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.

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6 Reasons to be Thankful, Lessons from a First Deployment

Chris and Kim at Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina, after Chris returned from Afghanistan.

BY KIM VLACH

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for…

…My sweetheart and love-of-my-life Chris, a Captain in the U.S. Army, being back home safe and sound after his tour in Afghanistan over the summer.

I’m not that naïve to think that four months is a long time to be deployed. I know families get separated for much longer periods of time – and over multiple deployments.

But for me and for us, this was our first – and it was much harder than I had anticipated.

I digress. This post isn’t about how hard it was. This post is about how thankful I am for the lessons I learned.

    1. I am thankful for the friends and family who gave me their support while Chris was away. I’m especially grateful for getting to know Chris’s parents and sister much better – and getting the opportunity to get to know them on my own. I’m also very thankful for my neighbors (we’re new to this neighborhood) for checking in on me, helping me with the house, yard and dog and for inviting me over to their homes or out for dinner or to the movies.
    2. I am thankful for our puppy dog. Even though she drove me crazy at times – having her around sure helped me feel a lot less lonely.
    3. I am thankful for Skype. Being able to see Chris made an incredible difference compared to those days we could only use the phone.
    4. I am thankful for the U.S. Postal Service for getting all the goodies I sent to him as fast as possible so that they didn’t spoil.
    5. I am thankful for all the progress we made in how we communicate with each other. We were fortunate to be able to speak everyday, but not every conversation was fun. Sometimes we’d have to take care of household business. Sometimes our moods would provoke an argument. And sometimes – because of the stress or anxiety I was feeling – I’d be unable hold back my tears. Many people told me that I had to be strong for Chris, that it wasn’t fair to him to know that I was so sad, and that I shouldn’t distract him. But for us, we decided, hiding anything from each other wasn’t fair to our relationship. Chris told me that it wasn’t fair to me to have to pretend that everything was alright. As a couple, we had to be honest with what we were going through – and as a couple, we had to work together to get through this together.
    6. Last, but definitely not least, I am thankful for how close we’ve become. Sure, absence makes the heart grow fonder. But in this case, because we had to dig deep down and rely on our own individual strength to get ourselves through each day, I believe, it allowed us to grow closer as a couple. That strength that we found in ourselves allowed us to open our hearts even more to each other – in ways I had never thought were available, both in myself and in him.

And that is what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving. I wish you and your families a happy and blessed holiday.

Iraq War Veteran, Poet on NPR; PBS’ Elmo on Deployment

National Geographic July issue: Baghdad after the storm, Tigris River.Photograph by Lynsey Addario.

Haunted by its beauty and its difficulties – award-winning poet and former U.S. soldier Brian Turner wrote about his recent return to Baghdad as a civilian for the July issue of National Geographic.

Turner talked to National Public Radio Friday Morning  about his trip and magazine article. He told Steve Inskeep of Morning Edition that even after seven years, he still carries the baggage of war. From the NPR transcript:

The things that I did as a soldier, many of them I’ve sort of sloughed away. Like when I drive down the freeway, I don’t catch myself off in sort of scanning the overpasses and underneath them for people that might be above the overpass, might drop a hand grenade or shoot at us. But there are other habits that are hard to break. Like when I go into a restaurant I often want to sit where I can see everything, with my back to a wall. And I also sometimes catch myself watching mirrors to see what’s, you know, glass windows to see who’s behind me. Or I’ll make turns, slow turns, here and there – and sometimes, especially when I’m in a crowded environment.

You can listen to the full NPR interview by clicking HERE.

Children of deployed U.S. troops are the focus of another Public Broadcasting stalwart, Sesame Workshop. The multimedia series Talk, Listen, Connect features the character Elmo to help military families prepare for the emotions experienced for events like deployment, grief and change like a wounded parent.

Military Homefront recently featured Talk, Listen, Connect on its website:

“If even Elmo and his family are feeling it, then there are other families feeling it too,” said the wife of a deployed Army Sergeant First Class. “This helps us feel like we’re not alone in this.”

In addition to the kits, Talk, Listen, Connect created a free, traveling Sesame Street Live! show, and its first PBS television special, “When Parents Are Deployed.”

Free videos and support material are available for military families HERE.

In Their Own Words: Military Bloggers and Diary Writers

There are no known photos of Civil War soldier Cyrus Forwood, Delaware archivists used photos of Civil War re-enactment soldiers to illustrate his story.

Most in the military community are aware of Milblogging.com an aggregating website that lists more than 3,100 military blogs. But, it’s more than just a list. It’s a leading military-related blog portal but also accepts stories, hosts discussion boards and notifies members of interesting new submissions.

Military blogging in some form is not new, Check out the writings of a Delaware soldier who kept a daily diary 150 years ago. Diary writing is the precursor to blogging. And congratulations to the archivists in Delaware for sharing his story. You can follow Cyrus’ posts on Twitter @CyrusForwood.

Cyrus Forwood – A Delaware Soldier in the American Civil War
As part of the State of Delaware`s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration, the Delaware Public Archives is using this blog to repost notes and observations Forwood wrote in his diary during his time as a soldier–day-by-day.

Here are some other new additions to Milblogging.com:

Husband / Father / Sailor Deployment Journal
Written anonymously using an “Answer Key,” this is the daily account of a 14 year Navy Reserve sailor who has been deployed to Afghanistan. Strictly adhering to the rules of OPSEC, it is a raw account of the ups and downs of deployment.

Navywifechronicles
On April 23, 2010, my husband was in a car accident while deployed in Iraq. Needless to say, this day has changed our lives. I write about how we’re picking up the pieces, Navy life, adapting to the civilian world, & silly things our kids say.

Boundless
A general [military] lifestyle blog, I frequently share my photography/design, recipes, & adventures. I`m fairly new to this military life, but I enjoy sharing my perspective + tips and tricks to making the challenges presented fun and humorous

The Camouflage Keyboard
Strange, unbelievable, mundane, and life-changing happenings from a reservist mobilized to active duty overseas.

Semper Fi Parents
A chronicle of my daughter`s time in the USMC, as well as articles of interest to any thinking of joining the Marines, articles about Marine Corps history, boot camp training, military news, etc.

Household Six: Dual Military, Veteran, and Military Spouse Expressions
Personal views and opinions on military service, as well as other misc. subjects to include current events.

Ramblings from a Retired Shooter
A Journal based on my thoughts, experiences, and opinions based on combat experiences and journey with PTSD and other injuries.

Life in a Sandbox
Day to-day life of a soldier on a deployment.

If you have a favorite blog that highlights life as a military family or civilians working to understand military life, please share it. I’ll post a list of favorites over the July 4th weekend. Send your submissions to: bobrien@wusf.org.

Helping Military Children Reconnect After Deployment

April is the Month of the Military Child. What better time to share research that looks at how a child’s school grades are impacted by a parents’ deployments.

Fifth graders at MacDill Air Force Base go through a "mock" deployment to better understand what their parents go through when deploying.

The Rand Report: Effects of Soldiers’ Deployment on Children’s Academic Performance and Behavioral Health finds that children whose parent deployed for 19 months or more since 2001 had modestly lower academic scores across all subjects.

On that note, below is an entry from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury on helping children and returned parents reconnect.

Posted by Dr. James Bender, Psychologist on April 13, 2011

Hello. April is the Month of the Military Child, so I think it’s appropriate to write about a topic that not only affects service members, but their kids too.

Without question, the best part of deployment is coming home. But even after a joyful reunion, the weeks and months after homecoming can pose special challenges for your children, no matter their ages:

  • Infants and small children (ages 0 to 3): may not remember you or be uncomfortable around you; like you’re a stranger. This is not abnormal and will diminish after a few weeks. Spending time with your child and generally being an active parent will help.
  • Middle-age children (ages 4 to 12): may be overly clingy and affectionate, often because they’re afraid you’re going to leave again. Just be patient and explain that even though you’re leaving for work in the morning, you’ll be back in the evening. Constant reassurance should help with this problem. Also, make near-future plans with them, like a picnic in two days or playing catch in the yard when you come home from work. This will both reassure them that you’ll be back soon and allow for quality time together.
  • Teenagers: may be distant or even hurtful, accusing you of abandoning them. Teen angst (there have been many books written on the subject) needs an outlet, and your deployment offers a good opportunity for them to vent. Try not to take it personally—I know this will be hard to do sometimes. Recognize that they have suffered because of your absence even though they didn’t volunteer for service. All families, military or not, have hardships that children must endure. Resist the temptation to make it up to them by buying expensive gifts. Giving them your time will be better for both them and your bank account. Also, try not to disrupt their schedule too much; respect that they have sports and activities with friends that are important to them.

MacDill AFB fifth graders line up and await orders to enter a hangar where stations are set up simulating deployment stops their parents must make.

While you’re considering your children’s challenges, be sure to be honest with yourself about any difficulties you may be experiencing. Your parenting will suffer if you’re in need of help and not getting it. Problems concentrating, anxiety, withdrawing from others, excessive drinking and trembling hands, are just a few of the symptoms of combat stress. Seek professional help if these symptoms continue or have an impact on your day-to-day functioning.

A good resource to keep in mind is afterdeployment.org, a website that has content directed to service members and their families about some of the challenges that are often faced following a deployment. You can also check out my post Helping Children Cope with Deployments for more on this topic.

Most children, and their parents, are resilient and bounce back just fine after a few weeks. But consider contacting your installation Family Advocacy Program (FAP) if you have any problems. Regardless of age, you want to send the same message: your kids are special and important and you’re committed to them.

Thanks to you, and your children, for your service.

Computer Kisses Keep Daddy Close

 

Anastin coos at her deployed Daddy, SSgt. Brian Dorr, via a webcam.

By Jackie Dorr

During previous deployments, I was able to webcam with Brian often which was nice because it insured that we had face time and real time conversations. This deployment has been very different.

Between difficulties with the site where he’s located and the demands on his time, the girls and I have only seen him a handful of times. Now, I am not complaining by any stretch of the imagination. It just makes the moments we do see him much more memorable.

Brian gets to see the girls more often than they see him, however, because the video feed of him doesn’t get reciprocated. A few days ago we were surprised! He “called” us on Google and his face popped onto the screen. Paisley jumped up and said “DADDY!!!”

There he was his handsome smile from ear to ear, “Hey babies!” 

Paisley in her princess pullups.

Paisley was standing there in her pull-ups and nothing more. She showed him the princesses on her pull-ups naming each one, “Tiana, Cinderella, Belle…”  He was in disbelief that his baby knew the names of the Disney princesses.  Then, Paisley told him how Grandma took her shopping, how they played and all about her sister. She ran to get her new shoes and socks to show her Daddy.

Then, I turned the lap top to face Anastin. The last time he saw Ana on webcam all she did was drool and sit like a lump on a log, haha.  The day before his call, she sat up by herself for the first time.

Brian got to see this, “Ana are you sitting like a big girl?” She cooed in response. Together Anastin and I showed him her latest trick. I sang, “How big is Ana?” She lifted her hands and I said “SOOOOO BIG!” This made him laugh. Then he sang, “How big is Ana?” She smiled and lifted her hands.  The two of them played this game for a little while and I couldn’t help but smile, it was almost like he was sitting right there.

Paisley came running back in with a shopping bag and said “My turn Sissy!” With that she turned my laptop to face her. “Daddy, hug?” She leaned forward and hugged the screen of my laptop. Brian giggled and leaned forward hugging the monitor of his computer. To top it off, he said “Kisses Paisley” puckering his lips for a kiss. She obliged and kissed the computer screen.

Anastin learned to sit up by herself and showed her Daddy via webcam.

She took out her two new pairs of shoes, her new socks and showed her father.  Just as he was about to respond, the sound cut out on his feed. Our astute toddler did something she had only seen me do a few times before. She pointed to her ear to let him know she couldn’t hear him. 

Brian smiled hugely again and fixed the problem. When the sound came back, Paisley said “Daddy you fix it?” He replied,“Yes, and Daddy knew exactly what you were telling him, you are so smart stinker!”  She nodded and said, “Yup.” Then, she showed him how she can put her socks and shoes on.

Brian was on shift so he didn’t have much time to talk and that is difficult to explain to a 2-year-old. He told her he had to go and they exchanged hugs and kisses again.  She cried exclaiming she wanted her Daddy and how much she missed him. The smile on Brian’s face disappeared. He looked so sad again.

Brian via webcam during a previous call for Paisley's second birthday.

I know he misses his babies and wishes he could be here to play with them. I told him not to worry that we were so blessed to get to see each other.  We exchanged our “I love yous” and he smiled again. I leaned Anastin close to the screen so she could “kiss” her father and with that we said goodbye.

The call was not a huge or monumental thing, but it made me happy to see how Brian is still such a big part of their lives even if he is on the other side of the world. For the rest of the day, Paisley talked about Daddy and Anastin started to babble “Da Da.”  These are the moments that make life good!

Jackie Dorr is an Army spouse, mother of two, president of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club and contributor to Off the Base.  Her other entries include:

Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later

“I Love You the Mostest!” an Army Spouse Goodbye

The Day I Saw My Future Husband Cry

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