Family Matters: When Daddy Is In Iraq
Army Reserve Major Jeff Stegman said goodbye to his family on a raw rainy December day just ahead of his deployment to Iraq.
At ages 3 and 1, daughters Annika and Ashley, were far too young to understand the significance of this good-bye, but Jeff's parents- and wife- knew full well the dangerous year that lay ahead. As we watched Jeff hugged wife Kim one last time and to look at the pictures of her clinging to her handsome husband and sobbing into his shoulder today makes me want to look away, to give them their moment. You may feel the same way.
But these gut-wrenching good-byes are a very real part of sending soldiers off to war. To watch is to more fully understand the sacrifice that is being asked of those serving --and those left behind. The Stegman family's story is not unique. Four years into this war there are currently more than 40,000 National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers currently serving in Iraq. All have built lives, careers, and families in the civilian world.
Three months into his year-long deployment, Jeff seems to be holding up pretty well---although Kim says sometimes when he calls from Balad, Iraq, she can hear the strain in his voice. That his job is more clerical and less combat doesn't assuage her fears. He's stationed about 40 miles north of Baghdad at Camp Anaconda. A place the soldiers call Mortar-itaville, because of the almost daily barrage of incoming mortars.
But from the start Jeff worried less about himself and more about Kim. He jokes that his first deployment, in 18 years of service, couldn't have come at a worse time. He had just taken a new job and was still moving his family from Michigan to just outside Peoria, Illinois when he got called to active duty. That meant leaving Kim in new surroundings, with no family nearby, and two demanding children to single-parent.
Kim would be the first to say these last few months have been back-breaking work. Between cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, and being "on call" to her girls twenty four seven there isn't much down-time. And maybe that's a good thing-- because otherwise, Kim is worrying about Jeff. But she me she is determined not to stagnate. She cut her long blond hair into a chic bob. (Just like Jeff has asked her to for years!) She and the girls have joined a church. And she's beginning to make some friends. In short, Kim is starting to feel capable of making some decisions on her own.
On the day we visited her in her brand new house in a brand new subdivision we were able to bring a video of Jeff shot by an Army camera crew in Iraq. And the very second we set up a monitor and "hit play" 3-year-old Annika began screaming, "Daddy, daddy!" She sat spell-bound for at least two minutes, which is a life-time for her!
Kim's face quivered as she watched her husband speak. At his desk, surrounded by pictures of her and the girls, he spoke of eighteen hour days but also of how proud he is of the job he and the other American soldiers are doing in Iraq. And how it is that thought that keeps him going. He talked about hard it is not to be home during what he knows will be a year of firsts for their baby Ashley.
And almost on cue, just a few minutes later while we were taking b-roll pictures of Ashley and her mom, the baby girl pulled herself up on a walking toy and began to take teetering first steps, smiling into the camera and laughing. I hope that Major Jeff Stegman will see tonight's story on the internet and, in that way, be part of a very special moment.
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