he be home soon?”  “Is he in a dangerous area?”  “Do you miss him?” But, one of her questions really stood out.  “When will your husband get out of the military so you can be a normal family?”

She meant no ill will by asking this question.  To her, our life is not normal.

I have been asked many questions about our life and his career.  Yet, this particular question really made me stop and think: What is the definition of a normal family?  I met my husband after he had already enlisted as active duty Air Force. So, I do not know any other life.  To us, our life was normal.

I married, Michael, the love of my life in  September 2007.  At the time, he had been active duty for more than five years and had completed many deployments.  Shortly thereafter, our newly-wed stage ended and reality appeared when he received orders to deploy.

Fuller Family pictures April 2010.

I had never been properly introduced to the lifestyle of a military wife.  So, I decided to be proactive and learn the ropes on my own.  I made friends with many spouses in my husband’s unit.  I attended spouse functions and volunteered as much as my school and work schedule would allow.  The participation in the activities made the transition into the military lifestyle so much easier and eased the pain of not having my husband close by.

I have to thank each of the spouses from the 823rd Security Forces unit and all of the other spouses that befriended me at Moody Air Force Base for helping me through that trying time.  Without them my life would have been miserable.  They taught me what true strength is.

Fast forward almost two years:  another deployment and homecoming had come and gone. Michael and I found out that we were expecting a little one.  We were over the moon. But, due to the rapid deployment nature of his unit at the time, we prepared ourselves as if he not be home for the majority of the pregnancy and birth.

Most of wives in his unit had given birth by themselves while their husbands were deployed.  Several of the spouses I knew had been alone for the birth of all of their children. It was not an easy pill to swallow. Yet, we continued to enjoy the time he was at home.

He had to leave several times during my pregnancy for different training exercises.  Yet, he made the majority of my appointments and was there when we found out that we were having a boy.  Closer to the end of my pregnancy we began to realize that we were going to be among the lucky few who were able to remain together through most of my pregnancy.  We were truly blessed and did not take a moment of it for granted.

Daddy and son, Cason, on the day he was born in 2009.

When our son, Cason, was born in November 2009, Michael was there to hold my hand through the entire scary, but wonderful, experience.  He was the first person to hold Cason.  Yet again, we knew how blessed we were.  So many military families are separated during this time in their lives.  Yet, they don’t complain.  They make do with the communication that they have and push forward.

Michael deployed again in late fall 2010.  He missed our Cason’s first birthday by three days.  He missed his first steps by a week.  It was a very hard time in our lives.  Before we had Cason, deployments seemed hard.  Little did we know, the intensity would just increase after he was born.  We both knew it would be hard. I personally hoped that having a child would keep me on my toes and allow me to focus on something other than my husband not being home for several months.

I did not factor in the pain of hearing Cason cry for his Daddy or Michael missing so much of his son’s life.   Michael, as all parents, hates not being here for everything.  We take hundreds of photos and chat online as much as possible.  But, with the rather bad internet connection on Michael’s side, it is hard to video chat.

Christmas 2010 with Daddy who was 8 hours ahead of our time, yet he stayed awake to web cam with us.

We were truly lucky that the internet held up on Christmas so he could see Cason opening his gifts.  Michael was glowing with pride as he watched Cason tear into the gifts that he had picked for him from half way around the world.

The military lifestyle has a lot of situations and terminology unknown in the civilian world.  Sometimes, as a military spouse, I forget that not everyone understands. To many, deployments seem like extended business trips.  Though, to those who endure deployments, they are life altering experiences.  Some are worse than others. They all mean months or years away from your loved one.

My husband’s profession, like all members of the Armed Forces, is not one that he leaves at the office.  It can be stressful, frustrating and heart breaking. It also can generate the greatest sense of pride from knowing that he is sacrificing so much for his country and for people he does not know and will never meet.

We are truly blessed. To those who live this life, it is normal. To us this life is normal.

Christmas 2010: Home from My Last Tour

SMSgt. Rex Temple stands before a gutted presidental palace outside Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sitting in a tent alone in Kuwait – away from family – away from his Air Force buddies in Afghanistan – that is how Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple spent Christmas 2009.

A snow storm and lost luggage prevented Temple last year from making it back to Afghanistan for Christmas. This year, he’ll celebrate with his wife and family at his home in Tampa.

“When I joined the military, initially because I didn’t have any rank, the NCOs(Non-Commissioned Officers) that out ranked me said ‘Well, we’re going to go home for Christmas, you’re going to stay behind,’” Temple said. “Then when I got promoted to be an NCO, I thought about that. And, I wanted to ensure that my troops were home for Christmas. So, I stayed behind and that’s kind of continued.”

Temple and his wife, Liisa, April 22, 2010, the day of his return after a year in Afghanistan.

Temple hasn’t been back to his parent’s home for Christmas for 25 years. He’s promised him mother he’ll be there in 2011 after he retires this spring.

WUSF’s series My Last Tour followed Temple during his yearlong deployment in Afghanistan as part of an Embedded Training Team. Temple’s team was made up of 10 airmen who trained and worked with the Army and Marines to train Afghan National Army troops and provide logistics.

His team went on more than 180 combat missions during their deployment from May 2009 to April 2010. Temple and the team returned together April 22, 2010.

Temple’s blog: Afghanistan: My Last Tour detailed his year “in country” and still averages hundreds of views daily despite his return almost eight months ago and no new entries since.

“It kind of ends a chapter in my life with returning home,” Temple explained. “It kind of still shocks me that 500 to 700 people a day still visit the site. I think they’re still using it for historical purposes. They’re interested in the places I traveled to some of the people I met, the culture and the customs there.”

Temple is back at MacDill Air Force Base and planning for his retirement this spring.

Always Ready, Always There, Now Home

For those who may not recognize it, “Always Ready, Always There” is on the National Guard emblem. The final group about 100 from Florida‘s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team is expected to return from Kuwait on Friday.

Nearly 2,400 soldiers from the brigade were deployed to Iraq and Kuwait for a year. Now, they’re returning home in groups of a couple hundred at a time and processing through Ft. Stewart, Georgia. The most recent arrivals came Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Many soldiers were greeted by family and friends and were captured on video by the Florida National Guard Public Affairs Office. Here’s another video from another group of Florida’s 53rd IBCT returning home.

The families you’re watching have waited almost a year for those hugs and kisses captured on video. The soldiers have several more days as they’re processed out and can return to Florida. But, all members of the team are expected home by Christmas.

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