When Mom And Dad Are Both In The Military

Mark Strassmann is a CBS News correspondent based in Atlanta.
Lots of people travel for work, and sacrifice family time. But especially on Veterans Day, here's a salute to working Americans who really have to spend time on the road.

The U.S. military calls them "dual military families" -- husbands and wives, both serving in uniform. There are roughly 84 thousand of these families, and many of them now find themselves taking turns going to Iraq.

Take Charles and Barbara McCottry and their family in San Antonio. They're both serving in the U.S. Army. He's a master sergeant, she's a captain and nurse.

He's already done one tour in in Iraq. She's still in Baghdad, working in a military hospital in the Green Zone. In the last three years, the McCottrys have spent a total of only eight months together.

They have four children, but two year-old Jordan is the baby. To serve her country overseas, his mother has missed both his birthdays. That's hard on her, but soldiers on deployment have to get used to missing family moments. Barbara knows what she has missed and can never get back. As she told us at her post in Baghdad, "Do I want to be here? Not necessarily. No I'd much rather be at home. But we're here for a mission." We showed her a video of her family. She said, "I'm amazed at how all of them have grown. I'm going to feel like a stranger when I get home."

Capt. McCottry has been away for so much of little Jordan's life, he really has no idea that he even has a mother. She tries to talk to him on the phone, but he doesn't really understand who she is. He can't really identify who she is in photographs.

All of that's painful for Charles, the tough master sergeant at work, but "Daddy" at home. And a single father at that.

He has to take all four kids on the endless round of school bus stops, soccer games, doctor's appointments and emergency room visits. He can handle the fact that he has zero time to himself. What he can't come to grips with his that little Jordan doesn't know his own mother. It drives him crazy. And any parent could relate.

He says his kids ask him all the time, "When are Mom and dad going to be together again? When are we going to be a family again?"

Here's the good news. Barbara McCottry's tour ends late this month. She'll head home to San Antonio. But when she gets back, how long will the McCottrys stay a family?

For thousands of America's military families, there's no end to these Iraq deployments. The McCottrys realize one of them could be asked to go back again. The family could be separated again.

For Charles, it's too much. He's thinking about leaving the service before he finished putting in his twenty years for full retirement. He says, "Enough is enough. I'm not going to split up my family again."

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.