'The family business': Division's first lady offers advice to mothers of deployed Soldiers
November 8, 2011
It starts with the very first cry. Almost like a light being turned on, a mother's worry switch is flipped with the first squeaks of their little one's tiny voice.
Do they have all their fingers and toes? Are they breathing okay? Is their color good?
Through the years, the things moms worry about change but the worry itself remains constant.
"A mother's protective nature never goes away," said Shand Mayville, wife of Maj. Gen. William Mayville, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley. "It doesn't matter how old the kids are, in our eyes, they are still our babies."
With ease, a mother's concerns evolve as their babies grow and test their wings. What happens, though, when the things moms have to worry about change from skinned knees and bad grades to improvised explosive devices, enemy bullets and ambushes? How do these women make it through a year or more wondering if their babies are hungry, if they are warm enough, if they are safe? What do these mothers go through when they lose control of their little ones and have to trust that those leading their children in a war zone will care for them just as they would?
Many mothers of Soldiers find it hard to articulate how they make it through the difficult days of deployment, often only saying they make it through because those young men and women they love with all their hearts are counting on them to be strong.
"The hardest thing for a parent is to let go of a child and not have any control over the situation," Vicki Cody, wife of former Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. (ret.) Richard Cody, wrote in her book, Your Soldier, Your Army: A Parent's Guide. "It's human nature to want to make everything right and protect our kids no matter what their age."
Mayville, whose two oldest children are active duty Army officers, knows well the difficulties that come in the days between a farewell kiss and a welcome home embrace. As the daughter of a career Soldier and the wife of a Soldier who has "deployed" more often than she can even count, Mayville thought she knew a lot about how to handle the long separations but when it came time for her oldest son Chas to leave for Iraq a few years ago, she wasn't ready at all.
"When it's your dad or your husband deploying, you are not quite as aware of things," she said. "It is a totally different story when it is your child. When I pictured Chas sitting on a cot (in Iraq), I still pictured my 7-year-old little boy who used to wear animal costumes all the time."
In her book, Cody describes the day she sent her sons off to war. As her boys headed out to do their part to keep the nation safe, Cody wondered where all the time had gone and what had happened to the days when her biggest worry was if her sons were skipping school or drinking.
"Suddenly, real world dangers were confronting our young sons and no one could promise me they would be okay," Cody wrote. "At that point, I knew that I just had to have faith or I was going to drive myself crazy."
Mayville said "keeping the faith" during a deployment, no matter how bleak news might seem, is a very important part of staying sane during the separation. Understanding that Chas had been given the best possible training, was with the best military in the world and was with buddies and leaders who really cared about him always gave Mayville a sense of peace when she thought about her child downrange.
Packing "really great" care packages gave her a little peace as well.
"Sending Chas care packages made me feel a little more in control," Mayville said. "It was a little like packing him a really good lunch, just in a bigger lunchbox that was going a further distance."
Live in the now
Mayville said that today, she knows more parents who have lost their children than she knows spouses who have lost their husbands and thoughts of these parents weigh heavily on her heart.
"I think about those families every day," she said. "I think about every one of those mothers and how they have had their last good night of sleep."
Mayville said she thinks often of the great price these families have paid in the name of freedom and how she and the nation must make themselves worthy of that immeasurable sacrifice.
"I carry around a prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt carried with her that reads, 'Dear Lord, lest I continue in my complacent ways, help me to remember that someone died for me today. And if there be war, help to remember to ask and to answer, am I worth dying for,'' she said. "I really do believe it is our responsibility to make the sacrifices worth it."
This year, for the first time in four years, all of Mayville's Soldiers, including her husband, and her little girl will be somewhere in the United States for the holidays. Because of this, the Army daughter, wife and mother said she will decorate her Christmas tree for the first time in years, celebrate the Army family she loves and not think about the deployments that may be just around the corner.
"In this business, you have to learn to live every moment as it comes," she said. "Don't get bogged down in the 'what ifs.' Spend as much time as possible together. Live today and enjoy what you have right now. Tomorrow will come soon enough."
Despite the challenges and constant worry that come with sending her sons off to war, Mayville said she wouldn't trade her life for anything. She is incredibly proud of the young men she and her husband have raised and of their continuing commitment to the 'family business.'
"Though it is sometimes tough, it has never occurred to me that I wouldn't want to be part of this life," she said. "Like Jimmy Buffet said, some of it's magic, some of it's tragic, but I've had a good life all the way."