White House, Dept. of VA host fatherhood forum near Fort Bragg
March 19, 2010
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - When Sgt. Daniel Freeman, an ammunitions sergeant with Division Support Troops Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, deployed for the first time, he was not a father. Since he returned, things have changed. He now has two young boys, and Freeman said he wants to be prepared for his next deployment.
To get a few pointers from experienced dads, Freeman attended a fatherhood forum hosted by the White House and the Department of Veterans Affairs March 18 at the John D. Fuller, Sr., Recreational/Athletic Complex.
The event was attended by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki; representatives from the White House; leaders of programs designed to help servicemembers and veterans; and several Soldiers, who offered their experiences as military fathers.
"In the Army, we have manuals that tell us how to do just about everything," said Shinseki, a retired general. "But what we don't have is a manual that tells you how to be a good father."
The forum was part of President Barack Obama's Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families initiative. In a video message preceding the forum, the president encouraged military fathers to put as much effort into being great dads as they do being great Soldiers.
"With the current deployment schedules, our Army is stretched, but it is not broken," explained Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, XVIII Airborne Corps commander. "The same can be said about our Families. This forum will hopefully address some of the challenges of when a father is not around but also the challenges he faces when he is around."
During the event, several panel members addressed some of the issues they have seen concerning the difficulties of being a military father.
"We ask our fathers to be professionals and get their mission for the military done," explained Shinseki. "At the same time, we expect them to be great dads. It's a challenge I'm familiar with, but it's something that has to be done."
Major. Mario Soto, a Special Forces trained Soldier, was one of the panelists and offered his perspective about being a military father, who has deployed several times.
"How do you balance being a Soldier with being a great father'" he asked. "It's something that you have to work at. Sometimes when I get home from work, I forget to leave work at work. My wife will tell me to spend some time with my kids. I need that reminder sometimes. I get to spend only an hour or so at night with them, and I need to make the most of it."
Offering the other side of that perspective was 16-year-old Megan Brown, whose father is a chaplain with 3rd Special Forces Group.
She said that her father has deployed several times during her life, and it's difficult each time. However, she said she feels blessed just to have a father.
"I can't imagine how weird my life would be without my dad," Brown said. "It's hard when he's gone, and it's awkward when he gets back. It's hard to adjust to life after his deployments. But at the same time, it's very fun to have him around."
After each panelist gave a statement, the floor was opened up to questions from audience members. Some questions addressed healthcare issues for Families while servicemembers are deployed. Other questions addressed the "complicated" issue of child custody for military fathers.
Joshua Dubois, a representative from the White House, made it clear that every comment or question directed to the panel would be compiled and put into a report that will go to the Oval Office.
"This forum is our way of saying that we know there are challenges to being a good dad and Soldier," Shinseki said. "We are saying you have to be able to do both, and we will do whatever we can to make sure fathers have the support and guidance they need."
For more information about programs designed to help military fathers, visit www.fatherhood.gov.