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.

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.

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.

Military Moms Most Memorable Moments in 2011

Chelle and Nelson in Charleston, September 2007.

A Sister, a Mom, a Family Prepares for Military Life” – Dorie Griggs.

It’s hard to believe in just over a month my oldest son will graduate from The Citadel. The time, for me at least, has flown by. Looking through photos from his college career, I’m forced to believe the time really has gone by.

Our daughter, Chelle, is the measuring stick. She was a little girl in 3rd grade when Nelson started his knob year (freshman).  She is now a young lady in 6th grade and about 12 inches taller. The photos tell the story best. During the 2007-08 school year she always brought a treasured stuffed animal on our visits to The Citadel. Now she brings a book.

Dorie Griggs knew little of military life until her son joined ROTC in high school. That’s when her education began and has not stopped since. She’s cheered him through four years and graduation at the Citadel and watched as he made his First Jump at the U.S.  Army Airborne School. Through her writing and photos by her husband Stanley Leary, Dorie has taken us along as she travels the unknown road as a military mom.

Tracie Ciambotti and her son, Joshua Nearhoof, Army Sergeant out of Fort Carson, September 2010.

An Army Mom Connects Military Families and Churches” – Tracie Ciambotti.

My son enlisted in the Army two days after graduating high school in June of 2005—five months later he was in Baghdad in the middle of a war.  He received the best training in the world for his new job as an Army infantryman; I however, did not receive any information or training for my new role as the mother of a soldier.  Families that have a loved one in the Armed Forces sacrifice and serve with their enlisted and they need support. 

I could not find one support group in the community or county where I lived in Pennsylvania at the time.  Most communities in this country have support groups for all kinds of things; alcoholism and drug addictions; cancer and many other diseases; crime victims; and many more. 

When Tracie Ciambotti couldn’t find a support group for military moms and families near her Pennsylvania home, she co-founded Military Families Ministry. She has generously contributed to Off the Base – writing about her experience as an Army Mom detailing the emotions of deployment but also the drive to provide soldiers and their families prayer and support.

Jared Agle's official US Marine Corps photo.

A Marine Mom Lets Go a Week Early” – April Agle.

… the Marines made their presence known in our lives. It became very clear that things were going to be different from now on.  Jared called me at work on Thursday, August 5th.  He had just received a call from his Marine recruiter that his departure date for boot camp had been moved up a week early to Sunday, August 9th.  Jared was asked if he could leave a week early.  As Jared said to me, “ I can’t say no mom.  I need to call him back and tell him okay”.  

I was proud of myself.  I told him to go ahead and call the Recruiter back and tell him that he would be ready to go.  I hung up with Jared. My heart was pounding so fast. I was in a panic.  My eyes teared up. I called Roger at work and told him.  I hung up with Roger and cried a bit.  I knew it was coming – I knew this day was coming.  I thought to myself, “the stupid military is already messing with my plans”. 

I thought I was ready for this and was finding that it was not true.  I knew I had to be strong.  I remember thinking that it is only boot camp, it’s not like he is going to war – At least not yet.

April Agle works in the business office at WUSF Public Broadcasting, where I work. She’s not only a colleague, she’s a friend. Her 17-year-old son, Jared, convinced her to sign the papers for the Marine Corps Delayed Enlistment Program while he was still in high school. I convinced April to write about the experience. I also had the privilege of interviewing Jared before and after boot camp in 2010. He’s now serving in Afghanistan.

Momma B tries out a flight simulator - three of her children are aviators in military service.

A Mom, 4 Kids, 4 Services: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines” – Momma B.

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?

This Off the Base contributor goes by the nom de plume of Momma B on her blog: 4starmilitarymom. She’s mother to four children – all are in the military.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Nankervis.

Seven Is Too Young to Join the Army” – Lynn Nankervis.

Today I sat in an Army recruiter’s office while a camouflage-wearing, big-muscled, tough-talking soldier insisted my 7-year-old son was ready to serve his country by enlisting in the military.

Not really.

Sam is actually 17 years old, entering his senior year in high school and considering joining the Army under the Delayed Entry Program, essentially meaning he signs the papers now but doesn’t report to boot camp until after high school graduation next June.

But as I sat with my son in that office listening to the recruiter proclaim all the benefits of a military career, my mind flashed back to a front-toothless Sam at 7 asking me to take him to “McDongals” for a “mikswake.”

This is my baby, my first-born son. How is it possible he is old enough to be thinking about the military? He’s supposed to be playing cowboys and Indians, not defending his country. You can read the full blog entry HERE.

Lynn Nankervis originally wrote this for the Bloomingdale Patch. Her writing was so clear and insightful, I contacted Lynn for permission to re-use her column.  She also writes The Brady Bunch Plus One blog.

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.

Anniversary of 9/11 – An Army Mom’s Reflection

The flag in front of the Hillside Church at Sunday morning's service.

I attended a 9/11 memorial service Sunday morning at the Hillside Community Church in Bellwood, Pennsylvania.  A large American flag hung from two extended fire truck ladders on the street in front of the church where first responders and service members formed a line to greet folks entering the service.

Tears filled my eyes during the first song, “This is America”, and continued as I stood—hand over my heart—and recited the pledge of allegiance, then sang our national anthem.  I could no longer fight back the tears as the trumpeters played “Taps” to honor those who’ve died fighting the war on terror since 9/11.

People across the country spent this weekend remembering where they were on 9/11/2001 and most can recall the exact moment when they heard the news.   As I reflected on the events of that day my thoughts focused on how different my life is now—as the mother of a soldier and how personal this war has become to me.  I had no idea in 2001 that my son would enlist in the Army and ten years later be serving his third tour in a war zone, or, that I would be the co-founder of Military Families Ministry and have the honor of supporting other military families.

The duffel bags at Fort Carson on June 11, 2011 - the day Tracie's son left on his third deployment.

9/11 is much more than a tragic day in our nation’s history—it is the beginning of a decade long war that has placed an incredible responsibility on our nation’s Armed Forces.  There are many individuals who carry the burden of defending freedom for every American citizen; the fallen heroes who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice, the wounded warriors whose struggles continue, the veterans suffering with PTSD, those still fighting to defend our freedom, and the families who love each of them.

A perfect depiction of the ongoing effects of 9/11 is the duffel bags lined up at Fort Carson the day my son left for Afghanistan—a sight that has become a common occurrence over the past ten years.  I fear the full impact of that horrible day may not be known for many years.

Deployment Emotional Cycles: Stage 2 for an Army Mom

A stone marker for Tristan, Tracie's grandson.

I do not experience detachment and withdrawal prior to deployment as spouses do; as the mother of a soldier my physical daily life doesn’t change when my son deploys.  I can, however, appreciate how stressful this stage is for couples as I’ve watched Josh and Alison struggle to get everything in order while trying to make the most of every minute as his departure date drew closer.

The final days prior to Josh’s deployment for me were about preparing my heart and mind for the next year.  My thoughts often drifted to the losses our family experienced over the past year: Josh and Alison lost their first baby boy, Tristan Joshua Nearhoof, at seventeen weeks into the pregnancy on June 4, 2010, my mother, Dorothy Mae Zeller, died on September 6, 2010, and Josh and Alison lost their second baby boy, Easton Tower Nearhoof, at seventeen weeks on March 23, 2011.

A stone marker for Easton, another grandson.

All families experience death and loss at some point, but military families cope with these situations in addition to the challenges that come with a life of service to your country.  While still mourning the loss of three precious family members, our family was preparing for another deployment.

I worried about Josh heading off to war after losing two baby boys in less than a year and was equally concerned with Alison being separated from Josh so soon after their losses.  The thought of facing this deployment without my mother was overwhelming for me—she was a constant source of strength and encouragement during Josh’s first two deployments.  The image of Josh’s somber face as he received his grandmother’s service flag at her funeral is burned into my mind.

The biggest challenge for me as the mother of a soldier is managing my thoughts and emotions. It is natural during the days before deployment to be constantly thinking about all the possibilities of the year in front of me, but I’ve learned from previous deployments that I must not focus on the what-ifs, the worries, or the fears because they will consume me.

Josh receiving his grandmother’s flag at her funeral on Sept. 10, 2010.

Other blog postings by Tracie Ciambotti:

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