Army families cope with holiday separations
November 24, 2010
WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2010 -- Amy Scarpulla hopes her deployed husband can call home tomorrow before the final Thanksgiving meal dish is rinsed and the last of the turkey leftovers are packed away in the fridge.
But after dealing with five deployments in 12 years, she's all too aware of the mission-first mentality of the combat zone. Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Scarpulla, is serving with 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment on Forward Operating Base Connolly, Afghanistan.
"If he's able to call, he'll call," she said with the hard-earned patience of a seasoned Army wife.
The Scarpulla family is among the thousands of military families who will have an empty seat at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Many have grown accustomed to frequent holiday separations after multiple deployments and nearly a decade of war, but that repetition doesn't make it easier over time, just more routine, Scarpulla noted.
"I know what to expect now," she said. "And I know it's my job to be patient, understanding and supportive."
But it's less routine for her children, Scarpulla said. Her children are older now and are better able to grasp the concept of deployment and separation. The other day, she recalled, her 8-year-old daughter sat down in her lap and "cried and cried and cried."
"I let her know it's OK to cry. Sometimes you've just got to let it out," she said.
It's understandable after these past few, tough months, Scarpulla said. Her husband's squadron has suffered some losses, and her daughter has picked up on the sadness, and fears, of others.
"She's very concerned about her daddy. 'Is he safe''" she said. "I keep reassuring her. Every letter he sends and I send assures her that daddy is safe. He's doing fine. I'm hoping it's helping to calm her fears."
Scarpulla said she hopes Thanksgiving will offer a much-needed reprieve. She and her children will gather with several other Army families on Fort Campbell, Ky., for the holiday.
It's a departure from her family's typical holiday, she said, when her husband cooks, she cleans and they open their home to single Soldiers for the day. But she's grateful she has her Army family to rely on, she added.
Scarpulla also hopes to help other Army wives weathering a deployment and holiday separation for the first time. She recently became friends with a new spouse going through her first deployment, which made her see her own situation in a new light.
"I remember how that felt," she said. "Seeing it through her eyes made me see my own [situation] from a new perspective. It's a crappy situation, and it's OK to feel that way. It's OK to be upset and miss your husband."
In nearby Clarksville, Tenn., Annette Tomkins, wife of Capt. Todd Tomkins, is getting ready to head to an indoor water resort with her two young children and parents for the holiday weekend. But she'll also pack her computer so she can maintain her daily e-mails to her husband, just in case he can't call from his forward operating base in Afghanistan. Her husband also is on his fifth deployment.
Hoping to give him a taste of home, Tomkins already sent her husband a care package of meats and cheeses that she hopes arrives in time for the holiday. She wishes she could have sent him a turkey, she said.
"All I can do is be supportive," she said. "That's what I can do to help him get along. I want to make sure he stays connected to us, feels our love and support."
To keep their father close at hand, especially over the holidays, Tomkins gave each of her children a "daddy doll," and plays a video each night of their father sitting next to them and reading them a bedtime story.
"I wanted them to be able to visualize what it's like to be in daddy's arms," she said.
Staying connected is vital for spouses as well, Tomkins noted, whether it's to another military spouse or to close family and friends. She also has found comfort in staying busy, and is about to finish her master's degree in counseling.
"Staying involved will help you get through the time, instead of counting the days," she said. "Find a goal, whether it's job, school or fitness, and remember to do things for yourself so you don't feel so emotionally drained."
Tomkins acknowledges that the separations are tough, but, like many military spouses, she's proud to make the sacrifice.
"It's always sad when a husband is not here, but military spouses are empowered to carry on when a spouse isn't on the homefront," Tomkins said. "We're part of the Army, part of history, part of something bigger than ourselves.
"My heart aches for my husband because he misses so many moments at home," she added, "but I feel honored I'm home taking care of my family. I caught the good end of the deal. I always reflect on that."