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Face of Defense: Soldier Earns Military Motherhood Award

By Allison Perkins
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2009 – When Army Staff Sgt. Melissa K. Dion logged on to her computer to nominate her own mother for Operation Homefront’s Military Motherhood Award, she found that her mother, Carol Dion, had nominated her first.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Staff Sgt. Melissa K. Dion, pictured with her son, Ryan, was selected as Operation Homefront’s 2009 Military Motherhood Award winner. The troop-support group and sponsor Lockheed Martin recognized Dion for her commitment to her country and her family. Photo courtesy of Operation Homefront
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The combat medic was listed as a finalist. She and her officemates at Fort Drum, N.Y., read the nomination letter her mother had sent. Tears filled the soldier’s eyes, and behind her, coworkers were crying, too.

“The military mothers who do what my daughter has done and go to war for their country and leave their families behind are the most unselfish women I know,” her mother had written.

Dion has served two tours in Iraq and 16 years in the Army, and she has earned the Meritorious Service Medal. But it was her role as a single mother and a mentor to the young soldiers around her, especially on the front lines, that earned her Operation Homefront’s Military Motherhood Award.

When she left for her first tour in February 2004, her son, Ryan, was just 4 years old. She drove him to her parents’ home in Myrtle Beach, S.C., kissed her baby goodbye and left for war without looking back.

“It’s hard, but for me, I was very blessed to have this wonderful mother,” she said. “I knew when I stepped on that plane I had no worries back here. My only worry was what lay ahead. It’s very hard, but I had a job to do.”

Rather than dwell on her losses, the soldier embraced her Army family and built a support system across the ocean for all of them. She worked with her family to send over items that other soldiers needed or wanted. She took extra care of young soldiers who never received much at mail call.

The first deployment was easiest, Dion said. There was a phone in the aid station where she worked, and she could call home almost every day.

Ryan moved to his grandparents’ house just after Christmas before her deployment. Even though his mother returned a year later, Ryan didn’t come home until after the school year ended in June.

The pair had barely six months together before they were separated again. By Christmas of 2005, he was on his way back to Myrtle Beach, and his mother was headed back to Iraq. This time, the deployment proved much more difficult, Dion admitted. As a medic in a detainee prison, the hours were longer, the work was more stressful and the calls home were less frequent, since there were no outside phone lines or Internet connections in the facility.

“When you’re up there working for 12 to 14 hours, as much as you love your family, you’re too tired to stand in line and wait to call home,” she said.

Through it all, though, Ryan, now 9, was strong, Dion said. And though she may have to leave him again for future deployments, she said, she wouldn’t trade her job.

“I love the Army,” she said. “I signed up before I finished high school. I didn’t think I was going to be a single mom, and then when I was surprised with him, my love for the Army was still there.”

Dion will receive her award, which includes a $5,000 prize, at a Pentagon ceremony May 27. Lockheed Martin sponsors the Military Motherhood Award for Operation Homefront, a San Antonio-based group that comprises 4,500 volunteers in 30 chapters nationwide and has provided assistance to more than 45,000 military families.

(Courtesy of Operation Homefront.)

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Related Sites:
Operation Homefront


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