FORT KNOX, Ky. — “I love the saying that military kids are like dandelions – they can grow and thrive through anything. I really see that in my kids as we’ve moved everywhere.”
Those are the words of Janice Christiansen as she celebrates Month of the Military Child the same way she celebrates so many days as an Army spouse – alone without her Soldier.
April is Month of the Military Child. It was established by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, as a Defense Department commemoration in 1986 to honor military families worldwide, and recognize the important role dependent children play in the military community with the sacrifices they make and the challenges they overcome.
Janice Christiansen’s husband, Maj. Bryan Christiansen, is an Army physical therapist, serving in New York City at the Javits Convention Center, helping patients recover from COVID-19. It is the second time in six months and the fifth time in 11 years that Janice and her kids, 10-year old Cambria, 7-year old Cody, and 4-year old Charlotte, are living life alone while their Soldier selflessly serves elsewhere apart from them.
The Christiansens have been married 16 years and have been an Army family for 11 of those years.
“This is just their life,” said Janice about the children. “It is just normal for them that dad leaves on frequent trips. He’s often leaving for training and different things, so they’re used to dad leaving again,” she added.
Unfortunately, this separation seems longer because Janice and the children do not know when Bryan Christiansen will be back, Janice said: “The younger ones keep asking ‘When’s dad coming home?’ Last time, he was only gone for three weeks. Now, we don’t know when he’ll be back.”
Bryan Christiansen is assigned to 531st Hospital Center out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. As such, he trains and deploys with 531st but is loaned to the Ireland Army Health Clinic when not needed for 531st missions. As a physical therapist, his job in New York City is working with COVID-19 patients who are convalescing from a severe virus case to get them back to a physical state where they can successfully return to their normal life.
“COVID-19 attacks the lungs,” said Bryan Christiansen. “If they live on a second-story apartment, it’s my job to help them recuperate to the point where they can climb stairs again safely.”
Like his family, Bryan Christiansen doesn’t know how long his mission will be.
“We’ve heard rumors,” he said. “But we were told we’d be in New York City until civilian entities can once again take over all of the care.”
Janice Christiansen says the keys to her family’s success while dad is away are schedule, routine and communication.
“I try to keep their schedule pretty much the same,” she said. “I don’t work outside the home, which helps us keep the same routine and schedule. All that is missing is (dad’s help) putting the kid’s to bed.”
The Christiansens replaced dad’s presence at their bedtime ritual with evening Skype video calls, said Janice: “It gives the kids something to look forward to.”
Bryan Christiansen agreed and said it’s also important to reach out to his older children individually.
“My older kids have their own tablets and accounts,” he said. “So, I find ways to send them individual texts over the course of the day to let them know I am thinking of them.”
Bryan Christiansen also highlighted the need to do special things with his kids when he is at home, so there is something to looking forward to when he’s away.
“I started taking Tae Kwon Do classes with my 10-year old and my 7-year old,” he said. “I was looking for an opportunity to spend more time together, something we could do together. When I leave, we don’t get a chance to do those things, but it gives us something to look forward to when we’re back together.”
“When dad gets home, we do a mini-trips somewhere just to spend a lot of time with him,” she said. “But it helps us reunite.”
“The kids are sad at first when he leaves, especially when it comes to story time at night. But when I explain that he helps fix people up when they are hurt, the (older) kids seem to understand what he does, and that helps,” she added. “I’ve been impressed with my kids. They are very resilient.”
This year’s Month of the Military Child has special challenges due to the spread of COVID-19, and celebrations across military bases have been canceled. Despite COVID-19 being the cause of his current deployment, Bryan Christiansen still hopes to make a 20-year career out of the Army.
“The Army is a different lifestyle then my wife and I grew up with,” he said. “I lived in the same spot all my life. The Army has been good to us. I hope to let my kids experience different parts of the country.”
Editor's Note: According to the website www.militarykidsconnect.health.mil, a Department of Defense report cites there are currently 1.7 million total-force dependent children worldwide. Nearly 2 million military children have experienced a parent deployed since 9/11.
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