Making A Home Without Their Hero
November 16, 2011
MERIDIANVILLE -- After 11 years of living the life of an Army wife who's always getting ready for the next move, Sharonda Grandberry is finally settling her family down in a place that will be their forever home.
Just a few months ago, she started a civilian job at Redstone Arsenal, moved her three children into a comfortable two-story house in Meridianville to take advantage of a good school district, began discovering all the amenities of her new community and started making friends who she won't be saying goodbye to anytime soon.
It's a picture perfect way to end a military career.
And yet, her Soldier husband is not yet part of that picture.
Staff Sgt. Robert Grandberry, a nuclear, biological and chemical specialist, is deployed to Afghanistan, where he is serving with the 3rd of the 1st, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Bliss, Texas. He deployed for the first time in his Army career soon after moving his family to North Alabama. He won't permanently retire and rejoin his family until December 2012.
"Our situation is peculiar, particularly since he was supposed to retire in June 2012. But, due to regulation, that was changed, and my husband is now on the first deployment in his 19 1/2 year military career," Grandberry said.
But Grandberry is not alone. She and her family are among hundreds of thousands of military families that are living through a deployment. In recognition of the nation's military families and the sacrifices they make, President Barack Obama has once again proclaimed November as Military Family Month. The president said the month is a time to "celebrate the exceptional service, strength and sacrifice of our military families, whose commitment to our nation goes above and beyond the call of duty. Just as our troops embody the courage and character that make America's military the finest in the world, their family members embody the resilience and generosity that make our communities strong."
Like other military families, Grandberry and her children -- 10-year-old twin daughters Taikashis and Tykeria, and 6-year-old son Nehemiah -- have made a lot of sacrifices so that Robert Grandberry could fulfill his deployment obligation. But Grandberry didn't let the family's sudden separation affect their move to Madison County. In some ways, the move has been a blessing.
"A year ago, we decided we were coming to Huntsville, that this would be our place to retire," Grandberry said. "My family is in Dothan and his family is in Monticello, Miss., and Huntsville was a good place so that we could be closer to our families. It also offered federal jobs, is one of the safest places to raise your children, and has some of the best school systems in the nation."
Grandberry and her husband visited Huntsville in the summer of 2010 before coming to their big decision about where they would live after his retirement. Back at Fort Bliss last fall, Grandberry got a job with the Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Activity. In January 2011, she began to apply for federal jobs in Huntsville in preparation for her family's move.
"I knew I had to raise my kids in Huntsville. I prayed and applied for jobs. In June, jobs at the TMDE Activity at Redstone opened up and I applied," Grandberry said.
"At the time, my husband was still non-deployable because of a tear in the muscle of his right shoulder. Aug. 1 came and I had a job at Redstone where I needed to report by Aug. 15. So, I came to Huntsville and things were looking good for our retirement. At about the same time, on Aug. 23, Robert learned he was being deployed after all. Only God got me through all this."
Grandberry, who now works for the Army Primary Standards Laboratory's Customer Support Division at Redstone, and one of her daughters -- Tykeria -- stayed at a co-worker's home in Meridianville in those first few weeks in North Alabama. Just across the cul-de-sac from the co-worker's home was a vacant house that was available for lease. By the end of September, Grandberry had rented the house and her husband was coordinating the move of his family's belongings to their new home.
The move brought an end to frequent relocations. In their young lives, the twins have lived at Fort Campbell, Ky.; Landstuhl, Germany; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; and Fort Bliss. Moving to Huntsville was finally the permanent move the family wanted. But the move was also the last thing that Robert Grandberry was able to do for his family before leaving on his deployment.
"He is such an awesome guy," Grandberry said. "His sudden deployment made me angry, frustrated, confused, afraid. We didn't really understand. This was our time to retire and to have a complete family. There would no more moving away from friends. This was our chance to go somewhere where we can make friends and keep them. And we are here and we have those things, but the man that we love isn't with us."
The couple's children especially miss their father, and the time he spent with them just having fun, coaching their sports teams and hanging out.
"My dad is the person who takes care of us. He's the head of the house and the person who protects us. We miss him," Taikashis said. "He's a hero. He makes our family stay together."
"He is a very brave person. He is admirable," added Tykeria. "We both want to marry someone like our dad. He's a really awesome dad."
The family keeps in touch with their Soldier through mail, email and Skype phone calls late at night. So far, they've sent two packages to Robert Grandberry that have included blankets, a heater, his school books for online college courses he's taking, pictures, a foam mattress, cough drops, razors and other toiletries, and dry foods. His family worries about their Soldier, and the conditions he is living and working in deep in the Afghan mountains.
"We're coping because he's coping. We're OK because he's OK. He just wants to make sure we are safe and we want to know he is safe," Grandberry said. "He's 38 years old and has arthritis in both his knees, so we worry."
The family tries to stay busy, something that's easy to do during the school months. The twins are in fifth-grade and their brother is in first at Lynn Fanning Elementary. Besides working and being in the role of a single parent, Grandberry also takes college courses online. She is active with Hearts Apart group offered through Army Community Service.
The foursome likes to go roller skating together on Monday nights and watch movies together. Soon, Taikashis and Nehemiah will be involved in basketball while Tykeria hopes to be a cheerleader for their teams. They are still searching for a church home, and they are spending a lot of time visiting family in Dothan. Just this past weekend, the family traveled to Dothan so that Grandberry could treat her children to their first National Peanut Festival.
"I try to stay as lively with the kids as I can to keep their minds off of their dad not being here," Grandberry said. "I don't know where my strength comes from.
"We are making a lot of family moments. My family is coming here for Thanksgiving, and I have some girlfriends coming here for Christmas. As long as we can get through Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine's Day, I think we will be OK."
Grandberry will especially miss her husband on Black Friday, the shopping day right after Thanksgiving, as it has been a longstanding tradition for her and her husband to spend the day together shopping for presents while relatives took care of their children.
"This is the first Black Friday since 2001 that I won't have my Black Friday partner with me. We would go to the stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night and camp out in folding chairs and blankets to wait for the sales," she said.
This year, Grandberry's sister plans an extended stay after the Thanksgiving holiday. There may be an opportunity on Black Friday for Grandberry to go shopping for a few hours with her daughters.
"I would really like that," she said about the possibility of a new Black Friday tradition.
The foursome are also making plans to check out things to do in the area -- such as the Birmingham Zoo and the Atlanta Aquarium -- with hopes of sharing all they discover with their Soldier when he comes home.
"We love the people and the places here," Tykeria said of the Huntsville area.
The kids like to talk to their mom about what they will be when they grow up. Tykeria wants to be a model, veterinarian or doctor. Taikashis wants to be a basketball player or trainer. And Nehemiah has some interesting ideas.
"Nehemiah has a lot of skills. He can play basketball and football. But he wants to drive a UPS truck when he grows up," Grandberry said. "I always encourage him to follow his dreams."
Perhaps Nehemiah's love of delivery trucks has to do with his mom's love for logistics. She, herself, spent eight years in the Army working in logistics, and left the military after marrying her husband.
"I do love logistics, and I hope to eventually move into a logistics job," Grandberry said. "Logistics is all about numbers, transportation and taking care of people. It's what makes everything happen."
Although their Soldier is deployed, Grandberry is happy her family is now living in the Huntsville area. The family plans to buy a home after their Soldier returns.
"Being in Alabama right now is the most significant and best thing for us. This is the best thing that could have happened to my family," Grandberry said. "It is hard because he's gone. I didn't really know how much he was our support system until he was gone. But we will be OK until he gets back because we have a home here in Alabama."