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Reflections of a Deployed Mother's Day in AfghanistanVanessa Hillman Special to Salem-News.com
Thoughts for the moms who are far from home on the day that honors them.
(KABUL, Afghanistan) - Sunday was a day to celebrate that special person in your life.
The person who has stuck with you time and time again, through the awkward stage in middle school, through heartbreak and heartache; yes that’s right; Mom.
With more women in the services than ever, the amount of mothers deployed away from their family is greater as well. The way these moms deal with the separation varies from person to person.
Some are sad and try not to think of it, wanting to be home with their family, while others reflect on past Mother’s Days.
Each woman below, deployed here in support of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, was given a chance to reflect on their thoughts about being a deployed mom on Mother’s Day this year.
There is a reason, they say, that many would never understand unless they wore the uniform, and walk in the footsteps of a deployed Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman.
Being disconnected from family and far from home is not an easy act for any human being. It requires a degree of selflessness and a lot of dedication.
Somehow that seems to come naturally for many of these Americans.
Technical Sgt. Becky Walters, Air Force
Deployed from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming
Hometown of Union City, Michigan
“My husband, Carl, has been doing a good job of keeping them (daughter Anna, 11 years old and son AJ, 8 years old) busy,” said Technical Sgt. Becky Walters, Strategic Action Group, noncommissioned officer in charge. “Just like us, if they are busy the time will move faster. I also think that it helps them to not dwell that I’m gone or where I’m at.”
To stay connected on her second deployment away from her family, Walters sends postcards and small gifts from the bazaar. “They get excited wondering what will come in the mail, and lets them know I’m thinking of them,” she said.
Overall, Walters tries just to think of Mother’s Day as any other day.
“Mother’s Day is not as important to me as some other days, like their birthdays,” Walters said. “I have missed both birthdays this year and that really affected me. I hated not being able to be there to see what kind of cake they wanted, or how excited they were over gifts.”
Advice Walters gives to other deployed moms revolves around keeping your mind on the mission and remembering you’re there for a higher purpose.
“You will miss [your family] every minute; there is no getting around it,” she said. “Stay focused and keep in mind that you will be back with them, and that you will not be gone forever. That the sacrifice you are making, being gone for them, shows a commitment to something bigger than yourself, that you’re keeping them safe and providing security that no other job can give.”
Captain Tamara Gonzales, Army
Deployed from Ft. Bliss, Texas
Hometown of Clinton, Iowa
“My husband and I have spent numerous year apart serving as dual-military,” said Captain Tamara Gonzales, Programs’ Strategic Communications Officer. “This time is definitely the most difficult being away from both my husband and my son.”
The memory of her first Mother’s Day with her husband, Pete, and at the time 6-month-old son, Johnny, was time spent together in a park.
“We went to the playground where I held Johnny on my lap and wrapped him in my arms as we gently swung on the swing set,” she said.
Keeping in touch through new medias has helped keep her family connected.
“Modern technology is a wonderful thing and has worked wonders for keeping us in touch,” Gonzales said. “Anytime my husband sits down at the computer, my son walks over to him, looks up at the computer screen and says, “Mama?””
But on her first deployment away from her family, Gonzales isn’t focusing on herself. Instead she tries to keep her relationship with her husband alive by remembering to add items for him in care packages home and planning ahead for holiday car packages.
“As a deployed service member, staying in touch with family is important, not just with our children but our husbands as well,” she said. “We should express to our husbands how much we appreciate everything they are doing to keep things running smoothly at home. While deployments are a busy time, it is important for our families to know that we are thinking about them and miss them.”
“Being deployed really makes me appreciate my family. It also makes me appreciate my husband, not only in the things he does back home to keep everything running smoothly, but how much he does to keep our son happy. I witness this every time I video chat and hear my son laugh.”
Chief Delisa Sliker, Navy
Deployed from Norfolk, Virginia
Hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia
“Mother’s Day is important to me because I have been blessed with two beautiful children (Thomas Mason, 17 years old and Drew, 9 years old),” said Chief Delisa Sliker, Ministry of Defense Intelligence Advisor. “I have been blessed to have such a great mother who showed me what being a mother was all about.”
Reflecting on her own mother is something she did to help celebrate the day.
“I registered for ‘Operation Hi Mom’ with ‘Canvas on Demand’ and sent them my favorite photo from here and they sent her a 16x20 canvas for free,” Sliker said. “She loved it.”
Even if it is her second deployment, her children still don’t see it as an everyday event.
“It’s hard for both of them,” she said. “I am usually the one that is there with them and my husband Jeff is deployed. I have received Mother’s Day cards from both of them this past week which was awesome for me. It brought tears to my eyes though…”
It’s that support and acceptance that helps her get through her deployment.
“I would much rather be home with my children, but at the same time I am also grateful to have a family that understands my job and supports me throughout this deployment.”
She also added this word of advice to her fellow deployed moms on Mother’s Day.
“Be strong and remember there are other mothers here that you can always talk to if you need a shoulder to lean on,” she suggested. “And just think of the stories you can sit and tell your grandchildren about one day!”
Lieutenant Colonel Anna Haberzettl, Army
Deployed from Ft. Rucker, Alabama
Hometown of Westbury, Long Island, New York
On her third deployment over Mother’s Day Lieutenant Colonel Anna Haberzettl, Afghan National Security Forces Logistics Officer, isn’t expecting thanks from her daughters; she’s giving them out.
“[Mother’s Day] is the day where I thank both of them for making me a mom,” she said.
“This is the third [deployment] for Gabriella, 8 and the second for Alexandra, 5,” Haberzettl said. “As they get older, it becomes harder for them, as they seem to understand more and comprehend what they hear parents say. Before I left, I talked to the girls’ teachers for the next school year so they would understand what was going on and to look out for any atypical behavior.”
Haberzettl uses an unconventional method to stay connected with her daughters.
“Before I left, we read a Bible story about Sam the Lamb who was lamb #100 in a flock and was lost, but the shepherd went to find him even though he had 99 more sheep,” she explained. “So, I bought each of us a lamb that we take everywhere we go. I have #100 (Sam), Gabi has #99, and Alex has #97. The lambs “talk” to each other whenever I call.”
She passed on a recommendation to all deployed moms to celebrate every day with your children as if it was Mother’s Day and additionally commented that she was, “looking forward to my next promotion to Stay-at-Home Mom!”
Staff Sgt. Nereida Chaffin, Marines
Deployed from Camp Lejeune, South Carolina
Home town of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Just being a mere three weeks into her first deployment, Staff Sgt Nereida Chaffin, Afghan National Army ordering officer, doesn’t know if her three children, have noticed her absence just yet.
“With all the training and schools my husband (Staff Sgt. Edwin Chaffin) do they really don’t start asking questions until me or my husband have been gone like a month,” she said. “Then we tell them mommy or daddy has a lot of work to do.”
Far from being new to Mother’s Day celebrations with her family, her memory of last year’s was one that stood out the most.
“Last year my smallest kids really got an idea of what Mother’s Day was,” Chaffin said. “They made things for me at daycare. They took extra care to hide their presents from me, and woke my husband up to make me breakfast in bed. Then they all brought me different parts of breakfast and they all presented me with their presents. The pride in their eyes as they gave me my presents because they were doing something for mommy was enough for me. You don’t get that kind of affection when they get older!”
Chaffin acknowledges that being away from her family isn’t the best feeling in the world.
“It sucks!” she said. “But I volunteered for this deployment here, so I knew I would be gone for birthdays and some holidays, I am glad I will be home for the big holidays like Christmas; that’s more for the kids.”
That being said, she still understands how important her service to her country and her family is.
“Any good mother has to make some sort of sacrifice in their own life to ensure their children have better then they did,” Chaffin explained. “Ensuring your children’s freedom by doing your part in a deployment, and missing some holidays is a small price to pay.”
Master Sgt. Bernadette Gregory, Air Force
Deployed from Tyndall AFB, Florida
On her second deployment over Mother’s Day, Master Sgt. Bernadette Gregory, Senior Enlisted Personnel and Administrative Assistant to the commander, has a view of new beginnings.
“Mother’s Day is a rebirth for me as I watched another life being born,” Gregory said. “It’s a new beginning for both mother and daughter. It’s a day that I use to my advantage--remember where you came from!”
Her daughter, 13-year-old Jasmine, is as understanding as can be about her mother’s deployment.
“My daughter grew up in the Air Force, so she understands and supports me all the way,” she said. “It helps to have loving extended family members willing to fill the gaps.”
It’s the time well-spent with her daughter that she remembers as her favorite Mother’s Day.
“Having breakfast at IHOP with my daughter, followed by Mothers’ Day sale shopping sprees,” Gregory said.
As much as she happiness as she gets from spending time with her daughter, she is always wishing for more.
“As with any other holiday, I long for home along with the traditional celebrations,” she concluded. “If I could click my heels and be home I would have done it already.”
Capt. Jeanetta Grover, Air Force
Deployed from Eglin, AFB Florida
Hometown of El Paso, Texas
Finally, for another, Mother’s Day brings a sad memory of a past deployment.
“My mother passed away during my last deployment [in 2008],” said Capt. Jeanetta Grover, executive officer to the chief of staff. “So it is very difficult to be away again during this time. My husband, Charlie, and the girls are very supportive of my duty in the military, and they understand what we are doing here.”
During her last deployment here at Camp Eggers, Grover had to depart on emergency leave to attend her mother’s funeral on Mother’s Day. Even her deployed location holds many memories.
“Once home, my family celebrated her life and the life she gave us,” Grover said.
Memories of her mother during a past Mother’s Day event is what she said was her favorite Mother’s Day.
“My mother’s birthday falls on Mother’s Day every seven years,” she said. “One year on her birthday, Mother’s Day, my three sisters, our four daughters and my mother had a spa day with just the ‘girls.’ The best day ever!!”
Through her deployment, she depends on constant communication with her family and takes the opportunity to teach her children, Jenae, 22 years old and Alani, 11 years old, about what she does.
“We Skype a lot!” she said. “Also, email is an amazing tool, as mail can be slow to get home, however I do send postcards of areas of Afghanistan to help them learn about the country and the mission here.”
For the many other deployed mothers out there she recommends, “always communicate; the small things count and letters, cards and emails are things they can reflect on when they feel sad. Also, tell them about the mission you are doing here, they need to know the great things you are doing for the people of Afghanistan.”
Special thanks to ISAF, the International Security Assistance Forces in Kabul, Afghanistan
Special thanks to Master Chief Petty Officer first class Christopher Mobley, U.S. Navy, and all of the military forces comprising the ISAF mission.
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