Growing Up Around An Army Officer's Music Career
April 9, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Deployments aren't the only thing that takes service members away from their families.
So, too, do training, missions, special assignments and, in the case of 2nd Lt. Taylor Criswell, musical auditions and performances.
Every time they say goodbye, Criswell's two little girls -- 3-year-old Nadia and 21-month-old Carmen -- are learning what it means to make sacrifices as the daughters of a Soldier. And with a new assignment that will soon take them from their Huntsville home to Virginia Beach, Va., after only a year of being settled, they will learn another lesson of sacrifice -- that military life is often defined by a lot of family moves.
Fortunately, the Criswell family comes with a secret weapon to combat the absences -- a mom who has been through it all as the daughter of a Navy sailor.
"I remember only one time when we actually spent eight years in one place. That was Alameda, Calif. But the rest of the time, we moved … I don't even know how many times. And if we weren't moving, we knew somebody who was," Michelle Criswell said.
"You get used to it. The first time I remember having a best friend and she moved away was when I was in the third-grade. It actually was painful. That's when we started writing letters."
The pen pals wrote back and forth to each other until middle school. That's when their lives caused them to drift apart, filled with new friends, new places and new challenges.
Criswell came to Redstone Arsenal last year to play the euphonium in the Army Materiel Command Band. He completed Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., in March, and now, as a second lieutenant, he has been assigned to serve as the executive officer for the Army School of Music at the Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek, Fort Story, Va. The family will move in the next few months.
The young lives of Criswell's daughters have already been defined by their daddy's career. Criswell and his wife met while in high school in Memphis.
"We went to prom together," Criswell said. "She didn?'t like me a lot when we first. So, I took that as a challenge and I won the challenge."
They both attended the University of North Alabama, where they began seriously dating. They married in 2009.
After college, Criswell worked as a high school music band teacher in Indiana for two years before deciding to join the Army.
"Teaching in the public school system was really stressful and I had flirted with the idea of joining a military band for a while," he said. "I knew a military band would provide me with the kind of opportunity I was looking for."
At first, Michelle Criswell wasn't so sure about her husband's plans.
"It took time for me to accept it," she said. "I worried about him being gone. I remember all the times I missed my dad, and I knew we wanted to have kids."
Criswell enlisted in the Army, with plans of attending basic training in the fall of 2010. But, with only a limited number of advanced individual training slots for musicians, his basic training date got moved up to the summer, causing him to have to leave his family just weeks after Nadia was born.
"Taylor got the call while I was in the hospital after Nadia was born. She was my first and I had no family in Indiana. So, I moved to San Antonio, Texas, to live with my grandmother," Michelle Criswell said. "It was all very overwhelming."
When Criswell came back from basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., his daughter was just shy of being 6 months old. He then left again for advanced individual training at Fort Monroe, Va., and then his young family moved with him to his first band assignment at Fort Eustis, Va. While there, Carmen was born at the hospital at Langley Air Force Base.
Since joining the AMC Band last year, Criswell has spent three weeks in Kuwait performing for troops, a week in Washington, D.C., last May to audition for a future assignment as an Army band conductor, two weeks in Virginia at the International Tattoo military marching band show and 12 weeks at Officer Candidate School. Criswell is now at the 2014 International Tattoo and, when he returns, he will be home briefly before traveling back to Virginia to train with the current executive officer at the Army School of Music.
"In the next few months, I will miss Michelle's birthday, our wedding anniversary, Easter, Mother's Day and my birthday," Criswell said.
When he returns from training, the family will move to Virginia.
All the experiences and training of the past few years, Criswell said, are setting him up for a long career as an Army musician.
"Currently, post bands are conducted by warrant officers. But with the downsizing of the Army, they are phasing out warrant officers as conductors and promoting commissioned officers as conductors," Criswell said. "Now that I am a commissioned officer, my goal is to move into a conducting assignment."
Michelle Criswell gets through her husband's absences by staying busy with her two daughters. They attend the Childwise program on Redstone Arsenal on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and take every opportunity to make new friends and to fill the hours apart from their Soldier with fun activities.
"Nadia understands when her daddy leaves. She gets upset. But I tell her daddy is at school and will come back soon," she said.
"Army Community Service and Childwise have helped a lot. Childwise is very casual. The kids start playing and conversations just start among the moms there. They do parties and crafts for the holidays. We try to stay busy."
Criswell recalled one phone conversation with Nadia that made him realize she was trying to come to terms with her daddy?'s absences.
"She asked me 'Daddy, where are you?' I said, 'I'm at school.' And she said, 'Yeah, but where is school?'" he recounted.
When daddy is home, the girls spend time with him playing outside and just goofing around. Nadia and her dad ride bikes together, and he has taught her a little about playing the piano.
As the girls get older, the Criswell couple knows it will get harder for them to understand why their Soldier is separated from them.
"They're pretty flexible at this point. We'll see," Michelle Criswell said. "The difficult part for me is the moving and having to find everything again. When the girls are in school, it will be harder because it can take time to find a good school for them. Every time you move, you have to readjust to things."
Army Community Service and the military support groups they offer will be a help to them wherever Criswell's Army career takes his family. Michelle Criswell will also be able to help her daughters because she knows what it takes to grow up in a military family.
"Being able to adjust to change and being able to read maps. They are both important when you move around a lot," Michelle Criswell said. "So many people grow up in the same town so they know where everything is and they don't have to read maps. When they look at a map, they just don?'t get it.
"You've also got to accept that people are so different in different areas of the country. You learn not to assume things as much. As a young girl, I moved from California to upstate New York. That was a huge cultural difference. You learn not to take offense at how people say things."
For Criswell, he hopes his daughters learn to respect and honor the idea of military service.
"They'll have an appreciation for anybody who is in uniform," he said. ?"Even though I'm not a combat arms guy, they will see that anyone who serves makes a lot of sacrifices, and so do their families. They make a lot of sacrifices, regardless of what their Soldier does in uniform."