SPRING BREAK
Kaylie Riddick, 17, Emma, 5, Jocelyn, 2, and Gabriel Sweat, 7, enjoy a sunny spring break at their grandparent's home in Huntsville. Their mom, Larisa, emphasizes the importance of providing as much support possible for the children, such as their grandparents, while their father Warrant Officer 2 Ron Sweat is deployed to Iraq. "It's important to get as many people involved as you can," Larisa said. "I cannot do this by myself. They need that outlet. They need as many resources as are available."

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. --The planet Earth cannot contain the pride Emma Sweat, 5, has for her daddy.

"I'm proud of him all the way to the moon!" Emma exclaimed.

For the nearly 2 million children worldwide that are connected to the military in some way, this is their life - pride, patriotism, and at times, pain.

"I was crying when he left," Emma said of her father Ron's deployment to Iraq in February. "I want to tell daddy that I love him."

Thursday kicks off the monthlong celebration of the Month of the Military Child nationwide, honoring the special role children play in the nation's fight against terrorism.

Redstone Arsenal will honor the everyday heroes throughout April, beginning with a kickoff parade at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Child Development Center.

"It's important to us, and to the parents that we celebrate," said Deborah Nickles, director of the Child Development Center. "We want to focus on the fight and what children are to the family and to the Army."

While nearly 1 million children across the world have experienced a parent deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, for the children of those employed on the Arsenal, the sacrifices aren't necessarily seeing mom or dad sent overseas, but the early mornings and late nights at work they dedicate to the mission.

"Ten to 15 years ago, you'd say military family was literally a Soldier, his spouse and his children," said Andre Terry, chief of Child Youth and School Services. "We don't have a lot of Soldiers, but we still have that fighting force that support our troops, the military connected families. It's the contractor, the MWR employee, anybody that gets through that gate supports the troops.

"When it comes down to our (Redstone Arsenal) military families, it's parents going downrange, or having to work longer nights and days, that civilian member who's caught up in research. As we BRAC up, it only amplifies the growing number of civilians connected to the military. The stressor is meeting the need of the Soldier, which inadvertently affects the sacrifices of the family."

The sacrifices of the Sweat family - mom Larisa, Kaylie, 17, Gabriel, 7, Jocelyn, 2, and Emma - are different for each member. For Emma and Jocelyn, they lost the man that tucks them in every night. For Kaylie, her number one volleyball cheerleader is gone. Ron, who pushed her to get into volleyball, at times waking up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. to take her to games, was always there to cheer her on from the stands.

"We got along before, but that's what brought us together," Kaylie said. "It made me who I am."

And for poor Gabriel, his beloved chef has disappeared.

"Mom stinks at cooking," he said.

Although the Sweat family understands why Ron must be so far away, it doesn't necessarily make the time spent apart any easier. The family tries to Skype, talk on the phone and send care packages as much as possible. To keep their minds occupied, the family has joined the YMCA, remains active in sports and other activities, and utilizes Army Community Service. In preparation for Ron's deployment they even researched Iraq, learning the topography, language, culture and dress. Still, sorrow strikes from time to time.

"The things around the house remind us that he's gone," Kaylie said.

For the high school junior, her father's deployment has shed new light on the same old routines at school.

"It makes me think of everything," Kaylie said. "Saying the pledge, learning about wars in history. That's what my father's a part of."

The change the children are undergoing, Larisa understands, is permanent. After the deployment, they will never be the same, and a piece of their childhood will be lost.

"I see where they have the potential to really mature," Larisa said. "They have a broader sense of what it's really about. They really have to grow up. Just knowing that part of your family is part of something greater, something other than here, I see that they're proud. They know what he does. They're proud of him."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16