News: Service to Army runs deep for Montana family
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. - For the Skillmans, service in the Army is a family affair.
While the tradition of military service often runs strong among families, you don’t often see a mother, husband and son serving in the same unit.
Command Sgt. Maj. Lola M. Skillman, Master Sgt. Dan L. Skillman and Staff Sgt. Jaymes Skillman are all Army Reserve Soldiers assigned of the 652nd Regional Support Group out of Helena, Montana. They deployed to Afghanistan together in 2012, and even out of uniform, the Skillmans serve the Army Reserve as civilians in Helena.
Command Sgt. Maj. Skillman, the acting operations sergeant major for the 652nd, said being in the military makes it a little easier dealing with the deployments of her loved ones.
“Being in the military definitely makes it easier,” she said.
And she should know - her husband deployed to Iraq in 2005 while she remained behind at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Then a week after Dan came back, their son, Jaymes left for his own deployment to Iraq.
“It was very nerve-wracking being stateside, knowing that they are over there in a combat zone and worrying,” she explained. “When Jaymes went over there, he was infantry and went out on foot patrols, and it was very nerve-wracking.”
The history of service, deployments, separation and coming back together runs deep in this family - all the way back to 1985.
That year, Command Sgt. Maj. Skillman, who’s served in the Army Reserve for 31 years, met her husband of 29 years, Master Sgt. Skillman, when he joined her Army Reserve engineer unit. From that point, they followed a similar career path, attempting to stay together in the same units. In essence, the military was their matchmaker.
The choice to stay in the same unit led to the couple deploying together to Germany for a year in 2002. The catch: they had to leave their three children Jaymes, Dannielle and Zachery behind.
“We were kind of the spokespersons for having a family care plan in the military,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Skillman. She explained that their three children stayed in the care of their grandmother, but it was tough.
Jaymes, who was in high school during his parent’s deployment, didn’t want anything to do with the military when they first returned home. But one day, Jaymes told his parents of his plan to join the Army.
He did, and after serving active duty in the infantry, Jaymes joined his parents in the Army Reserve as a property book noncommissioned officer in the 652nd.
The three joked about what could sometimes be blurred lines between familial and military duty.
“You get that in your mind, like, ‘Should I stand at parade rest?’ But you still have to keep that military bearing,” Jaymes said of serving with his higher-ranking mother and father.
Command Sgt. Maj. Skillman said that sometimes she has to catch herself when she realizes she’s being hard on her son, who is also her subordinate.
“I do kind of have to watch myself, because I tend to be harder on him than the other Soldiers,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Skillman of Jaymes.
However, the family seems to have worked out the kinks in the military-home life balance.
“That’s one thing that we’ve all come to realize,” Jaymes said. “When we’re in uniform, it’s strictly military. When we go home, we leave it behind. That’s one of our rules.”
The Skillmans took that family approach of serving to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, where they treated members of the 652nd RSG like extended family. The family said they set up Christmas parties and would organize unit functions on Sundays.
“We got together more as a family - taking care of the unit as a family,” explained Command Sgt. Maj. Skillman.
The deployment to Afghanistan also provided depth to the Skillmans’ marriage.
Master Sgt. Skillman got choked up and wiped away tears as he described the concern he often felt for his wife when he deployed to Afghanistan with her, as she was in harm’s way along with him.
“A lot of people said to me, ‘It must be nice to have your wife with you,’” Master Sgt. Skillman said of their joint deployment.
“It really wasn’t, because I worried about her a lot. I really did, but I knew that she could handle it because she was in the military,” he said tearfully.
Master Sgt. Skillman said their marriage didn’t change very much due to the deployment—that it was already strong.
“Obviously it was tested a few times,” he said. “But all marriages are, so it probably got stronger.”
The fact that the married couple shared a very small room during the deployment may have helped them connect, but their close quarters came with challenges as well.
“It has its ups and downs,” Command Sgt. Maj. Skillman said of being deployed with her husband and sharing a room made out of a shipping container with him. “Back home you can go your own separate ways, you can go do something else—when you’re deployed together, it’s 24/7.”
However, after staying stateside during a deployment and then deploying with her husband, Command Sgt. Maj. Skillman said she preferred deploying together.
“The Afghanistan deployment was easier,” she said. “Being there with both of them.”
All three family members participated in Warrior Exercise (WAREX) 91 14-03 as part of the 652nd’s “governor’s cell.” The family also attended a previous iteration of WAREX together here in 2011.
“There’s so many things going on at once—moving troops, feeding troops, and the WAREX itself,” Master Sgt. Skillman said.
Master Sgt. Skillman explained that logistics is a huge process, and that many Soldiers don’t realize how supplies get from point A to point B on the battlefield.
However, he said, “We enjoy taking care of troops.”
Whether in a deployed setting or in their hometown, the Skillmans take care of Soldiers as if they are family.