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When military parents deploy, kids can feel anger, sadness, fear

Posted November 17, 2011

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— The U.S. has been at war for more than a decade. In that time, tens of thousands of North Carolina service members have deployed multiple times. They are not just men and women in uniform – they are moms and dads. For their children, the long absences can have an impact.

When Tim Blake’s wife left for deployment, the stay-at-home dad did everything he could to keep life as normal as possible for their four children, which meant sticking to a routine.

“I made every effort I could to make sure their life did not change at all when mom left,” he said.

As for himself, Blake tried to make life a little easier by using disposable paper plates and plastic utensils at mealtime. Grayson Blake, who is 10 and the oldest of the four children, said the toughest part about his mom being gone is that he has more work to do, which is “really hard.”

Lt. Col. Devon Blake is on her third deployment. While she is overseas, an extended military family is helping her husband and children.

“In military families, everybody seems to want and desire to help each other, because we all know what we’re going through. We’ve all been there,” Tim Blake said.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Howard is on his fifth deployment in seven years, which means his wife, Teddi Howard, is home with their four boys.

“He’s done two to Iraq, and this is his third to Afghanistan,” Teddi Howard said. “I have an awesome support system. We don’t have a family here, but the church family is awesome.”

Military kids can feel anger, fear when parents deploy Military kids can feel anger, fear when parents deploy

Cindy Brooks, a veteran herself, is a licensed psychotherapist who counsels military families. When parents deploy, children can experience sadness, anger, confusion and fear.

“They cope as well as the adults cope. They kind of take their cue from how well mom is doing or how well dad is doing,” she said.

Brooks says some children have difficulty focusing and concentrating and that, sometimes, their grades can start dropping in school.

Teddi Howard says she experienced something similar with her oldest, 7-year-old Jonathan, who “had some trouble in school with behavior,” she said. She had him make a photo album of all the things he likes, which he kept in class and could look at when he was having trouble.

“He said he didn’t want to put dad in there, because when he sees the picture of his dad, it makes him want to cry, and he doesn’t want to cry at school,” Teddi Howard said.

Technology has made it easier to keep in touch with parents. When a WRAL News crew went to Afghanistan in October with Fort Bragg’s 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, they saw soldiers talking with their loved ones on computers.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chris Jenkins, whose wife and three kids live in Lillington, says the distance is “very hard.”

“I feel bad when she calls me and asks me to help her out, and it’s just hard. I’m not there to help her out,” he said.

WRAL News went to Lillington to meet Jenkins’ wife, Holli, and three sons. Ammon, 8, is the oldest and says he wants to play Legos with his dad, talk with him and give him hugs when he gets back.

Deployment has become such a fact of life that there are children's books about it, such as "Over There" and "Coming Home." Sue O'Brien heads the Army's New Parent Support program at Fort Bragg.

“For a long time, we didn’t think that kids … that it mattered to them that dad and mom weren’t here, and that’s not the case at all,” she said. “Even the little ones know that something is different.”

Local counselors say most schools in the Fort Bragg area are aware of the signs of struggling military children and have support systems for them.

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  • lizard78 Nov 18, 2011

    How about not having kids if you're in the military?

  • pat7 Nov 18, 2011

    As a parent ,And has had to deal with a Child being deployed there are many feelings a person deals with.Im no expert ,but being honest ,and being a parent is always the best thing to do.Also most deployment you can have contact with a love one,My son called me many times While he was on patrol in Afganistan by Sat phone. My heart goes out to all people that are touch by a deployed love one, Stay strong ,and I personaly Thank everyone doing their part to make Amercia safe

  • warbirdlover Nov 18, 2011

    I remember when my Brother was in Viet Nam. I was 8 or 9 at the time and was scared to watch the evening news, affraid I would see my brother, but I watched it in hope I would see him. I know that sounds crazy, but thats what happened. I was the happist kid in the world, when I saw him walk down the stairs of a Eastern 727.

  • veyor Nov 18, 2011

    "For their children, the long absences can have an impact." How about "will have an impact". Children are just thrown aside with adult doings - war, divorce, death...whatever. I've even heard the statement many times, "It's a good thing they are so young".

  • sunshine1040 Nov 17, 2011

    Sur wish i could have had weekly phone calls and email when my hubby went off to war we were lucky to get one phone call thru in the 60s and family support was non existent. one year was a pcs move so we were not allowed to stay in base housingBut the saying WAR is H--- is still true today as it was during the civil war