It’s April, the Month of the Military Child. In a previous article for TIME, I shared that between my service time and my husband’s 28-year Air Force career, our kids had weathered six military moves prior to age eighteen, and attended eight different schools. Changing schools multiple times over, and navigating gains and losses that are inherent of military life, requires exceptional sacrifice.
Yet, many of our nation’s military kids have found ways to weather those transitions and make a difference in the process. The top five Military Children of the Year were recently celebrated by Operation Homefront. Among them was Kenzie Hall, who Rob Harris and I spotlighted on our radio show for her Brat Pack 11 Foundation; being named in the top 5 is a well-deserved honor for Kenzie Hall.
Behind each of those military kids is no doubt a supportive, resilient parent. In today’s Bratland feature, I want to introduce you to a fellow military spouse, mother, and author. Kimberly Suchek contributes the “Survivor Guide” weekly column with Stars and Stripes; it’s published in Korea, Japan, Okinawa, United Kingdom. Guam and the United States. Additionally, she encourages countless families living the military lifestyle through her book entitled Operation Military Resources.
Now, Kimberly has begun a bi-monthly series for Hope Matters: Journeying through Deployment and Beyond. Her memoir of “How This Mom Dealt with Deployment” follows below ….
Hello military community,
It had been a week since my husband left for deployment to Afghanistan and I found myself trying to find that structure and stability required not only for me but for our daughter Cheyenne. It was harder this last deployment; Cheyenne is older and wiser to the cycle of life and how easy hate can lead to death.
In past deployments I don’t think Cheyenne really feared or understood where Steve went. She only realized he was gone and that made her sad. This past deployment Cheyenne understood where, why and the other aspects of his deployment. She also implicitly understood the sadness of all he would miss on the homefront.
The first week was daily — out of nowhere — bouts of crying from both of us. Little random thoughts and things sneakily popped up to remind us of Steve. I know this will get easier as time passes, and I reminded Cheyenne of that fact.
Cheyenne had her first prom during that first week too. She was really upset that her dad was not here. They had plans to go get the dress together. She was looking forward to her dad “scaring” the young man coming to pick her up. 🙂 So, I took on that roll and did my best to “put the fear” into the young man, mixed with my role of being camera-happy mom.
Cheyenne started her first job and “again” I did my best to put a smile on her face. Doing something funny to make Steve feel present is always a priority — so I created a “flat Steve” (his face on a stick). On her first day, I popped in during her shift and had her take a picture with flat Steve to send out. This accomplished several things: lifted Cheyenne’s spirit and put a smile on her face, and let Steve know we’re thinking of him on these special days. Steve got a huge kick out of it.
As a military spouse, we’re always asked, “Has it gotten easier?” My answer: “Deployments are never easy, no matter how many times you and your family experience them. For me building up to the departure and Steve actually leaving is the worst. I have a constant knot in my stomach. Trying to have stability in our home during all the extra training; missed events before he leaves; seeing the worry on his face about the deployment; what he will have to face; trying to have as much of the “daddy do list” done in advance; trying to spend as much “one on one” with Cheyenne and I before he leaves; and the fear of “will he come home?” — all culprits of a stomach knot.
Knowing in advance makes the deployment ceremony quite emotional for our family. Not to mention picking up emotional energy of every other person at the ceremony. It can all be emotionally, physically and spiritually draining.
Life during deployment can and will be hard for a while. Your family has to find a new structure and stability. Emotions are heightened until he leaves our country and has entered into the combat zone. By that time, I usually have established a routine and my emotions are getting under better control. Knowing there are many resources, friends and family just a phone call away (if I need them) is a huge relief. One day at a time, we’ll get through this journey of deployment and beyond.
Blessings from my family to yours!
Kimberly is passionate about quality of life issues for military families. She has been married to an Army National Guard soldier for more than a decade; she lives and understands the different challenges the military lifestyle presents before, during and after deployment. Kimberly is past president of Operation Homefront of Michigan, Family Assistant Coordinator for The Army National Guard out of Joint Force HQ and Grand Ledge Armory, and a DEERS Operator. She also served as a patrol officer for six years with a degree in Criminal Justice. She’s currently working on a degree in creative writing and a teaching certification.
Kimberly’s whimsical qualities: she loves being outdoors gardening, enjoys traveling to new places, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and extended family and friends.
*A version of this article first appeared in Stars and Stripes.