FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Apart, the two words ‘army’ and ‘family’ generate strikingly different images. One implies regimented discipline and order; the other brings to mind love and compassion. For U.S. Army soldiers and their loved ones, however, the two words can hardly be separated, as each impacts the other in ways unheard of in most other professions.
These Army families seem to thrive in the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade as the Pegasus brigade is represented by three of the five families who are finalists for the 2012 Fort Bragg Family of the Year.
The Trotter, Miller and Buckhalt Families were recognized by XVIII Airborne Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel Allyn and his wife, Debbie, during the Fort Bragg Family of the Year award ceremony at Fort Bragg, Nov. 6.
“The nominations are a testament to how much the 82nd CAB families were invested during our most recent deployment. Deployments are the times when people can shine and they’re really needed,” said 82nd CAB Chaplain (Maj.) Stanton Trotter.
Stanton, his wife Lauri and their two daughters, Sierra, 8, and Hannah, 6, make up one of the 82nd CAB finalist families. Along with the husbands from the other two families, Stanton spent the better half of 2012 deployed to Afghanistan.
During his time overseas, Stanton, of La Palma, Calif., always found time to call home via Skype to talk with Lauri and the girls. He credits this commitment to allot time for each other to their family’s success.
“My hope is that others see that we focus on our family first,” Stanton said. “That is what charges the battery of our family.”
Though there were times when Sierra and Hannah missed their father, Lauri, of Woodbridge, Va., helped the girls to understand the family commitment.
“I think the girls are learning that what we have in the military is a choice, and with that choice there are some sacrifices that come, but we as a family make that choice.” Lauri said. “When we can remember it really was our choice, it helps to get through some of those less pleasant times, the late hours, deployments and whatever else.”
The Millers, with the 122nd Aviation Support Battalion, were also finalists for the family of the year. Chaplain (Capt.) Eric Miller and his wife Stephanie, of Allentown, Pa., have four children: Kathryn, 15, Julian, 13, Elizabeth, 10, and Abigail, 8. Miller is the chaplain for the 122nd ASB, and has been in the Army for two and a half years.
Although this is his first duty station since joining the Army, Miller and his wife are no strangers to military life. Miller is a former Marine who served from 1992 to 1996. Serving in her own right, Stephanie has volunteered as a Family Readiness Group Advisor with the 122nd ASB for the past two years.
“Being relatively new to the Army, the Millers bring fresh energy to the 82nd CAB families,” Lauri said.
Eric and his wife consider themselves down-to-earth people with a normal family and life. They were both very surprised and humbled when they received news they were nominated for the family of the year.
“We were shocked and consider it a huge honor. We are ‘Team Miller’ and we just want to help where we can,” said Stephanie. “I believe every family is the family of the year. If you have to walk in the shoes of a military soldier, spouse or child, you understand how much sacrifice there is. Parents have to work hard to keep the family together and on track, and kids have to endure the loss of their parent for long periods of time. I believe military families are a special type of family and they all deserve to be recognized.”
As an Army Chaplain, Eric can share his understanding of family with many Soldiers.
“The key is to have a solid base at home that will help keep things going even when you can’t be there,” Eric said. “I am blessed to have Stephanie. She is a strong woman. She has kept things together and running as normal as possible even when I can’t be here. My children are strong and understand what it takes for me to do my job. I could not do what I do without their support and understanding.”
With their years of military service on both sides of the table, the Buckhalts both know what it is like to support and understand a military spouse.
Capt. Allen Buckhalt is a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot who serves as the commander for Company B, 2nd Aviation Assault Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade. His wife, Maj. (Ret.) Bonnie Buckhalt, leads the company Family Readiness Group. The Buckhalt’s son, Joel, 18, is a member of the National Honor Society and the Varsity Soccer Team at Jack Britton High School. Their daughter, Ava, 4, played a big role helping Bonnie as she packed treats and care packages to send 82nd CAB Troopers during their deployment.
Allen, originally from Miami, believes the values that have strengthened his family have helped him in his role as a commander.
“What I’ve learned from my family I’ve applied to my military family,” Allen said. “Respect, love and taking care of one another are principles that are important to any successful family and team.”
Bonnie, a retired officer who grew up in a military family in Killeen, Texas, has experienced all sides of Army life.
“I have never had a phase of my life where the military hasn’t been a part of it. This whole process has made me reflect on my experience in the military and as a family member. During this time where the Army has deployed pretty often, I have been able to see how the family members must remain close to one another and support other families in the unit.”
As the Family Readiness Group leader for her husband’s company, Bonnie gets to know many of her unit’s family members first hand. This involvement guides Bonnie to understand her own family’s nomination as a depiction of her greater community.
“It was humbling to be a finalist for the Fort Bragg Family of the Year,” Bonnie said. “We know so many tremendous families and we are honored to represent them.”
Perhaps it is this pervasive modesty, expressed by the Trotters, Millers and Buckhalts, that makes the Army Family an icon so universally understood – a model with which soldiers and their loved ones so easily identify themselves on a daily basis.
This family identity will serve the 82nd CAB well as the brigade transforms to support the U.S. global response force, reshaping a conventional unit to a rapidly-deployable aviation asset, capable of responding to a wide variety of humanitarian and combat missions around the world with little notice.