YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. – Sgt. Matthew McCrea has a switch. It turns on the moment he puts on his combat gear.
He goes from being a family man who cares for his wife and children to a squad leader who takes care of his soldiers on the battlefield.
So as he conducted a live-fire with his unit, Company C, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, Oct. 19, it didn’t dawn on him to call home for his son’s birthday until the mission was completed.
He had set a reminder on his cellular phone; however, the phone was on "silent" so as not to disrupt training.
Many service members endure the same sacrifice McCrea and his family make every day, whether they’re gone due to deployments or training.
Special events are missed, including birthdays, anniversaries and weddings.
For McCrea, this wasn’t the first birthday missed.
A Red Cross message he received while deployed to Iraq from 2007 to 2008 informed him his wife was in labor. Still, he missed the birth of his son by nearly six days.
Once the unit redeployed, he was able to witness one of the few birthday celebrations for his now 4-year-old son.
“I got to see him blow out his one candle,” remembered McCrea.
Luckily, his family is understanding and supportive, so much so that he considers himself “blessed.”
It’s his and his wife Amy’s spirituality, he said, that has helped them get through two deployments without an argument.
Still, he admits that, at times, being away from his family is hard to take.
“Days are filled with [stress and training], but the nights when you’re trying to get your couple hours of sleep … you start thinking about it and thinking, ‘Wow, I could have a 9 to 5 job and be a civilian and be there for everything,’” said McCrea. “But at the same time, everyone has to sacrifice something.”
He doesn’t consider the sacrifices he makes as putting work before his family. For him, it’s a different responsibility.
“I put my nation first, and I do what I can for my nation,” said McCrea. “It’s pretty much one of those things where you take the good with the bad.”
Another soldier in 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division “Raiders,” Pvt. Jessie Nelson, is missing her one-year wedding anniversary while training at YTC for the month.
Nelson was married last October and left for basic combat training the following month.
“We haven’t really been able to experience the newlywed phase yet at all,” she said.
Though distance can be tough on a newly-married couple, Nelson and her spouse see it as an opportunity to value the time they do have together.
“The only thing that changed is the time that we do spend together is a lot more intense,” said Nelson. “It really has made us appreciate each other a lot more.”
Instead of never celebrating special events, Nelson and her family celebrate even more on the holidays they are together.
“October 22 is just the date that we were married,” she said. “I think my birthday [in December] is more the time we celebrate.”
The all-source analyst with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div., saw her husband a few times before graduating advanced individual training and reporting to her new duty station at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Now she’s at YTC for a month.
Spending so much time away, not only from her husband, but from her stepchildren too, hasn’t been easy.
“I think with being freshly married into an already-established family, I missed out on a lot of the bonding that comes with stepkids,” said Nelson.
Even though she’s away at training, she still shows them she cares by calling every day and sending her stepchildren gifts, like flowers for her 4-year-old stepdaughter.
“I just try to do extra things while I’m gone, so they know that I’m still thinking about them,” she said.
While a 20-year career in the military isn’t in Nelson’s future, enlisting was simply following family tradition, she explained.
Her father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served in the military.
“I don’t regret walking in [my father’s] footsteps,” said Nelson. “The entire military experience has shown me a lot about myself.”
As Exercise Raider Fusion continues, McCrea, Nelson and other soldiers separated from their families take such sacrifices in stride, understanding that tough training now will make future deployments easier to endure.