REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Jacqueline Broadenax, 3, knows how to take pictures. The budding photographer likes to run around with a little pink digital camera to snap pictures of her mom, grandmother and baby sister.
During the next six months, her dad, Maj. Timothy Broadenax, is going to be relying on his daughter to take a lot of those pictures.
Jacqueline's dad is preparing for a family separation due to his deployment to Afghanistan. And with that deployment, his young family will once again take up a tradition they started on his last deployment.
"There were a lot of changes during that deployment because Jacqueline was born and she was growing so much," Zara Broadenax said. "We sent him a lot of pictures and videos so that he could share in those changes.
"Now, we have Jacqueline and Sabrina, so we will be taking even more pictures to send to him. We've been talking to Jacqueline about props for the pictures we will be taking. We want to use lots of props. We've got to have props."
During the deployment, Zara Broadenax will have the support of her mom, Dale Ramsey, who lives with the family to help care for the girls. The mother-daughter team will keep up with the busyness of the young family, attending church at the west campus of The Rock; enjoying their neighbors and the friendships they've made in the area; visiting family in New Orleans and Birmingham; making sure Jacqueline gets to her play groups, and Mothers Day Out and Steps of Faith dance classes; and participating in military programs, such as the upcoming Operation Christmas Bear, that support Soldier families.
"It's hectic. It's a little challenging," Zara Broadenax said. "I'm not getting a lot of sleep, I am nursing and I am the mother of a very active toddler. So, I am in demand constantly. But it's fun. We do a lot of things together. And we have a wonderful support group."
The Broadenax family is like many military families who must find ways to live through long separations. But they are also unique in that they are a dual military career family. Maj. Zara Broadenax has worn the uniform for 15 years while her husband has 25 years of Army service.
Both are nearing three years in their assignments at Redstone Arsenal, where Zara Broadenax serves as the assistant product manager for THAAD Launcher, part of the Missile Defense Agency's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense program, and Timothy Broadenax, an air defense officer, has worked for the Missile and Space Intelligence Center.
"We both love our jobs. We've been blessed that we've been able to continue and have a family," Zara Broadenax said.
"As a young father, Timothy doesn't really want to leave his girls and me and my mom. We are his family and he wants to be here with us. But he volunteered for this deployment because of his career and because he wanted to deploy on his own terms. As a military person myself, I kind of understand. It's part of our job. As a mother and a wife, it's difficult. I don't want us to be separated. But this is what we signed up for. This is what we do."
November is designated Military Family Month, a time to especially recognize the families who support U.S. servicemembers all around the world. For the Broadenax family, knowing they have the family of the Army for support does make the separation a little easier.
"The Army is a great community. We are a family amongst a family," she said. "Early in my career when I was single, there were tons of older Soldiers who embraced me and made sure I stayed on the right track. It's what we do in the Army. We are always there for each other.
"The Army gives us a path of opportunities and we have choices. I could have gotten out when I got married and started a family. But there is still so much I want to do, and I enjoy being a Soldier in the Army."
The Broadenax couple met in 2004 through a phone conversation that a mutual friend set up when Zara Broadenax was serving in Iraq.
"He was at Fort Meade (Maryland) and so I just kind of brushed him off," she said. "He was very persistent. About four months later when I came back we met face to face. A month later we were engaged."
The couple planned their wedding in Zara Broadenax's hometown of New Orleans. But when 2005's Hurricane Katrina blew through the city a week before the wedding, the couple changed plans and got married in December 2005 in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The newlyweds signed up for the Army Couple Program so they would be assigned together. They were both at Fort Bliss, Texas, for three years before Timothy Broadenax was deployed to Qatar and Korea.
"He left during my pregnancy with Jacqueline, and he was gone during her birth and most of her first year," Zara Broadenax said.
When he returned, the family moved to Redstone Arsenal. They have bought a house in Madison and, among other things, take karate lessons together.
"We started karate this fall and decided to do it as a family even though he was deploying," Zara Broadenax said. "A pastor who is an eighth degree black belt teaches the class as part of his ministry. We all got our yellow belt. Now, Jacqueline and I will prepare together for our orange belt."
This deployment will be different in that it will be the first time Jacqueline will be aware of her dad's absence.
"With my job, I go on TDY a lot for a week here or there, and Jacqueline is used to that," Zara Broadenax said. "My husband has really been the stable one for us here.
"I think Jacqueline knows something is really different this time. When he goes to training, she gets really quiet after he leaves."
The family has visited Army Community Service, where they were given books and pamphlets meant to help with the separation and Zara Broadenax joined the Hearts Apart group for the spouses of deployed Soldiers. They also were given crocheted hats for the girls and their dad.
"For a 3 1/2-year-old, Jacqueline is very smart. We don't try to hide things from her. As her dad goes for his training, we talk about it. And when she is missing her dad, she can put on the special crochet hat that is just for her and her sister and her daddy," Zara Broadenax said.
Between Timothy Broadenax's training stints, the family has been working in all the special holidays he will miss while deployed. They will spend Thanksgiving together with family members in New Orleans, and they will return home in time to enjoy the Alabama-Auburn game with the family cheering for Auburn.
"We've celebrated Jacqueline's 3-and-a-half birthday, his birthday, our anniversary and an early Christmas. Normally, I am a stickler for not putting anything up for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. But that's Timothy's favorite holiday, so this year we had to do it differently," she said.
"I am really thankful Timothy will be with us for Thanksgiving. Out of the six years we've been married, we've been apart for three of those Thanksgivings."
Zara Broadenax hopes the deployment will be a positive lesson for Jacqueline about the commitment her mom and dad have made to the Army and to the country.
"We want her to know about sacrifice and service. We want her to know that sacrifice is not always about us. It's about giving up something for somebody else," she said. "We work to serve the American people. My whole life is dedicated to service. If my daughters grow up to serve, then I've done something right.
"Timothy and I are both into service because we are so strong in our Christian faith. Christ is an example of being a servant. We want to be servants, too."
When he does return from Afghanistan, the family may be making plans for their next assignment. Timothy Broadenax is qualified for a promotion to lieutenant colonel, a job change that will probably take the family to another installation where he can serve as a battalion commander.
"We're hoping we can stay here a little longer," Zara Broadenax said. "We really like it here. We like the community and the people, and how we are close to family. We are hoping and praying we will be here another year."