Children of war find ways to cope with separations
September 9, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- When Soldiers deploy, it's up to their spouses to do what they can to hold the Family together until they're reunited. However, military children are required to make sacrifices, too, often stepping up to fill the temporary void left by their service member parent.
Many of the Army's tiniest warriors have never known a time without deployments. Multiple separations cause them to grow up a little faster than some of their peers. They have to do their part to complete household duties and help care for other siblings, all while keeping a brave face for their remaining parent at home.
Name: Jonathan Patton
Jonathan Patton said he often helps his mom, Sonia, around the house. His Family has been stationed here since 2007.
"I have to help her out with everything, especially electronics," he said. "Usually when she's sick, I have to make her breakfast and lunch. Then she feels better."
Jonathan was 10 months old when his father held him for the first time. His dad deployed to Kosovo with 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment from Fort Campbell, Ky., when Jonathan was born. Since Jonathan was born, the Family has endured deployments to Iraq in 2005 and 2008, and to Afghanistan in 2010.
Although deployments are tough, Jonathan said he enjoys being in a military Family.
All of his friends have parents in the military, and they all share an unspoken bond because they understand what it's like to go through a deployment.
"I get to meet a lot of nice kids who know what (I'm) going through, and sometimes they'll help (me) out," he said. "I don't think (other children) understand what we go through. If they had to experience it, they'd understand."
While other children may have to deal with an occasional separation from their parents, it's for a shorter period than military children endure, Jonathan added.
"It's a really big difference; they're used to having their dad or mom always there with them," he said. "Some kids think Soldiers go out and fight, but it's a lot more than that -- they fight for our country."
Jonathan and his mother watch the news every morning, and he said knowing what is going on in the world, especially where his dad is serving, makes him feel better even though it also scares him.
"Sometimes it's sort of frustrating, but I know why they're there," he said. "I understand they're there to help prevent (another terrorist attack) from happening."
Patton has been gone nearly a year, and Jonathan said they are anxiously awaiting his return.
"Sometimes I sort of get blue (when he is away), but after a while -- when you've been through it for 10 years -- you sort of get used to it," he explained. "But the two parts where it really gets to you is when he comes back and when he leaves -- at the beginning and at the end."
It's especially hard in the beginning, because Jonathan and his father do everything together.
"It's easy to adjust to Dad being home," he said. "We plan stuff before he comes home. The first thing I'm going when he gets home is hug him, and I usually jump on him. Usually we go to dinner. He likes Cracker Barrel when he comes back, so we have to go there."
Name: Rebecca Crist
Rebecca was born in Saco, Maine, while her father was serving in the Army Reserves. He joined the active-duty Army in August 2001. The Crist Family has been stationed at Fort Drum since 2005 and has endured three deployments with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, which will redeploy from Afghanistan this fall. Rebecca, her mother and siblings moved to Saco during the deployment.
Rebecca said she often helps her mother, Missy, care for her four younger siblings, who range in age from 5 to 11.
"I remember when I was 8 and (my dad) was going to Iraq, I was upset," she said. "(Being the oldest), I have to clean around the house and help take care of my brothers and sisters, so I can't go out and do lots of things with friends."
Being able to talk to people who understand what Rebecca's going through is helpful to her during deployments.
"Most of my friends are military kids," she said. "I have one friend who's a foster child and is in a similar situation. I still keep in touch with friends at Fort Drum on the phone and through email; most of their dads are deployed, too."
Sometimes watching the news scares Rebecca, because she understands what's going on overseas.
"It makes me worry and wonder," she explained. "It makes me wish he was back home, and I just hope he doesn't get hurt.
"I'm just really proud of my dad for being the military and serving our country," she continued.
The Crist Family is preparing for a permanent-change-of-station move to South Carolina after Rebecca's father returns from Afghanistan.
"I'm excited about the move to S.C.," she said. "(My dad is) coming home soon, so we'll probably go back to Fort Drum, but he'll probably be (in Maine) for Thanksgiving and Christmas."
Name: Ruth Mintz
Ruth was born in Sauk City, Wis., during her father's deployment to Bosnia. Luckily, he was able to make it home for her birth. Ruth's mother, Karyn, had moved home to be near her Family while she was pregnant with their first of four children.
The Mintz Family is no stranger to Fort Drum -- they've been stationed and deployed out of Fort Drum three times in Ruth's lifetime.
Ruth said her favorite thing about being from a military Family is being able to move around. While she loved living in Germany and Australia, she said her favorite place so far is Sackets Harbor. They returned here in 2010.
The unit deployed to Afghanistan with 3rd Brigade Combat Team this past spring.
"The first time (I remember my dad deploying) was when we were at Fort Drum for the first time when I was 8," Ruth said. "I don't remember really realizing that he was gone, but (being older), now I understand."
During the next deployment a couple of years later, Ruth said she asked her mother not to tell her when he was deploying because she didn't want to go through the weeks preceding his absence, knowing he would soon be gone. Going to a redeployment ceremony, however, is always a happy occasion.
"I remember looking for my dad (at the ceremony); he always wears his hat a goofy way," she said. "When we found him, we'd just stare and we'd make faces at him to see if he would smile back at us. It was like a movie -- running up to him and giving him a big hug."
Like many military children who have siblings, Ruth said she often takes on a parental role during deployments.
"I feel like I am another parent a lot of the time because my mom is so busy at meetings and she does tons of volunteer work," she said. "We don't talk about (deployment) a lot, and we're busy all the time so we don't linger on it."
Because the Mintz Family lives off post, a lot of Ruth's friends don't have parents in the military.
"Most of my friends out in Sackets Harbor (have) lived in the same house their entire life," she said. "Their parents are always there, so they don't know what it's like. I'll talk to my friends, but they just don't get it."
Staying busy is one of the best things military Families can do to pass the time during deployments, according to Ruth, who loves horseback riding and art.
"I like being busy," she said. "I don't think about (the deployment) at all, so I don't let it get to me a lot."
Her father usually calls home at least once a week, but Ruth said she also chats with her dad on Facebook. While he doesn't talk about work much, they have plenty of lighthearted topics to discuss.
"I don't think he likes to (talk about what goes on in Afghanistan), but he started a little goat farm. I always ask him how his goats are doing," she said with a laugh.
Ruth doesn't watch the news much, except for when her father and his unit were featured on CBS news recently.
"We got really excited when we saw him on CBS news," she said. "Just seeing him talk about what he does was exciting. A lot of the other stuff (on the news) isn't that great because all they talk about is bad stuff."
Ruth said she believes the best way to get through a long separation is to stay positive.
"You can't linger on it," she said. "My mom (stays positive) too. You can't tell that there's anything wrong. She's always positive, and I'm the same way."
"I like the military because it teaches Families how to be stronger and not have to rely on one person so much," Ruth said.