Tag Archives: mother

Deployed mother keeps the bond from 8,000 miles away

By Tech Sgt. Colleen Urban
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Deployments are different after you have a kid. I just never realized how different deployments would be once I became a parent.

This deployment I am a mother. Sometimes I wonder how a mother could leave her 1-year-old baby like I have done, as if I am abandoning my child in some way. Then, I remember the reason why I do it.

It’s not just for me anymore, but for my son. I get through the separation by remaining focused on why I am here.Tech Sgt. Colleen Urban kisses her son.

It all began when I sat at my desk, nine months pregnant, reading the email informing me I would deploy in a year. I hadn’t even had my child yet and already had to think about leaving him. On top of that, my husband was deploying at the same time.

How was I going to do this? How would I be able to handle leaving my new baby boy? How would I physically be able to get on a plane and not look back? More importantly, I asked myself how was I going to ask someone else to care for him.

I didn’t have a choice. I had a duty and obligation I was not backing out of.

Even knowing a year in advance could not prepare me for the emotions I would go through during this deployment. I was just getting the hang of being a mom and I felt as if I would have to start over.

When I saw my son during one of our video calls, he held his arms out as if I was just going to scoop him up. As my son reached for me through the screen of the tablet, whining for me with desperation in his voice, I did everything I could to fight back my tears, but it was no match for the feeling of helplessness that overcame me.

The helpless feeling comes from not being there. I can’t scold him when he does something wrong and I can’t teach him how to do something right, I can’t make him feel better when he is sick or put him to bed at night. Most of all, I can’t hold him, hug him or kiss him — all I can do is keep loving him from 8,000 miles away.

I have watched my son learn to talk, express his emotions and throw a ball all through a small hand-held screen. And, in that tiny box in the top corner, I have watched myself grow.

As each day goes by, it never gets easier, but I get stronger.

The bond that I have with my son is not broken from this deployment, our bond is greater than ever and it will only help me to cherish the moments I do have with him and help me to become the parent I want to be.

My son won’t remember this time, but I will. As long as I am in the Air Force, it is something I could face again. Many parents also face this every day.

So when you look back upon these days, don’t think about what you missed, think about what you gained and what lessons you will be able to pass on to your child. Your strength and determination will make your kid proud to call you mom or dad. That reason is enough to keep me going.

Whatever your reason is, keep doing it, because you are doing something greater for yourself and the future of your child.

PHOTO: Tech. Sgt. Colleen Urban, a 380th Air Expeditionary Wing broadcaster, kisses her son. Urban is currently deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (Courtesy Photo)

Fighting the bad guys, taking great pictures

By Staff Sgt. Nadine Y. Barclay
438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

SSgt. Nadine Barclay
SSgt. Nadine Barclay

Traditionally, women in our country bore children and stayed home to raise them while the men left home to defend our nation against her enemies.

Times have definitely changed; today both men and women in the armed forces sacrifice greatly for just causes. We live in a world where life, love and the pursuit of happiness are common themes among Americans.

In keeping with this motto, many people say that their lives really started the day they arrived in the U.S. to pursue a new life or the day that they met their soul mate; for me it was actually a little different. My life started a couple years after getting married when at age 20 I became a mother and again at age 24.

During the month of April we take time to reflect on the reason most of us wake up every morning and willingly put our lives on the line. It is designated as a Department of Defense-wide observance, the Month of the Military Child.

As a U.S. Air Force photojournalist and the mother of two beautiful girls I have the distinct honor of doing both; defending my country and pursuing my version of happiness and count myself lucky to have the freedom to do so. But it has not been easy.

Before my oldest daughter, Avah, now five, was even two, I was called to serve on my first deployment at the same time my husband, a USAF crew chief, went on his remote tour to a base in southern Korea. On opposite ends of the world we were required to function as parents and as Airmen.

The day I left my daughter for the first time she was one and a half. It felt like the life was sucked right out of me and remained gone until the day I returned home to her four months later.

This time while serving in Afghanistan on a slightly longer deployment as an advisor to Afghan air force public affairs airmen, I have been placed into a slightly less difficult situation.

My daughters, Avah and Sophia, age one, are now with the only other person that I trust with my life and theirs. His name is daddy, and he is acting as both mommy and daddy; the prince charming that my daughters need him to be in my absence.

He has taken on the unique challenges that come with being a male mommy. The daily tasks that are usually performed by myself are now met with “I don’t like this food” or “my mommy does it different.”

My daughters don’t totally understand why I chose to serve and that it is sometimes necessary for me to be gone, however they adjusted like champs to the drastic change.

Never-the-less, at 4 foot 11 inches, I’ve never been compared to any super hero other then Mighty Mouse, the legendary super hero that fights evil despite his small size, until recently when my daughter compared me to the pink ‘Mighty Morphin Power Ranger’.

She said that I was “fighting the bad guys” and “teaching people how to take great pictures.”

I often get notifications from my daughter’s teacher explaining how I am never far from conversation in a classroom filled with four and five year-old girls that see me as a real life super hero.

The fact that my daughter brags to her friends and truly believes that I wear a pink leather outfit under this multi-cam uniform makes me laugh and inspires the hope and strength that I need to continue to move forward in helping enhance the capabilities of Afghanistan.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to travel on a humanitarian mission in southern Afghanistan and saw firsthand that I was lucky.

Using a popular video chat system, I sat and explained some of the privileges and freedoms we enjoy to my daughters. It is easy to take many of these things for granted.

Of course my conversation was met with more questions than a five and one year-old could understand, but I was pleased to hear that although I’ve missed a birthday, the holidays, the tooth fairy’s first visit and the Easter Bunny so far that I was still a prized mommy.

A statement that was reiterated by, ” don’t worry mommy, it’s ok that you’re gone but remember when you’re done doing your job we are all going to Disney World like you promised when you left.”

I have accomplished many things in my life, yet to me none mean more to me then my two greatest ones who wait anxiously for my return home. So although April is the designated month for military children, they should be rewarded and cherished for the sacrifices they make year-round on behalf of our nation’s defense.

Your momma wears combat boots

Col. Michael J. Underkofler
By Col. Michael Underkofler
514th Air Mobility Wing

On the small-town playground of my childhood, the comeback quip of last resort after being physically or verbally pummeled was “Well, your momma wears combat boots.”

It was the juvenile equivalent of today’s profane four-letter bombs, but with bigger consequences. If used, the surrounding crowd within earshot would in unison let out an “Aahhh, you’re going to get it.”

Not many dared to use this double-whammy epithet. First, after a rough and tumble fight, most didn’t have the chutzpa to disparage someone’s mother. Even the schoolyard bully recognized that this was not polite. By doing so, the user might get pummeled further and would probably get a mouth washing with a bar a soap when he got home.

Second, to ascribe warrior status to a real woman was something really unheard of too. After all, in most boys’ eyes in my hometown, mothers and grandmothers were doting, white pearl- and sensible shoe-wearing pecan pie bakers, certainly not warriors.

The only combat boot-wearing women my prepubescent friends knew, and possibly admired, were Hippolyta and Wonder Woman. The former was the warrior queen in Greek mythology whose magical belt was recovered by the uberman and demigod Hercules during his 12 labors.

The latter woman warrior was equally as proficient in hand-to-hand combat and was known to fight for just causes. For example, she joined other comic book heroes in the Justice League to help defeat the Axis powers.

Both Hippolyta and Wonder Woman were Amazons. Both were fictional. Therefore both were considered OK by my friends.

I always found my buddies’ youthful prohibition against real women wearing combat boots in stark contrast to my hometown’s and my families’ real history.

Ignorance is powerful, but education is even more so.

Women in my hometown were more than just pecan pie bakers. Since colonial times, they were leaders and advocates confronting wars and difficult issues head on. In 1774, a group of 51 women vowed to give up tea and boycott other British products in response to new taxes levied by Parliament.

At their tea party, these North Carolina women resolved to stand firm in their efforts “until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our native country shall be repealed.” They bravely signed a well-reasoned and well-structured document for the crown to see, choosing not to hide behind Indian costumes as others had done at the more famous Boston Tea Party.

In doing so, these women created the first instance of organized political action by women in the colonies. They didn’t stop there.

While not serving directly on the battlefield, many played key roles supporting the war for independence. The same was true throughout the colonies. But in some places, though, women were on the frontlines at gun emplacements, reloading canons and muskets, or tending the wounded.

Bravery didn’t die with those women. It continued generation after generation in both political activism and in combat. In reality, they were wearing combat boots even if not formally acknowledged.

It’s possible that some of the women in my family were involved in early American conflicts, but sadly that history is lost. I do, however, know and relish the service of recent family members.

A great aunt wore combat boots in World War II Europe. She earned a Bronze Star Medal long before women were officially allowed to serve in combat. Later, she transferred from the Army to the Air Force when the new air-centric service was founded. At her retirement, she was chief of her medical corps and the senior-ranking woman in the Air Force.

My mother wore her combat boots in the Cold War, working hard to provide top-flight medical care to injured servicemen and women, sometimes in really austere conditions.

Unfortunately, she served when women had to be discharged when they became pregnant. If allowed to serve longer, I’m sure she would have had as equally a distinguished career as my aunt.

Finally, my wife wore her combat boots in the air above and on the ground in the jungles of Central America, the deserts of Southwest Asia and in other places that can’t be mentioned.

She ended her career as an instructor at Air University helping the next generation of leaders understand the history of airpower and ponder its future applications.

Three combat boot-wearing women from three generations worked hard to defend and strengthen our country. As we like to say in our family, not all women wear pearls and sensible shoes to work, some wear dog tags and combat boots.

Just as I tell the stories of the women warriors in my family, I encourage you to tell the stories about yours, especially to your kids and grandkids. They will cherish them.

Every day women in our country put on combat boots and serve in the air, on the ground and on the seas. While we may define and redefine what it means to serve in combat, make no mistake, women have always served in harm’s way. The war today clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of all of us and the evolving nature of warfare. We couldn’t fight it as well as we have without the contributions of our women warriors.

Other women may not have formally served in the military, but nonetheless were not afraid to stand up to fight against injustice. Without their service, we would not have gained our independence, defeated tyranny in many wars, built the weapons of war and protected our homeland. Their stories are worth retelling too so future generations can become just as resolute to support just causes.

Throughout the year, tell the stories of women warriors and political activists, but tell them even more loudly during Women’s History Month. Let’s be proud to say on the playground of adulthood, “well, my momma wore combat boots”.

I know I am.

Never forget

By Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras
Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul

QALAT CITY, Afghanistan — It was a day like any other, but one I’ll never forget; it was beautiful, with the sun rising behind the New York City skyline. I was a seventh grader sitting in class waiting for my teacher to call attendance.

Nothing seemed different from the day prior. Children were in the corner rushing to finish last night’s homework as the teacher was walking in with her bag full of books in her right hand and coffee in her left.

“One of my students says he just saw a plane go in the twin towers,” says Michele Mortoral with worry in her voice as she is rushing into my class.

“Tell him to stop kidding around,” jokingly says Jane Lynch, my seventh grade teacher.

My classmates are rushing to the windows to see one of the twin towers on fire, with dark smoke rising into the beautiful blue sky. The sky is beginning to turn gray, as if it is about to rain. My friends are beginning to panic and the teachers are trying to calm us to the best of their ability. There is fear and worry in the room. I am staring out the window wondering; “Why is this happening…Did the pilot fall asleep…Isn’t there a co-pilot?”

We are starting to wonder where our families are. I’m worrying about where my father could be. He is a messenger and does trips between North Jersey and New York City daily. There are days where he has to go in and out of New York City about six times a day. My mother is at her restaurant taking orders, like every other morning.

The teachers at Lincoln School are working really hard trying to continue class to keep it off our minds, but there is no way that is possible. I switch classes, from homeroom to math class. Ms. Rachel Mullane is teaching in front of the class.

Some of my classmates are staring out the window, looking at one of the twin towers burning the sky with smoke like a lit cigar. Some of them are actually paying attention in class, not understanding how big and historical this is. The rest, like me, are sitting at our desks worrying about our families.

“There is the other one,” someone yells, while pointing out the window. His pointing finger freezes in mid-air while his arm slowly shifts from left to right. He is following the plane like a sniper following a target. The class is in complete shock and very quiet, just watching.

At 9:03 a.m., I am watching a Boeing 767 hit tower two in front of my eyes. I am 12-years-old and my eyes are completely dry and focused, but at least ten other pairs of eyes are tearing. My classmates begin to panic. They feel like running out of the classroom, but Mullane is blocking the classroom door so no one can leave class. Safety is a teacher’s responsibility so it’s understandable.

“Attention!” says a familiar voice over the loudspeaker, “We are under attack but we need to remain calm.”

The voice is Michael Ventolo, my principal and a very happy person, but in his tone, I know this is too serious to think of him as a happy person behind the microphone. Fear and worry have just thickened the air. I can smell it.

“Grovert Fuentes” says Mullane, “Your mother is downstairs. Pack your books, you can go home.” I am relieved to know that my mother is well and I can go home with my mother and little brothers. One of my brothers is five and in kindergarten, in the same school as me. My two-year-old brother is at home with the babysitter.

The look my mother has on her face, I have never seen before. She is a brave woman with lots of courage. Her face reassures me that this is a serious situation.

On the ride home, my mother is telling me how worried she is about my father. She can’t get in touch with him. She’s taking red lights and breaking the speed limit. We arrive home and continue calling my father, but no answer. The cell phone towers are down and we can’t get through. The calls that can get through are giving us the busy tone.

For the next few hours, my mother and I are glued to the television, waiting to hear details. At 9:37 a.m., we find out that the Pentagon is also hit. We do not know what to do, nor what to expect, but we do know that the president is about to come on TV and make a speech.

“Today we’ve had a national tragedy,” says the President of the United States, George W. Bush. “Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country.”

Finally, around 11 a.m., my father calls to tell us he is safe, and has just exited the Lincoln Tunnel, but is stuck in New York City. He is also telling us that traffic is frozen and many people are abandoning their vehicles to run through the tunnel, to the New Jersey side.

5 p.m. comes around and my father comes home. Our family is united and we are happy to see each other again.

A decade later, I am away from my family again.

I am a combat photographer standing on Afghan soil with plenty of Taliban around me. Some ask me why I volunteered for this deployment. On Feb. 21, 2010, shortly after my return from Iraq, U.S. Army Sgt. Marcos Antonio Gorra died in the line of combat. He was a hometown friend, who died on this same soil I stand on today. He died for freedom and for those towers.

I’ve been exposed to explosives, rockets, and gunfire, yet, I’m still glad to be where I am now; I’m defending what I saw 10 years ago and trying to keep the fight on their soil instead of ours.

Many ask me my reason for joining and I say, “My biggest reason is because of 9/11. It is a day that I will never forget.”

Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras, a combat photographer assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, stands on top of Alexander’s Castle in Qalat City, Afghanistan, July 17, 2011. (Courtesy photo)