When Mom & Dad Are in the Military

Air Force families like the Smiths know that their comfortable home life could be interrupted at any time.


In many ways, we're just like any ordinary family. My husband, Derek, and I head off to work every day while our two children--Johnell, 12, and D.J., 3--go to school and day care. We spend our nights and weekends doing the usual stuff: housework, homework, laundry, running errands, watching television, and so on.

Unlike most families, though, we know that our routine could be dramatically interrupted at any time. Derek and I are both technical sergeants in the Air Force, stationed at the Barksdale base, near Shreveport, Louisiana. Right now, we have 9-to-5 jobs. Derek works in maintenance, refueling aircraft. I'm in the services division, helping with upkeep of base facilities. But with what's going on in the world right now, it's likely that one of us--possibly even both of us--could be deployed overseas within the next few months. And like all military personnel, we're ready to put the needs of our country above all else.

Deployments are the rule, not the exception, when you've spent most of your adult life in the armed services. I enlisted in the Air Force in 1992, when I was 18 years old. As a single mother of a toddler, I intended to get some job training, a college degree, and maybe a chance to see the world. I planned to serve my three years and then get out. But by the time my stint was up, I'd met Derek and fallen in love, and we had both decided to make a career out of the military.

In the eight years since we married, both Derek and I have been called to duty more times than we can recall--usually for two- or three-month stints, but sometimes longer. Derek actually left for Korea for a full year a few days after our wedding. When I was seven months pregnant with D.J., Derek was sent off to Egypt. He didn't have a fixed return date, and we didn't know whether he'd be home for the delivery. Good thing he made it back in time. Intellectually, I knew he had no control over his schedule, but I couldn't stop feeling, "I can't believe he's letting me go through this alone!" (Hey, when you're pregnant, you're allowed to behave a bit irrationally.)

I've been overseas a lot myself--to Bahrain, Egypt, and other bases in the Middle East. When it comes to dual-military couples, as we're called, the Air Force tries to keep one parent stationed at home base, and luckily, our deployments only overlapped once, for a week. That was before D.J. was born, and Johnell stayed with friends until I got home. But with the current situation in Iraq, who knows what could happen? Just in case we're both sent overseas at the same time, we've made arrangements for the boys to stay with Derek's parents, who live two hours away, in Bastrop, Louisiana.

When you've got kids at home, being away is never easy. As accustomed as Derek and I have grown to separations, it's always hard for us to say goodbye to each other--and to the children. Our biggest regret is missing so much of the boys' lives, especially little things like putting them to bed at night, helping with homework, and going to church with them. We've forfeited being together on a lot of holidays and special occasions. I've been away on Johnell's birthday more times than I want to admit.

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