When 2-year-old Collin Edmonds spiked a fever of 106 and had to be
rushed to the hospital recently, his mother, Kate Edmonds, was
overwhelmed to say the least.
With her husband, Sean, deployed to
Afghanistan and no relatives nearby, Kate was left to scramble for help
during her son’s three-night hospital stay.
“I had to call in all the favors I could so I could get somebody to
come and sit with him so I could run home and feed my dog,” says Kate,
who was also sick but couldn’t take her medication because it made her
feel too sick to take care of Collin. Without being able to properly
care for herself, Kate ended up with bronchitis just as Collin was
recovering from a severe sinus infection.
As difficult as it was to go through Collin’s illness alone, Kate
says, it was more difficult for Sean, a Beaufort native, to not be there
when his family needed him.
“I think it was the hardest thing he ever had to do,” says Kate of
Sean hearing his son was gravely ill but not being able to see or hold
his little boy. “How can you comfort someone who’s 6,000 miles away? ...
It definitely killed him.”
The stress endured by deployed military personnel and the family
members they leave behind is uniquely difficult. It’s a lifestyle most
spouses understand they’re signing up for when they marry someone in the
military, but the separation and loneliness can be even more than a
military family bargained for.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” says
Kate, 23, who is living in Warren Robins, Ga., where Sean, a staff
sergeant in the Air Force, is stationed. “I got married at 19; I didn’t
by any means think this would be easy. But I didn’t think my son would
sit in the car and cry for his daddy and there was nothing I could do
If Kate sounds bitter, she’s not. She’s just tired. She’s tired of
missing her husband, tired of being a single parent while also carrying a
full course load as a full-time student. But mostly she’s tired of the
general public misunderstanding her family’s unique situation.
“People tell me all the time, ‘Well you knew what you were getting
into,’” Kate says. “The sheer lack of support from the general public
makes me so mad.”
Kate doesn’t want standing ovations or sympathy, just a little
consideration about the sacrifices families like hers are willing to
endure so that the rest of us may enjoy our freedom. For example, after
having to miss a class or two during her son’s recent illness, one of
her professors called into question her ability to continue in the
“I told him ‘Look, I’m a single parent right now, my GPA is a 3.94,
and my husband’s in a war zone. My child will come first, but I will ace
all your exams,” she says.
While nobody can force the general public to be more supportive of
military families, all four branches of the military have workshops and
other resources available to help alleviate some of the stress spouses
like Kate find themselves in before, during and after deployments.
At Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Readiness and Deployment
Support Trainers educate Marines and their families on combat
operational stress and the emotional cycle of deployment before each
unit deploys, said 1st Lt. Sharon A. Hyland, director of Public Affairs
for Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Along with pointing out some of
the sources of stress for families, trainers also discuss common stress
symptoms and coping tips and tools.
There are several workshops offered for spouses and children of
deployed servicemembers to help them cope with the disruption to their
families, the loneliness and fear, and the everyday concerns that come
with being a single-parent family. There’s also a Hearts Apart support
group for spouses of deployed service members, a and a permanent school
liaison works with all the surrounding schools to ensure that military
children receive the resources they need to help them through a
But the only way to really make it through a deployment, spouses say,
is to be able to communicate with the deployed spouse on a regular
As a fellow Marine, Stacy Crockett was able to get through her
husband’s first deployment — to Iraq in 2006 — in large part because she
had plenty of access to him. At the time Stacy worked for the
headquarters unit for the squadron that her husband, Capt. Kevin
Crockett, was in.
“We were able to talk because he could call right to my office,”
Stacy says. “So even if I wasn’t directly able to talk to him, it made
me feel better having some kind of connection (to what they were
By the time Kevin deployed again in 2008, however, Stacy had left her job to care for their 7-month-old girl, Meghan.
“That was a very different experience,” she says. “We did Skype a
lot. And some of the guys had cell phones over there, so it was easier
to call and email.”
Though the stress of caring for a baby alone made it a more difficult
deployment in some respects, Stacy said Kevin’s whereabouts didn’t
weigh on her like his first trip overseas.
“The second deployment was to Japan, so you didn’t have the worry
that you have when your family member is in combat,” she says.
Kate and Sean, who is due home in mid-November, also use Skype’s
video chat capabilities to stay connected once or twice a week, depending
on Sean’s whereabouts and the weather over there.
“It depends on what the network’s doing out there,” Kate says. “If there’s a sandstorm it won’t happen for at least a week.”
The Edmondses also both have Blackberries and have been able to reach each other almost daily via text messages and phone calls.
“Our phone bill is ridiculously expensive but I can get to him basically whenever I want to,” she says.
Seeing Daddy on the computer eases a child’s fears, spouses say, but
many families use other gadgets and toys to comfort little ones when
they’re lonely for their missing parent.
“We made a pillowcase for Collin that has pictures of him and his dad
and it says ‘Sweet dreams, Daddy loves you,’ so Daddy goes to bed with
him each night,” Kate says.
Collin also has a doll from HugaHero.com that has a big photo of his
father and a voice recorder tucked inside with special recorded messages
“It’s really cool, he takes it to school with him,” Kate says.
Before Kevin deployed to Haiti and other locations in January, the
couple taped him reading a bunch of favorite books for Meghan, now 3,
and their son, Connor, 1.
“We videotaped him, so she could actually see him reading it to her,”
Stacy says. “Those kinds of things help ease the time of him being
The everyday stresses of caring for little ones and managing the
household are tough for those left behind, no matter how seasoned a
military family is, Stacy says.
“Having a military background has helped me understand what’s going
on, but it doesn’t make it easier when he’s gone, having two sick kids
and I’m cleaning up puke at 2 in the morning,” she says with a laugh.
“It doesn’t really help in that instance.”
Missing milestones is also a sore spot for military families. But, like everything else, they make the best of it.
“Kevin missed Connor’s first birthday and Meghan’s first birthday,
but he was able to do the webcam. So he saw the cake, balloons, all that
stuff,” Stacy says. “Not everybody gets that opportunity so we were
“It’s not quite the same, but it’s better than not having him at all.”
For a list of resources for deployed families check out this list.