Saturday, December 31, 2011

Families Use Creativity

 To Connect With Deployed Loved Ones

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2011 - Molly Blake will unveil a special guest on Christmas, someone who is an even bigger hero to her daughters than Santa Claus: their dad.
Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Maj. Darren LoRe sends a message to his son, Sendoa, from Afghanistan, where he's been deployed since May. He'll connect with his family over the holidays using Skype and instant messaging. Courtesy photo 
She'll use technology to enable her deployed husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Peter Blake, to participate in the morning festivities."We'll prop him up on the fireplace on the computer," she explained.
From his fireplace perch, their dad's computer persona, which they've dubbed "Digital Daddy," will be able to watch as his daughters, Leah and Helen, open gifts.
The lieutenant colonel's deployment to the Pacific marks his fifth in the couple's 10-year marriage. His wife, like many military family members, is accustomed to relying on creativity, and a heavy dose of technology, to keep her family connected throughout the holidays.
"He's been gone for more Christmases than he's been home," said Blake, whose family is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Her husband is the commander of Marine Attack Squadron 311.
To help speed through this separation, Blake used aluminum foil to fashion a bucket in the shape of a chocolate kiss, which she calls a "kiss jar." The girls counted out one candy kiss for each day of their dad's six-month deployment and loaded them into the jar. They'll eat a kiss each day until he comes home, she explained.
Blake also created a "Daddy Journal" for each of them with their picture on the cover. On a recent night when they went out for sushi, they brought the journals along and wrote about the experience. "When he gets home he can relive some of these things," she said.
Overall, the girls are staying positive. They understand the importance of their dad's mission, she said.
Blake said she, too, is focusing on the positive. Her husband left for his deployment shortly after Thanksgiving. But while he won't be home for Christmas, she said she takes comfort knowing other Marines will.
"It takes the sting away when someone else will be able to be with the family," she said.
Cammy Elquist LoRe also is coming to terms with a holiday separation. Her husband, Army Maj. Darren LoRe, has been deployed in Afghanistan since May -- his second deployment in four years.
LoRe and her husband rely heavily on technology, such as instant messaging, to keep in touch, she said. She's also created a YouTube channel where she uploads videos of their 4-year-old son, Sendoa, directly from her smart phone. This way, dad's been able to watch his son's first at-bat in T-ball, she added.
The technology will come in particularly handy this weekend, LoRe noted, when phone line connections will be bogged down with families trying to connect with their deployed loved ones. She said she'll upload several videos on Christmas so her husband, when he has a few minutes off duty, can watch their son open gifts and share family time.
LoRe said she hopes the videos will boost his spirits. "[Deployed troops] have to focus on what they need to do and we tug heart strings every time, but I know it's appreciated," she said.
The family also is planning a Christmas encore when LoRe's husband comes home in January for his mid-tour leave. LoRe said she'll save some family gifts and leave the tree and house lights up on display. Along with sharing in the festivities, "he'll get some satisfaction knowing he does the lights better than me," she joked.
Meanwhile, LoRe is trying to insert special holiday memories for her son between a busy schedule of work and child care. Each morning, she wakes up early to take her son sledding or to bake cookies before their day begins.
"The challenge is creating time and the mind-space and purposefulness into the day," she said. "I still have to work. Finding that time as a solo parent is my biggest challenge."
Above all, LoRe tries to instill a sense of thankfulness in her son. The holidays can be tough on military families with a deployed loved one, she noted, so it's important to focus on what's important.
Kathy Kling said she's grateful to have her husband home. He missed Thanksgiving this year, but arrived home from his deployment in Kosovo just in time for Christmas with his wife and their 9-year-old daughter, Laurynn. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Kling is a flight medic with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Kling said the anticipation of his arrival was nearly unbearable on Thanksgiving. The family Skyped before and after dinner, but she acknowledged, "it was still a little rough because it was so close to his coming home."
She said she kept her husband close at hand while he was gone by setting a plate for him at the table -- something she does every holiday he's gone.
While he'll be home for this holiday, her husband has missed many others, Kling noted, and offered some advice to other families dealing with deployments. She cited the importance of maintaining a sense of normalcy around the holidays.
If you're used to being with family on the holidays, she said, then take a trip to see them. This support will prove invaluable if the holiday blues come creeping in.
As a National Guard spouse, more than an hour away from her husband's unit, Kling can't easily access the support systems active-duty families have on hand on a military installation. So she's created them. She said she makes time to get together with other Guard wives, and they enjoyed a recent outing before the busy holiday season kicked in.
"Family is a great support system, but other wives understand what I'm going through as a military wife," she explained.
Kling also stressed the importance of communication, especially between husband and wife. They went through a tough time on their first deployment on this regard, but when she opened up, she said things got easier, and "I became happier," she said.
Staying busy also can help, LoRe added. Take a drive and look at lights or participate in a holiday community activity, she suggested.
"Separate from the madness and stress of trying to please everyone," she said. "Simplify. Make it about appreciating what's going right in your life."
In the midst of the holiday rush, LoRe noted the importance of pausing to appreciate what you have, and to look ahead with a positive outlook.
The holidays aren't just about presents and gatherings, she said, but also about "leaving the year and entering a new year."
"The time may pass by slow, but it passes, LoRe said. "No matter how down in the dumps you might feel, this moment in time and what makes you feel down passes, and then we're on to another moment.
"That day will lead into the next one, and then to the time when your spouse returns to you," she said. "And you'll be back together as a family."

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