JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – At an early age, military children learn to say goodbye to family and friends. Traveling around the world or having a parent deploy can be challenging and confusing to a child; but like their soldier parents, they are resilient through sacrifice.
Maj. Ben Lipari, a Pearl River, La., native and executive officer for 3rd Explosive Ordinance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group (EOD), has moved 14 times in 15 years with his family in tow.
Melissa Lipari, wife to Ben, and Tunker, the family dog, experienced all 15 years of Army life.
“Tunker was our first child,” Melissa joked.
With three children, Tunker and a new family dog, Darthy, the Lipari family developed a routine to make relocations as smooth as possible for everyone involved. Each family member does their part.
“The children pack a few of their favorite toys and write on their boxes each move,” Melissa said.
House hunting is a family effort. When moving into a new home, the children run to pick their rooms which their parents allow them to decorate with wall stickers.
“It is always a race,” said Dominik, the oldest Lipari child at 10.
Once the children settle into their new home, making friends is next on the agenda.
When Noah, 7, arrives at a new school he said he looks around the room hoping to see old friends but at the same time excited to make new ones.
The children normally attend schools off post, where their classmates do not always understand the unique life a military child leads. Some of their friends ask why they move so much. For the Lipari children, moving is normal.
“This is the first time the kids have gone to the same school for more than one year,” Ben said.
Seeing the world and meeting different people are perks of being a military child, but there are challenges.
“Deployments are hard, making new friends is easy,” Melissa said.
Dominik has already experienced five of his father’s deployments, which he knows is more than some soldiers.
With each deployment, Ben misses more birthdays, holidays and family events. Dominik said that they sometimes video chat on the Internet so their father can see them open presents.
“He has been gone half the time for Christmas and my birthday,” Noah said.
“It’s sad, but my husband has been gone so much that I can’t remember how many birthdays and holidays he has missed,” Melissa said.
The Lipari children use different techniques to countdown until Ben’s return.
“Once we let balloons go to send to daddy,” Dominik said.
For their father’s current deployment, Dominik and Noah put two pieces of a Lego set together each day he is gone. Ruby makes a necklace one bead at a time.
Noah sat at the dining room table almost in tears as he stared at all the plastic blocks he still had to assemble. He put the day’s pieces together and said, “Daddy will be home when my Lego set is finished.”
When Ben returns, he makes time with each child to do their favorite things. In Ruby’s case, the youngest Lipari at 4, that entails a trip to the Hands on Museum in Olympia, Wash.
Dominik and Noah look at their roles as military children from different perspectives. Dominik sat back relaxed as he recalled his experiences trotting the globe.
“I went to Paris and seen the Eiffel Tower, and drove across the country and seen the Grand Canyon,” Dominik said. “It’s hard to know what my life would be like, because I have never been a civilian kid.”
Noah was tense in comparison to his older brother. He contemplated the life of a child outside the military.
Noah said that if his father were not in the Army they would see each other every day, and his friends would be around longer than a year; but he would never get to be the new kid, and it might get “plain and boring” living in one place.
Ben estimated his family may move up to three more times before he retires.
Both parents said their children are prepared for the challenges and ready for the adventure.
“They are stronger and know that our family is always there,” Melissa said.