Fort Meade Family Members Publish Deployment Story
February 18, 2014
When Jake Neslony's father deployed to Iraq three years ago, he felt lonely and unsafe.
"I was worried he wasn't coming back, or he was coming back injured," said Jake, a sixth-grader at MacArthur Middle School. "My mother and I sat down and I started to draw pictures. It made me feel better."
Jake's pictures were the inspiration for "Daddy's Deployment," a self-published book he wrote with his mother Lorin Neslony that was published last month.
"I feel good," said Jake, 11, who resides in Meuse Forest. "They [my classmates] want a copy. They want me to autograph it."
Neslony said that at first, her son had no intentions of writing a book. The pictures were just a way of helping him express his feelings.
Jake, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, sometimes has a hard time letting others know how he feels.
"I had to find a way for him to express his feelings, whether he was angry, sad or happy," Neslony said.
Jake began drawing the pictures about a month after his father, Capt. Timothy Neslony of the 7th Intelligence Squadron, deployed.
At the time, the family, which includes Jake's 7-year-old sister Haley, was visiting the captain's parents in Dallas.
"When we were doing the pictures, I asked Jake to tell me what he was feeling, to put the pictures into words," Neslony said.
Along with the pictures, Jake and his mother wrote prayers to Jesus. Neslony found Scriptures reflecting Jake's prayers.
Neslony said the book was just going to be a keepsake for the family. The decision to publish was entirely up to Jake, said his mother.
"He felt some anxiety and fear of being rejected, putting your feelings and your faith out there," Neslony said. "Nobody likes to be rejected."
The family prayed about the book.
"If he felt led to publish it, we would when he was ready," Neslony said.
Jake said that after some thought, he felt a book about deployment could help other military children.
When Jake decided to publish, Neslony researched self-publishing companies and started thinking about hiring an illustrator.
While Neslony's sister-in-law Diana Lewis was visiting Maj. Brian Smith, a physical therapist at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, she noticed several drawings in Smith's office.
"He said his wife drew the pictures," Neslony said. "My sister-in-law said, 'My nephew just wrote a children's book on deployment.' "
Smith said that his wife, Sharon, was praying for the opportunity to illustrate a children's book.
Neslony called Sharon Smith and drove to Goodfellow to show her Jake's drawings and the text for the book.
Smith agreed to illustrate the book.
"My prayer was to be able to use my God-given artistic ability to help military families dealing with deployment," Smith said. "I'm very proud of Jake, and his story is inspirational."
In the book, Jake shares how he felt lonely and frightened during his father's deployment, and how he missed going fishing together and celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas as a family.
But Jake also shares his love and appreciation for his mother and grandparents who are always there for him and his sister.
In his prayers, Jake asks for protection for his family and his father. He also expresses his gratitude for all the love in his life.
In addition to Smith's colorful drawings, the book features drawings from children at military bases around the country and includes a page for children to draw and write their own prayer.
Neslony said she researched the market for children's books on deployment. There were a few, but none of the books offered a Christian perspective.
"There's not anything like it," she said.
To celebrate the book's publication, Jake's science class had cake and ice cream.
"It's not just about me," Jake said. "It's for other military kids."
Neslony said there may be a book release party at Fort Meade, or a book signing at the Exchange.
"We're really proud of Jake," Neslony said. "I can't even imagine how hard it is for a kid to process a military deployment."
Neslony said the book is also important because it shows Jake what he can accomplish through his own effort, despite Asperger's.
"We didn't want that to be at the reason why Jake does not pursue his dreams," Neslony said. "He can do anything he wants."