By Lacey JustingerMay 28, 2009
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 28, 2009) -- "She did the bravest thing a mother could do when she drove away from our house, leaving her son and not knowing if she would see him again. Many people ask her how she could go off to war and leave her son behind ... she always replies the same. She joined the Army to serve and protect her country and if her country needs her ... she needs to do what is expected."
Staff Sgt. Melissa Dion, a medic at Fort Drum, N.Y., read these words when she linked onto the Operation Homefront Web site to nominate her own mother for the Military Motherhood Award. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Dion realized her mother had already submitted her and that she had been voted by Web site visitors to be a finalist.
Dion said she had never looked at the situation the way her mother wrote it. She was just doing her job.
"The military mothers who do what my daughter has done and go to war for their country and leave their families behind are the most unselfish women I know," Carol Dion wrote in the essay about her daughter.
With a slightly apologetic smile, Dion disagrees.
"I just had to get on the plane and go," she said. "The families back home; the spouses, parents, children, they go through more and have more to deal with more than Soldiers. Soldiers just do their job. I knew my son was taken care of. I knew my finances were taken care of. All I had to worry about was my job."
So Dion deployed as a combat medic to Iraq twice; missing her son's first day of school, his first lost tooth, learning to swim and ride a bike, his birthdays and Christmases.
Ryan admits that it was hard when his mom deployed, especially the first time when he was four. But said the daily phone calls helped and that his grandparents explained his mom just had to go, it was her job.
Often on these daily calls, Dion would express her concern to her family about fellow Soldiers who were not receiving care packages, letters or phone calls. She would ask that her family send gifts to be shared with others.
It was her unselfishness that made Dion shine among the qualified finalists. Amy Palmer, the chief executive officer of Operation Homefront, said the judges pick the winner based on actions in significant situations, above and beyond ordinary circumstances for deployed servicemembers and families.
Palmer said it was apparent that Dion had faced unique challenges being a single mother and missing very significant milestones but was still more concerned about others' welfare rather than her own.
In fact, Dion couldn't believe that she had actually won when she received the phone call. She said she almost fell over. She kept asking, are you sure it's me' Do you have the right phone number' Are you talking to the right person'
Operation Homefront's Military Motherhood Award is sponsored by Lockheed Martin and TriWest. Dion and her seven-year-old son, Ryan, were flown to Washington for a ceremony at the Pentagon, where Dion was awarded a trophy and a $5,000 check Wednesday.
Dion continued gave most of the credit to Ryan during the ceremony, sharing stories of him graciously sitting in the barracks until 2 a.m., while the Soldiers readied for inspection.
"He has been so helpful," Dion said. "My son has been by my side the whole time. He's a great supporter. You're looking at a future officer right there. He wants to be a doctor and deploy to serve his country."
"I'm planning to be a Soldier but my mom said I have to go to college first," Ryan said.
Dion has served in the Army for 16 years and received the Meritorious Service Medal but said this is an experience that she and Ryan will never forget. The highlight of the trip was rolling down Constitution Avenue in a 1930 Model A Ford behind Medal of Honor winners in the Washington, D.C., Memorial Day Parade.
"I wasn't looking for an award to be a mom and do what a Soldier does," said Dion. "But it's been an awesome, amazing experience. The Army is a wonderful place to be, I have loved my time in the Army."