News: Dealing with deployment, separation: a dual-military couple’s perspective
Story by Sgt. Tanjie Patterson
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan--For many military families, service to their country can include dealing with long work hours, over-night field exercises and multiple combat tours. One dual-military family, who has been faced with these challenges, has implemented ways to cope with the stressors associated with separation while deployed to Afghanistan.
Capt. Joshua Lee, an information assurance officer, and his wife, Chief Warrant Officer (2) Jessica Lee, an ammunition technician, are currently deployed to Kandahar Airfield with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Sustainment Brigade. The couple, who has been married for five years, shares four children between the two of them—a set of 20-month-old twins, a 15-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son.
The Lees agree there are both pros and cons to being a military family.
“Some of the downfalls are missing events that you shouldn’t miss as a parent, such as birthdays, basketball games, proms and graduations,” said Joshua, who is on his third combat-tour.
Jessica, who is also serving her third deployment but first away from her twins, said that the downfalls of family-separation, however, are strengthened by military perks, like a better quality of life.
“Even though we miss a lot, the benefit of this life is that the military makes it possible for me to provide for my children what I didn’t have growing up,” she said.
Jessica and Joshua were both born in Bellville, Ill., and family-friends during their childhood. They eventually went their separate ways, but reconnected in 2006 when the two were both stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.
“Joshua is my rock,” said Jessica. “He helps me cope with being away from the twins because he’s been through this before with the older children. I sometimes think that it would be easier if one parent stayed behind, so that our children would at least have one of us with them.”
Joshua understands the difficulties his spouse faces with separation, but said that being on the same deployment cycle with his wife can be beneficial for everyone.
“I’m glad that the both of us are deployed together because it causes minimal interruptions in the household,” he said. “If Jessica didn’t deploy with the brigade headquarters then she would’ve deployed with another unit, and that would’ve meant that we both would’ve left and returned at different times. At least this way we both leave and return together.”
Preparing for this deployment took a little work for the Lees. Because they have young children, they wanted to make the transition as smooth as possible, relocating the twins to their grandmother’s home and replicating the kid-friendly environment in the new location.
“We wanted to make sure that they had all of their toys, as well as pictures of us in their room at grandma’s house,” said Jessica, who added that it is important to help her children cope with the separation as well. “We just wanted them to have the same feel that they had at (our) home.
“We also thought it would be a good idea for my mom to come down two weeks prior to us leaving to spend time with Madden and Mackenzie while we were still around,” continued Jessica. “So this way, they could get a feel for each other. Even though she is their grandmother, she was still a stranger to them because she wasn’t around them that often. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not there for my kids. I know my mother is doing a phenomenal job with them, but I also know that it’s a struggle to take care of twins.”
Joshua said it was a little easier to prepare for deployment with his teenage-children.
“With the older kids, I talked to them about what was going to happen throughout the whole year, the things that I would be missing out on,” he said. “That talk was easier because they are older and they can understand what is going on.”
Despite the high operational tempo and the time difference between Afghanistan and the United States, the Lees said they make it a point to speak to their children on a daily basis, to help their family, as a whole, better cope with the stresses of separation.
“Every morning we wake up early to speak to Madden and Mackenzie before they go to bed, and I call them every evening before they go to daycare (in the morning),” said Jessica with a smile. “Because they are still so young, their attention-span isn’t very long, so we get a good 20 minutes with them before they are ready to do other things.”
Sometimes, says Jessica, it gets a little overwhelming to be away from her children, especially as a new mother. She said keeping busy with extra activities like spending three to four hours in the gym and taking college courses helps to ease her mind.
Joshua also spends his free time at the fitness center and is currently working on a master’s degree in information technology management. The couple says that using this time wisely offers an opportunity to better their family’s future.
Jessica said her long-term goals include obtaining her bachelor’s degree in human services, retiring from the military and getting a job as a school counselor, which will allow her to work during the hours that her children are in school so that she can devote her time to them once school lets out. She also says that she would like to remain married to her husband for the rest of her life. Joshua said his long-term goals are to finish his master’s degree and to just be a good father and husband.
The Lees both agree that their military children serve and sacrifice, and they are loved and appreciated for it.
“Our children are very resilient,” said Joshua.
Jessica hopes that one day their children will understand that all the sacrifices made as a military family were in an effort to provide a better life for them.
Her husband agrees.
“I think that right now our children may have a hard time being proud of what we are doing because the only thing they know is that we aren’t there,” he said. “But I’m sure, in the future, our children will be proud of all that we have done.”