Military families lend support to one another to survive challenges
Brett, a major in the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort Detrick in Frederick, has been active duty since 2001 and has been deployed to Iraq, Guam, Korea and various places in the United States.
Stacy Taylor, 34, says that the constant moving can be trying, especially when children are considered.
"It does take a certain personality to do all the moving," she says, but adds that fortunately, she happens to like it. "You rise to the occasion out of necessity."
Teresa Robinson's husband, Rhett, has been a captain in the Army since 2002. They met in college and then married, at which point, Rhett joined the military. Since then, they have lived in Alaska, when Rhett was deployed to Iraq for a year, followed by a move to Frederick. In January, the family is moving to Hawaii, and soon after, Rhett will leave for Afghanistan. This time around, Teresa is sure that their daughter, now 6, will have lots more questions than when her dad left for Iraq and she was just 2.
For the Robinsons, the travel was something that drew them to the military in the first place. Teresa, 31, said she and Rhett always wanted to live in Alaska, and now the move to Hawaii is exciting because her background is in marine biology.
"The benefit is we love our life. We love the Army life. The Army has been really good to us," she says. But she does say there are challenges too, especially when Rhett was deployed to Iraq.
"Trying to do the little things, the little everyday things that you take for granted with two parents," Robinson says, is difficult. "You need support for everything," such as grocery shopping, taking care of the lawn, or fixing broken things in the house. These simple things become more complex when a spouse is alone with a toddler for long periods of time.
"You have to learn how to run your house by yourself, man or woman," Robinson says.
Lanessa Hill is a public affairs specialist at Fort Detrick, where there are 1,900 military personnel on post. She says one of the biggest challenges for military families is "the whole relocation issue."
According to the U.S. Department of Defense 2007 Demographics Report (the most recent available) 57 percent of active-duty military members have family responsibilities, which include spouses, children or other dependents. At Fort Detrick, the Army Community Service (ACS) program has been established to help.
Among some of its services, ACS offers programs to help with relocation, finances, employment and even the loss of a loved one. In addition, Hill says the public affairs office works with ACS to do a "newcomers briefing" that provides families with information about on- or off-post housing, schools, summer camps and daycare services.
"ACS makes Army living easier," Hill says. "Everyone is willing to make it work to make the transition better."
Kelly Hruska is a government relations deputy director with the National Military Family Association in Alexandria, Va. The advocacy organization works to pass legislation that is important to military families and also educates families about benefits and resources available to them.
Hruska, and her husband, who is active duty in the U.S. Navy, a 6-year-old. She says military families are unique because of the constant fear that harm will come to your family member. "In this day and age, you have a lot of civilians who work away [from home]," she says, but added stress comes with the idea that "many times the service member is in harm's way."
Taylor says there is "the constant need to be prepared for whatever might come." Robinson said that everything such as utility bills and school contact information, is in her name because she has to access it all at all times.
Hruska also notes that even when military spouses are not deployed, they are often gone from the home due to training for the next mission.
"Because we are still at war time, there is a high operation tempo," Hruska says, referring to the "constant cycle" of returning home and needing to leave again. "The demands are very high." Some active-duty members are on their fourth, fifth or sixth deployment.
Robinson recalls that when Rhett was in Iraq, one month would "fly by" and then the "next month would drag by." Her low point came at Christmas time when she was in church, surrounded by families singing carols.
"It hit me like a brick wall," she remembers. Following this, she went home to her family in Kentucky "to rejuvenate."
But in addition to the challenge of spouses and parent leaving, there is also the returning.
"The hardest thing [for military members] is coming back and figuring out where you fit into your family," Hill says, adding that ACS has programs to help with this.
Robinson said Rhett had to transition "from being a soldier to being a dad" and remember all the scheduling that goes into a family and child's day when he returned from Iraq.
She says that although it was "very difficult," the Army's programs really helped. "The most important thing about that whole situation was we were prepared for it all," Robinson says.
But regarding the family's next big move and Rhett's deployment to Afghanistan, Robinson has questions about how her young daughter will process it all. "I'm not quite sure. I've never done it with a child who asks questions," she says.
Hruska cites National Military Family Association's Web site (www.militaryfamily.org) as a good spot for military families to find resources and programs to help parents talk to their children. She highlights the organization's Operation Purple program. "It is a great way to bring the kids together to recognize they have a sacrifice, and they are not in it alone," Hruska says.