KABUL, Afghanistan - As some 70 million American fathers observe Father's Day this year, a good number of those dads will do so thousands of miles from their families while serving in the U.S. military at remote outposts.
In Afghanistan, today, a countless number of those uniformed dads are among about 9,800 American troops that are here, part of the Resolute Support Mission to train, assist, and advise Afghan National Army and the National Police. For each of these displaced dads, the Father's Day observance holds a personal and unique meaning.
For Marine Gunnery Sgt. Geann Pereia, who deployed to Afghanistan in May from Quantico, Virginia, this year will be the third in the last four Father's Days that he has missed spending with his wife, Hellen, and their daughter, Savanna, who is four and a half.
"Last year was the only time I actually got to spend Father's Day with my family," Pereia said. Wife and daughter remained at the family home at Quantico, Virginia, where he is stationed at Headquarters, Marine Corps as an administrative specialist. Pereia's hometown is Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
"Last year on Father's Day we spent time together as a family and barbequed at home," Pereia said. "My wife made potato salad and I cooked on the grill. It was nice."
This year finds Pereia at Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul assigned to the Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan. Like in thousands of homes across the United States, it's up to the military wife to take the lead in observing Father's Day.
"My daughter doesn't really understand Father's Day. She just knows daddy is at work and it's a special day for dads," Pereia said. "My wife spends time talking about daddy, doing craft projects and taking pictures to mail me. My daughter sent me a heart in the mail and that was really nice," Pereia said.
This year is even more unique to the 13-year Marine veteran because a few days after arriving in Afghanistan he found out his wife is pregnant. He said the timing of this redeployment to the United States should work out for him to get home just in time for the birth.
Father's Day 2015 is a milestone for Sgt. James Marable, section sergeant, D. Company, 2-14 Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division stationed at New Kabul Compound. Marable arrived in Afghanistan with his unit in April and it is his first Father's Day since becoming a dad. Baby daughter Ellieana was born Dec. 11, 2014 before he left Ft. Drum, NY, where he and his wife, Rachel, live.
Growing up in Columbia, Tennessee, shaped Marable's view of Father's Day. "My father was an extremely hard worker. He had a job that required physical labor, day in and day out, and he still does it to this day. He's probably the hardest working man I've ever met, so to me, Father's day was that day of where we catered to him," Marable said. "Except that my father never took that day off. That night he would come home and eat a special dinner, but he never took that day off."
Looking to his own family, Marable says he and his wife are a traditional couple and the day is significant to them even though he is spending Father's Day in Afghanistan. "It's like reiterating my commitment to my family because I'm doing this for them. Any man can have a child, but being a father takes something special. You support that family ... their lives are in your hands."
Marable said he would go home in a minute to see his wife and child if he could. "But even the little part I'm doing to keep them safe, to put clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads on Father's Day means a lot to me."
Petty Officer 2nd Class Edwin Maldonado is a Navy Reservist deployed to Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul from his home station in Fort Buchanan, San Juan, Puerto Rico. At Camp HQ RS, he is a logistics specialist with the Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications.
Maldonado went to sea for months at time on three occasions when he was in the active duty Navy, but this is first extended trip as a reservist and a father. He left wife, Evelitsi and daughters Saranailys, 14, and Daniella, 10, in Utuado, Puerto Rico in Jan and will miss Father's Day for the first time as a dad. Normally, he spends Father's Day with his family doing something special.
"Last year, my wife and daughters were in charge of the entire Father's Day program at church and it was dedicated to fathers. They had special music in the program and my daughters actually sang a song to me. I didn't know they were going to do that, so I got a little choked up," Maldonado said. "I had tears coming down."
He says his deployment will be about 10-and-a-half months by the time it is done, longer than he has ever been away from his daughters. "They were used to me going away for a couple of weeks at a time. They weren't ready for me to be gone this long, so it was really hard for them when I left." he said. "It's tough being away, especially now that they are older and our relationship has grown. We talk more and they understand more about where I am and they worry about me being here," Maldonado said. "When I got orders to come here, they asked me why I had to go. They didn't want me to come here. I told them that it's just something I had to do. It's part of my job."
Another Resolute Support Headquarters dad is Sgt. 1st. Class Douglas Morton from Lebanon, CT. Morton is a member of the Connecticut National Guard and he serves with the Forward Support Battalion where he is in charge of Morale, Welfare, and Activities for about 2,400 U.S., NATO and coalition partners who make up this multinational community. The full-time National Guardsman will have his first Father's Day away from his wife, Jasmine, and their two sons, seven year old Nolan, and Caleb, who is three. The family is home in Lebanon, Conn.
"This is my second deployment but the first since becoming a dad," said Morton, who arrived in Afghanistan in May. "When I was growing up, Father's Day was always a day to say 'thank you' to my dad for all the things he did for our family. Also, it's a day when a father does things with his kids," said Morton.
"But what I miss the most about being here are the everyday things. The other day was 'bring your parent to school day' for my oldest son, so my wife and I tried to set up a video chat session with me from the classroom. But, because of faulty internet, it didn't work," he said.
Morton said he had no special plans for this Father's Day but he would definitely talk to his sons on the phone and probably video chat with them.