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Deployed for Father’s Day: Seven Perspectives

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2010 – As Americans celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, thousands of military fathers will be deployed thousands of miles from their families.

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Army Staff Sgt. Scott Williams, second from right, said he’ll miss, not only his family, but also his father’s “famous marinated family steak” while deployed to Kuwait this Father’s Day. Courtesy photo
  

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Seven servicemembers shared their Father’s Day memories and personal perspectives about what it means to be a military father serving in wartime. Here are their stories.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Stephen Horton
 
Being away from his wife and three children on Father's Day is nothing new for Master Sgt. Stephen Horton.
 
"This is the fifth time I've been deployed since my daughter was born, the second since my 4-year-old was born, and the first for my youngest," he said.
 
Horton has been with the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command Public Affairs Office in Afghanistan for about 45 days. He said the hardest thing about being a military dad, is having to leave for several months at a time.
 
"It's hard to explain to young children why you won't be around for a long time, and why you'll miss their birthday or Christmas," he said, "and it seems like I miss a lot of things when I'm gone."
 
He recalled what Father's Day was like when he was at home. 
 
"My wife is really good about helping my younger boys make Father's Day cards for me, and they bring them to me first thing in the morning, and then we all go out for a nice lunch. Since the boys are still young, we just spend the day hanging out."
  
This year, he said, heI'll talk to them on Skype, the software application that allows users to make voice and video teleconference calls over the Internet.
 
"It hasn't been this easy during my past deployments," Horton said. "Now, I can call and see them, and my wife makes sure they get cards and things in the mail to me every time."
 
Horton and his wife, who is also active-duty military, hope their sense of discipline, pride and commitment will set an example for their children and carry over to whatever they do in the future.
 
"The best thing about being a military dad is putting on the uniform every day and teaching your children what it means to wear the uniform," he said. "As a father, I want to show my kids that dedication and hard work are very important in life, even if that means you have to leave for a little while to go do your job. 
 
"My 16-year-old daughter understands things about what we go through, and why, that most of her friends will never understand, and that comes from talking to her and explaining what we do, and why we do it," he said. "My boys are still too young to understand, but they will when they get a little older."
 
Army Sgt. Fabian Ortega
 
This Father's Day is Sgt. Fabian Ortega's first as a deployed husband and a father. He was a single soldier during his first deployment in Iraq when he called his father on Father's Day in 2006. 
 
"It's a lot easier to leave home when you have nobody on home front truly depending on you," Ortega said. "This time around, it was hard waving goodbye to my wife and daughter. It's tough being away for 12 months and not being there when your little one takes her first steps."
 
Ortega is now deployed in Kabul, Afghanistan, with Headquarters, Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, V Corps. He said he's been eagerly awaiting a care package his wife and 16-month-old daughter sent to mark the day.
 
"My wife and I are treating this as another ordinary day, although, an ordinary day usually includes a video session with my wife and daughter," he said."Where I'm based I'm fortunate to have access to Skype." 
 
As a military dad, Ortega said, you truly appreciate the family time you have when you're back home. "You treasure your moments that much more. I have a renewed appreciation for those other military fathers who have done this many more times than I have."   
 
Ortega hopes one day his daughter will be proud that her father served his country. "My daughter is a bit young to have remembered any of this deployment, he said, "but someday I want to tell her 'Daddy did his part.'"
 
Army Staff Sgt. Scott Williams

Growing up in Iowa, Army Staff Sgt. Scott Williams always associated Father’s Day with his father’s “famous marinated family steak.”

Now with three boys of his own, Williams typically starts Father’s Day with a run to the local grocery store for eggs and bacon while his sons, Michael, Christian and Gavin, devour donuts.

“Then I’m pretty simple in that I really just enjoy having my boys around, watching them play video games, laughing and enjoying themselves,” he said. “It’s just nice to see them happy.”

This year, Williams will be watching his sons via Skype from Camp Buehring, Kuwait. A member of the Army Reserve’s 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, he and his fellow soldiers are awaiting flights into Balad Air Base, Iraq, to begin their deployment mission.

This will be William’s first time being deployed during Father’s Day, and he expects it to be a bit emotional. “I’ll be thinking of my boys a lot on that day,” he said. “They’re great kids.”

Military life isn’t easy on children, said Williams, who served on active duty before joining the Reserves and has moved his family several times as well as deploying. His oldest son, Michael, now 17, attended five or six different schools during one three-year period as the family moved between posts.

“That’s hard on any kid, but couple that with the fact his dad is gone some of the year on training events or in Iraq, and it all gets magnified,” Williams said.

If there’s one lesson he hopes he extends to his sons, he said he hopes it’s “to be generally good people and to remember family first.” He also hopes they’ll believe in something that makes them proud and happy – as their father believes in the Army “and everything wearing the uniform stands for.”

In addition to calling his sons as well as his own father and father-in-law this Father’s Day, Williams said he’s looking forward to a hearty Father’s Day meal in Kuwait. “No matter what they have in the chow hall for dinner, I’ll pretend it’s my dad’s family steak,” he said.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Flynn

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Flynn learned his most valuable life lessons about honesty and hard work from his father, Raymond Flynn.

So typically his Father’s Day observances center on his own father as well as his father-in-law, and now that he’s become a father himself, his 4- and 6-year-old children.

“It’s a family day, and I’m so thankful to have my father and be able to spend time with him, as well as my wife’s father and my own family,” he said.

A Navy Reservist deployed to Cuba with Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, Flynn won’t be spending this Father’s Day bopping around the Boston area to visit with family.

He’s counting on a special meal at the dining facility, phone calls home and special activities being planned at the morale, welfare and recreation office.

Flynn has been away from home on Father’s Day before, serving with the 5th Fleet in Bahrain. And as he learned there, the best way to deal with family separation, especially on special occasions, is to “stay positive.”

He strives to carry on the lessons his own father taught him while he’s deployed, from sharing treats he receives in care packages from his family and a Boston area veterans group that “adopted” him while he’s away.

“I try to follow the lessons my father taught me every day,” he said. “If I can help people through my example, personally or in their military careers, then that’s what I really want to do.

“I hope to provide them the lessons I learned from my own father -- lessons that can help make them better sailors, better troopers, better citizens, better Americans,” Flynn said.

Army Staff Sgt. Allan Ortiz

Father’s Day has always been an adventure for Army Staff Sgt. Allan Ortiz. His wife and daughter, 8-year-old Adriana, usually wake him with breakfast in bed, and 3-year-old Nicholas joins them in presenting a Father’s Day card.

Then, the family sets out on a day trip. “It is usually a surprise for me where we are going,” Ortiz said.

This year, Ortiz isn’t expecting any surprises. He’ll be in Kabul, Afghanistan, working as he does every other day as part of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.

“I will probably just spend it with my battle buddies and working most of the day,” he said. “It will be very different than what I am used to.”

Ortiz remembered back to his last Father’s Day deployment.

“I was too busy on patrols to realize it was Father’s Day,” he said.

Being away from his family for extended periods is a hardship, Ortiz said. But it’s especially difficult, he said, “when your kids get old enough to understand that you are gone for long periods of time, and you have to explain to them why you are away so much without really telling them what you are doing.”

But he said he’s hopeful that through his service, he’s setting an example for his children: “to be responsible, reliable, productive people.”

“The military supports that in every way because those are key to one’s character,” Ortiz said.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ross Coleman

After 12 years in the Navy, Petty Officer 1st Class Ross Coleman is pretty accustomed to being away from his three kids on Father’s Day.

This year, he’s serving his longest deployment yet, 12 months, providing communications support for the advising and training mission in Iraq.

Coleman arrived in Baghdad just three weeks ago, and expects this Father’s Day to be pretty much business as usual in the scorching Baghdad heat. No breakfast in bed. No afternoon nap. No dip in the pool.

“I have obligations I have to fulfill,” he said. “But if possible, I will definitely try to call home,” something he expects to be much easier ashore than during his previous deployments at sea.

Coleman will have other reminders of his wife and three children, 13-year-old Victoria, 10-year-old Sophia and 8-year-old Alexander. In addition to the family photos Coleman brought with him to Iraq, he’s likely to flip through a sketchbook his daughter created for him, with a new piece of artwork for every week of his deployment.

Coleman also expects to dip into the care packages he regularly receives from home. “My kids are notorious for throwing surprises in them,” he said. The box that arrived just a few days ago in time for Father’s Day included a purple teddy bear and red dragon that lights up.

While remaining stoic about not observing Father’s Day with his family, Coleman said he takes comfort knowing the example he’s setting is having an impact on his children.

“It’s all about conviction,” he said, qualities he said his children already are beginning to exhibit. “You can definitely see it. When they make up their mind about something, they will carry it through,” he said. “The trick now is to steer that to the right path.”

If there’s one vital factor to successful fatherhood during a deployment, Coleman said it’s having a strong, supportive spouse, like his wife Nicole.

“You can’t run your house long-distance,” he said. “You have to be able to support that person,” and ensure your children recognize that.

That support must continue after returning home, he said, particularly during the critical reintegration period. “You have to work yourself in slowly,” he said. “Things tend to work out better if you take your time and just let things settle in.”

Army Staff Sgt. Jason Himel

Story time with his children has always been a highlight of Army Staff Sgt. Jason Himel’s activity-filled Father’s Day celebrations.

Typically he sleeps in until 10 a.m. or so before his two children, Joshua, 10, and Emily, 9, deliver his breakfast. The family then spends an active day, playing games, going for a walk, bike riding and bowling, before firing up the barbecue for a big outdoor picnic. After the family gathers to watch a movie, Himel’s children select a story for him to read to them.

This year will be different, as Himel’s children will use a computer to read to their father, who is currently on a duty tour in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Himel deployed in September with the Army’s V Corps as part of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command. But even thousands of miles away, he hopes to maintain at least some of his family’s Father’s Day traditions.

“I will continue the tradition of sleeping in – at least I plan on it,” he said. “I will more than likely watch a movie and treat myself to a good cheeseburger from the gold ol’ local coffee shop.”

Himel then hopes to cap off the day contacting his family on the computer for a video chat and story reading.

While Father’s Day away from home is no fun, Himel said he’s grateful for good Internet connections that enable him to keep in touch with his family.

During his last deployment, he had minimal Internet access, and not enough bandwidth to chat online. He worked most of the day, but squeezed in time to telephone his family for a few minutes -- long enough for his kids to read him a good short story.

Quality family time and communication is key in Himel’s family, he said. Himel said he strives, even while deployed, to make sure his children understand he’s always there for them.

“I always tell them, ‘No matter what happens throughout the day, whether good or bad, at the end of the day, it is family who will be there,’” he said. “Love and communication goes a long way.”

 

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Flynn, second from left, will miss his family while deployed to Cuba as part of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay. But he said he strives every day to live the values his own father instilled in him. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Allan Ortiz will miss his traditional family Father’s Day celebration this year while he’s deployed to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePetty Officer 1st Class Ross Coleman expects this Father’s Day to be just another working day while he’s deployed to Baghdad providing communications support for the advising and training mission in Iraq. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Jason Himel hopes to maintain story time with his children as a special Fathers Day event, even while deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. Fabian Ortega holds his daughter Zoeye while on leave in February 2010. Ortega is currently deployed with Headquarters, Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, V Corps, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Stephen Horton poses with his sons, 2-year-old Alex, left, and 4-year old Austin. Courtesy photo.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Stephen Horton's children pose for a family photo, from left to right, 2-year-old Alex, 16-year-old Kiley, and 4-year-old Austin. Courtesy photo  
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