Military spouses hold down the fort

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sondra Escutia
  • 49th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Military members and their families are no strangers to separation.

Since the early days of service, servicemembers have had to say 'goodbye' to their families and loved ones for months on end while they fight for their nation's freedom, and since Sept. 11, those 'goodbyes' have become more frequent and fewer between.

The ones who put on the uniform every day, however, are not the only ones supporting the Air Force mission -- the family they leave behind plays a huge part in that mission's success by managing the home front while their spouse is deployed.

Hundreds of Team Holloman families are currently awaiting the return of their husband, wife, mother or father, and the ongoing Year of the Air Force Family recognizes the sacrifices of military families who continue to support their loved ones in arms.

Military families face a unique set of challenges when one of their loved ones deploy. For some, those challenges are amplified by going from a two-parent to a one-parent household.

"It's easy to take your spouse for granted when they're here but when they leave, you really realize how much you appreciate them," said Rosemary Daffern, who recently reunited with her husband, Staff Sgt. Jason Daffern, 49th Force Support Squadron, after a four-month deployment to Iraq.

While he worked long days as a fitness specialist in the area of responsibility, Rosemary spent her days working, managing their household business and taking care of their children; Isabelle, now 4; and twin boys, Benjamin and Donovan, 15 months.

"I found out he was getting deployed when I was still pregnant with the twins and all I could think is 'How am I going to do this alone with two babies and a three-year-old?'" said the former active-duty Air Force member.

After months of preparing for what would be their longest time apart, she said a tearful goodbye to her husband and soon settled into a daily routine.

"Weekends were the hardest part for me. I'd wake up at 5:30 every morning when the babies woke up and start the day from there," said Rosemary.

Her days were packed full of dirty diapers, serving meals, cleaning up food that inevitably ended up on the floor, bathing, completing the day-to-day household chores, and then repeating it again the next day. She said what kept her going was looking forward to his return and the support system around her -- her coworkers, her husband's squadron members and her friends.

"Going to work every day, Monday through Friday, I got to talk to people about stresses at home," said Rosemary. "I love my kids more than anything but it's really easy to get stressed out when you don't have your other half there."

Thanks to a program offered by the Airman and Family Readiness Center, however, she got a day to herself once a month.

"I looked into the 'Give Parents a Break' program -- I knew I was entitled to that and that ended up helping a lot," said Rosemary.

The Give Parents a Break program, funded by the Air Force Aid Society, grants family members of deployed personnel one free day of weekend childcare per month.

Another military spouse, Ashley*, said she is looking into the different helping programs herself.

Ashley is still two months out from her husband's return from a deployment, his second one since she became pregnant two years ago. She said that the hardest part about having her spouse deployed is balancing the household and caring for their one-year-old son.

"He can't be here to help get our son ready for bed or to talk to me when I'm having a bad day," she said. "You realize that you take for granted having your spouse there when you need them. I feel like every day without him is a circus balancing act, trying to get everything we used to do, together, accomplished by myself."

Her outlet, she said, is staying busy -- something she said is not hard to do with a toddler. She also stays active in the community by coaching a fast-pitch softball team downtown.

Months ago, while their husbands were preparing for their deployments with training and predeployment briefings, Rosemary and Ashley decided to prepare themselves financially for the months ahead with the A&FRC's financial management program.

"I went to finance classes to help with managing our paychecks while he is gone," said Ashley. "The classes and sessions they offer showed me how to budget our spending now so that we can bank a lot more of his pay. The financial counselor was very helpful."

The A&FRC is just one of the many helping agencies on base with the motto, "Empower the Air Force family to enhance the Total Force". These agencies assist military families and understand their struggles, whether it is a single Airman, a dual-military family, a single-parent family and everything in between.

"It is important that we take care of the families of deployed for the peace of mind for the active duty military member to not worry about their families at home," said Cyrus Maxilom, A&FRC community readiness technician. "They can [then] concentrate and do their best on the mission at hand.

It is true that each type of family endures unique challenges when faced with separation, but one challenge is universal -- keeping in touch with loved ones back home. Both Rosemary and Ashley said that continued communication is essential, and because of technology, that often means speaking face-to-face from thousands of miles away.

"We talked on Web cam every day," said Rosemary. "It helped a lot to actually see him instead of just talking on the phone."

It is because of the Web cam capabilities, she said, that her husband didn't miss a big milestone in their boys' life.

"They said their first words before I left but I figured I probably wouldn't see their first steps," said Sergeant Daffern. "But I got lucky because I didn't have to miss their first steps -- I saw them over Web cam."

Even with help from friends, family and helping agencies on base, Rosemary and Ashley's experiences show that deployments are not easy for the family members left behind. Still, both spouses continue to support their husband's service and both understand that it is part of being in a military family, which they believe, ultimately, makes them stronger.

"Deployments really help bond a family together," said Ashley. "Having your spouse come home after being away for so long makes you put aside the little things that irritate you and really focus on the reasons you are together."

*Last name has been omitted for safety and security reasons.