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Students, military recruiter reflect on difficulties of family connection while being a part of a military family

Sophomore Naaman Duckworth’s father stationed in Kuwait with other military members. “My dad joined the army later in his life at the age of 39 as a chaplain,” Duckworth said. “He spent nine months in Kuwait in 2019 and left shortly after that, totaling over six years as a chaplain in the army national guard.” (Submitted Photo: Naaman Duckworth)

Growing up with a parent in the military, sophomore Addison “Addie” Smith said her childhood looked very different from many of her peers. 

“My father was (active) in the Air Force and special operations for 15 years, and he went to countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa” Smith said. “His shortest deployment was four months and his longest was six months, (and) he was deployed around every four months.”

Sophomore Naaman Duckworth said he also comes from a military family and had a deployed family member. 

“My dad joined the Army later in his life, at the age of 39, as a chaplain,” Duckworth said. “He spent nine months in Kuwait in 2019 and left shortly after that. (He was in the military) for over six years as a chaplain in the Army National Guard.”

Smith and Duckworth are far from alone in their experience of growing up in a military family. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, there are currently 1.6 million children with a parent or parents in the military. 

CHS military recruiter Keith Hoffmaster said he also currently serves in the U.S. Military and makes sure his family is taken care of while he’s gone. 

“I am currently serving in the United States Army. I am in the Active Component of the U.S. Army. I have been in (the military for) 10+ years (and will) reach 11 years in August of this year,” Hoffmaster said. “I have never deployed; however, I have done a rotation to Europe for one month. Whenever I do field training exercises, I ensure that my spouse and my family are taken care of prior to me leaving for training.”

Difficulty of Parental Deployment 

While Smith’s dad was deployed, when she was younger, Smith said at first she didn’t understand what was happening to her family. 

“I don’t think I fully understood what was going on or why he was gone so often,” Smith said. “I just remember my dad not being able to be home very often or make it to school events or field trips.”

Duckworth said he had a similar experience as Smith when his own dad was deployed, as his father missed a couple years of Duckworth’s childhood. 

“(My dad) missed a lot of both my fifth-sixth-grade years. He also had lots of weekends where he was at basic training or at his base,” Duckworth said. “I definitely didn’t fully understand the extent of everything (my dad) was doing, so it wasn’t easy to understand the (reasons) behind it.”

However, the two had different experiences with their parents after they returned from their deployments.

Smith said her relationship with her father changed greatly following his deployments.

Jasmine Zhang

“I know (my father) lost friends during his time in the military and had to see and do stuff he doesn’t like to talk about, so I think it’s hard for him to open up now,” Smith said. “Plus, he was gone for some of my childhood, so he missed a lot of stuff that made us drift away a bit. We still talk and everything, but there’s just an aspect of emotional connection we don’t have.”

Alternatively, Duckworth said his relationship recovered quickly. 

“I don’t think I ever struggled with connecting with (my dad),” he said. “After the deployment, it was a shift for me and him but within a short time it was all back to normal.”

For children going through similar experiences, Hoffmaster said it is important to empathize with them and their situation. 

“It is challenging for a kid whose parents or close relatives are being deployed or sent overseas for missions or to fight. Regardless of what job we have in the branches of the military, there will always be a time when we might get sent off to go overseas,” Hoffmaster said. “The best thing people can do is educate themselves (about) the situation that these kids are going through and offer resources and support. See it from their perspectives.”

Military Effect on Nuclear Family 

Hoffmaster also said he personally experienced loneliness while training and felt disconnected from his family. 

“When I go to training or even when I go to my rotation, it can get lonely. After a long day of work or missions, the one thing I look forward to is being with my wife and daughter,” Hoffmaster said. “When I am away from home, I have to find other means to keep my mind occupied, and that sometimes is just being more proactive and spending more time with the soldiers and chain of command.” 

On the family end, both Smith and Duckworth said their other family members were affected by their parents’ deployments. 

Smith said her dad’s deployment was particularly hard on her mom.

“(My mom) says it was hard to raise kids by herself and to make friends since we didn’t live in a place for longer than four years. She was also constantly worried about my father while he was deployed,” Smith said. “The worst part was seeing my mom stressed out while my dad was deployed and also not having my dad there for birthdays, graduations and school events.”

Duckworth said his dad’s deployment had a similar impact on his mom and family members.

“My mom often had busier weekends with me and my two sisters. During (my dad’s) deployment there was much more stress on my mother,” Duckworth said. 

Positives of Being a Military Child 

However, while both Smith and Duckworth said they experienced struggles during their parents’ deployments, they also said they gained new connections. 

Smith said she mainly made new connections with kids in similar situations. 

  “Getting to move to different places (allowed me to) meet other military kids and families who understand what being in a military family is like. I definitely have a soft spot for kids with parents in the military,” Smith said. 

Duckworth said he strongly valued the relationship he made with his au pair.

“During (my dad’s) deployment we hired an au pair (named) Jenn. She acted as not only another parent but a best friend. She was with us for two years and I was so lucky for her to be brought into our lives,” Duckworth said. 

In light of National Military Child Month, Smith said her dad’s deployment had a lasting impact on her values and has greatly influenced the person she is. 

“(My dad’s deployment) made me realize people could be going through so much more than they let on. (It) also taught me to enjoy every second you have with your parents,” Smith said. “When my dad came back from his final deployment he was in the hospital for months and I didn’t realize until then how much time I had wasted not being with him.”

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