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.

Multiple Deployments: A New Reality for a New Military

Master Sergeant Nation holds a photo of he 8-year-old daughter - he's been deployed for half of her life.

I wrote a headline earlier this week that the “military continues to pay the price for 9/11.” Not all of that cost is in blood, the price also is exacted in how military families live their lives.

“You deploy for a year, then you come back, you have another honeymoon, then you deploy for another year,” said Master SG Milt Nation, a military policeman who joined the Army in 1989. He joined because he always wanted to be a cop. He’s deployed a lot to Bosnia and Croatia “but those were peacetime deployments.”

Nation has deployed five times since 9-11, three times to Iraq, once to Afghanistan and once to Qatar. He’s currently assigned to U.S. Central Command Headquarters at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. I met him at the CENTCOM 9/11 ceremony on Friday.

With so many deployments I asked how that affects his family. He pulled out a photograph of his daughter, Alexandria.

Nation has deployed five times since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he is currently assigned to CENTCOM.

“She turned 8 years old, but I’ve only known her four years of her life with all the deployments that I’ve gone on,” Nation said. “I’m just actually balancing it out right now, to know her, to see her and be a dad. So, I have fun.”

“All soldiers know they’re going to have to deploy to one of those two places (Afghanistan or Iraq) and they expect that and the leadership expects that,” Nation said adding that today’s soldier is different, “I joined a long time ago in ’89 for a different reason, for college and for an  experience to be a police officer. But they joined just to help out our country combat on terrorism and I thought that was very honorable, it surprised me just young kids just joined to come over and deploy

He said families learn to deal with deployments taking it day-to-day and technology has been a great help – with the internet and phones – keeping families connected. But he added that it’s important they don’t get distracted.

“Sometimes you’ve got to stay focused about what’s happening with the mission and the families they have to focus what’s going on at school or with the kids,” Nation said. “At the end you’ve got to have that relationship where you come back and try to bond with each other again.”

Nation has two Purple Hearts from his deployments in Iraq and he still loves what he does being a military policeman.

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.

Nominating Military Families as Time’s “Person of the Year”

December 2010 homecoming for soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 124th Infantry Regiment with Florida National Guard's 53rd Brigade based in Pinellas Park. Photo by: Army SPC Christopher Vann.

There’s a grassroots campaign to encourage Time Magazine editors to name “Military Families” as the 2011 “Person of the Year.”

Those supporting the idea do so not to “put military families on a pedestal” but instead to “recognize the indisputable impact they’ve had, and the resilience they’ve shown and continue to show, after a decade of dealing with their own effects of war and deployments.”

There’s a March 4th Letter  writing campaign that provides a form letter and prize incentives. For a copy of the form letter, should you want one, click here.

Or use your own words and mail the letter to this address: TIME Magazine Letters / Time & Life Building / Rockefeller Center / New York, NY 10020.

My appreciation to milblogging.com  for highlighting this campaign and for providing the following links on how to participate.

Military Family – Time’s Next Person of the Year? – explains how the military family fit’s TIME’s Person of the Year criteria.

I Have a Confession – explains why the movement and the upcoming letter-writing campaign are important.

March 4th is Mail Your Letter to TIME Day – explains the letter writing campaign (coming soon – March 4th [or, March forth! – it seemed appropriate]).

And this is just a fascinating and evocative pictorial timeline of the military family from 1917 – present day.

Supporters say “snail mail” letters are important and hope to generate a big impact by rallying folks to write and mail a letter this Friday, March 4th.

Bittersweet Goodbyes: “You Know How to Do This”

A father captures a few more moments with his twin toddlers before deploying.

A friend of mine, Rachel, asked me to take pictures of her husband leaving.  Her request was nice actually; she stated she knew it might be difficult for me emotionally as my husband is still gone.  I told her not to worry and that I would be happy to oblige.  I met them at the terminal on base early Sunday morning and started snapping away from the distance.  Catching pictures of them candidly.

Dale played with his twins, Jacob and Olivia, knowing that in 6 months they will have grown and changed so much.    It was interesting to watch the phases of a day as an “outsider” and not the one saying goodbye.  At first, they are okay. They both knew what was coming, but the two of them played with Jacob and Olivia to distract themselves and keep the babies happy.

As the time passed, I could see the pain settling in on both of their faces.  As I snapped pictures, tears flowed down my cheeks. I knew the pain they were feeling all too well.  This was a bittersweet moment; Dales group would be relieving my husband’s. So while goodbye is never easy, it means my husband is coming home soon.  Memories of saying goodbye to Brian welled up inside me.

A family holds on tight before having to let go.

Dale embraced Rachel as they both whispered to each other, kissed each other and kissed their beautiful children.  Dale wiped tears away from Rachel’s face and then away from his own.   In the same room, there was an airman telling her son that she wanted him to write her every day and have his Daddy mail it to her.  It seems unreal, parents having to say goodbye for extended periods of time.

“We need everyone in the terminal we are leaving in 5,” a voice said loudly.  Dale looked at Rachel gathered up his bags, he thanked us for coming and being with her, as he knew she needed it.  Then we walked to the other room.

They called names one by one (very different than Brian’s they left as a large group).  I took more pictures while they held each other, knots building in their stomachs, as it got closer to his spot in the alphabet.

I felt like I was almost intruding on such a personal moment, but knew they wanted these captured.  They cried, smiled, whispered and kissed softly soaking in every moment, knowing how long it will be till they can do this again.

They called his name, one final embrace and kiss and he walks away.

As I took pictures of him walking away from her, I knew how she felt. I remember it all to well, wanting to shout, “No don’t go! Don’t leave me here!” knowing that you can’t. I stepped up and held her, as she cried.It is funny my husband has left so many times and I still couldn’t tell you the right thing to say to someone as they watch their spouse leave.

I heard some whimpering from the stroller, and knelt down to see that it was Olivia. I thought to myself they are lucky and unlucky all at the same time. They are lucky that they have no idea what is going on, but that makes them unlucky as well.We walked out of the terminal to watch the buses take the troops to the plane, and waved goodbye as the four buses drove off.

I looked at Rachel and told her something a friend told me once “You know how to do this”.

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

Computer Kisses Keep Daddy Close

An Army Wife Thing: Giving Birth Over the Phone


“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.

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