OneOp brings you a unique interview with a mom who was in the Army. We are grateful for her willingness to share her experiences and knowledge with us. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What were the ages of your children when you were deployed?
My kids were almost 7 and almost 11 when I deployed. Additionally, it is important to note the backstory of our family. When my first husband left us in 1996, I joined the Army a year later. Our divorce was finalized in 1998 while he was in Korea. However, custody was not decided at that time. I met my second husband one week before my divorce was final in 1998 and we were married in 1999. I do not remember exactly when my first husband returned to the US, but in 2000, after I myself had deployed to Korea, he decided that he wanted custody.
What were some things you did to prepare yourself for being separated from your children prior to your deployment?
I prepared for deployment by collecting pictures in albums. The Internet was relatively new at the time. Therefore, photos were the best things I could take since I wouldn’t be able to ‘see’ them online like we can now.
What were some things you did to prepare your children for your deployment?
With the kids, we explained that this separation was temporary. We did ‘count downs to return’ with sleeps. For example, if I was going to be home in 30 days, we would tell them after 30 nights of going to bed (‘a sleep’) I would be home. We only told them what they needed to know, how often we would be able to talk etc. I didn’t think they were old enough to understand anything but basics. I did not want to scare them.
We stuck to a schedule of talking, and mail was definitely something that we discussed and implemented. I mailed letters weekly. I wrote many times during the week and then mailed them once a week. They wrote sporadically. My mother was mostly responsible to help with that. If I had to do it over, given the communication we had available then, I would have organized pre-stamped and addressed note cards or post cards to mail daily. It would have been less stressful to have the cards prepared and then they could just send them.
I got to talk with the kids most every weekend. We tried chatting via the computer but the Internet then was very unreliable at the time.
For me, it was very hard to not be with my children. I was terrified of having them ripped from me, due to the custody issue I was facing with my ex-husband while I was deployed. I wanted to write all the time and I had time to write. However, it was hard to write a lot because it always felt like it might be the last letter they got from me. This was not because I was in great danger; it had more to do with the custody battle.
Describe the conversations you had with your spouse prior to deployment in regards to supporting him and your children.
My second husband got out of the military about a year before I deployed. He took an opportunity with me being deployed to move to Florida and pursue schooling that would lead to his dream job: working on motorcycles. My mom lived there also and could help support us with the children. The discussions we had about supporting the kids had a lot to do with how he would support my mom and my dad who were going to have the kids Monday through Friday, while he would come to their house on the weekends and spend time with the children. My children had known my parents longer than they had known my second husband, as we had only been married a year when I deployed. He and I felt that having my parents care for the children during the week while he cared for them on the weekends was best.
What were some of your main fears and/or concerns regarding your children’s well being when you were deployed?
I worried mostly about whether or not my deployment would have a lasting impact on my children. I didn’t really worry about whether or not they would be taken care of or if they would have everything that they needed. I mostly fretted over the fact that I didn’t want this to permanently scar them. After I arrived to my deployed location my ex-husband decided that he wanted to try to obtain custody of the children. Then I started worrying about whether I was going to be able to continue to be a part of my children’s life, because I was deployed and the way that things were going in the beginning, I was afraid that I might lose my children to an ex-husband who hadn’t had anything to do with them in over three years.
What were some ways you were able to stay connected with your children when you were deployed?
I was able to talk with them on the telephone about once a week and we tried to talk over the Internet, which was very sketchy back then in 2000! I wrote letters regularly and sent pictures and postcards of the places that I visited while I was in Korea.
Please describe your transition back home. Did you do anything to prepare yourself and/or your children? Were there any challenges?
My transition back home was a surprise for the kids. They knew I was coming home early because three weeks into my tour I found out I was pregnant with my son, but the actual date I came home was a surprise for the children. I don’t remember there being any challenges. My kids were pretty well adapted to moving and change as they had lived through at least six or seven moves and their biological father had been deployed about four times prior to my deployment. I do remember gratefulness seeming to be the theme when we all were reunited. I was able to return home early due to my pregnancy, which also allowed me to go to court and fight for custody of my children. Ultimately, I was awarded full custody of the children.