Deployed Moms Prepare to Celebrate Mother's Day Away

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2006 - Spending Mother's Day thousands of miles away from their kids is going to be no picnic for more than 7,400 military moms deployed in support of the war on terror.

Many say they're planning their own celebrations thinking of their children and calling home, and for some, taking comfort in knowing they're helping make their children's futures more secure.

Whether it's their first Mother's Day away from their children or another in a long line of missed holidays, several of the more than 5,600 active-duty and almost 1,800 reserve-component mothers deployed for operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom told American Forces Press Service they're planning to make the most of it.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Denise Mix, a paralegal with Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, shipped off a gift to her own mother several weeks ago and plans to follow up with a telephone call this weekend. But, she said, she knows it will be particularly tough not spending Mother's Day with her own children, ages 9, 13 and 14.

"It's going to be hard," she said, remembering a missed Mother's Day two years ago, when she was deployed to Baghdad. The only mother in her unit at the time, Mix said her fellow sailors "tried to take care of me."

This year, Mix said, she'll try to do the same for other deployed moms and remind them "they've made a positive choice" by serving their country. "There's no reason to feel bad if you're having a hard day," she said. "You go with your emotions and know that (supporting the terror war) is the right thing to do."

At some point during the day, Mix plans to retreat to what she calls her "family corner," a section of her desk where a filing cabinet is covered with family pictures. She'll open the gift from her son that arrived earlier this week -- a teacup and specialty teas, according to the shipping label mailers are required to fill out. But her biggest gift "will be being able to call home and tell them I'm thinking about them," she said.

Air Force Maj. Nicole Ogburn, deployed to Baghdad, will miss the traditional Mother's Day extravaganza her four children treat her to every year. "It starts Friday, and we do the whole weekend," she said. "Mama gets to say what we do. There's no cleaning, no cooking. They bring me breakfast in bed. We just have a lot of fun."

This year, Ogburn expects Mother's Day to be pretty much business as usual in the Multinational Force Iraq Surgeon's Office, where she's a nurse. She'll go to church and maybe indulge in a piece of cake during her big meal. But the highlight will be calling her mother, in Lawton, Okla., and her husband and children in Illinois, just outside Scott Air Force Base.

And to help her feel closer to them, she'll spend time in her sleeping trailer on the embassy grounds, embellished with the Mother's Day gift she's already enjoying. It's a huge 9-foot-long banner of family photos, constructed by her husband so she can open a new panel of photos each week she's deployed. "It's the one thing that would mean so much to me because I love them so much," Ogburn said. "It's us together, with the kids, as they were growing up, on vacations. You name it; it's there. It's awesome."

As difficult as it is to be away from home, Ogburn said her deployment has given her a new appreciation for life and those she loves. "It's a constant reminder of how short life can be and how important the people you love are," she said.

Ogburn said she takes consolation in knowing she's really not missing Mother's Day. "When I go home, every day will be Mother's Day for about a month," she said. "That's how my kids are. I have awesome kids."

Army Sgt. 1st Class Cynthia Hernandez, a broadcast journalist deployed to Afghanistan with the 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, remembers her last deployment, when all mothers in her unit received flowers on Mother's Day 2003. "It was a really nice gesture," she said. "You have a nice meal and wait until you can call home."

This year, Hernandez said, she's been missing her 18-year-old daughter Stacey more than ever. But she's looking forward to making a surprise trip home to San Antonio in two weeks to attend her high school graduation. "I'm taking a lot of comfort in that," she said. "It's a great feeling to be a mother, and I'm blessed to have the daughter I have."

Hernandez' coworker, Army Spc Carina Garcia, is facing her first Mother's Day away from her 12-year-old son, a prospect that's proving to be even harder for him than her. "He's a little bummed that I'm not there," she said. "He makes things at school with his class for Mother's Day to bring home, but can't give it to me. And every year on Mother's Day, he likes to spoil me all day long."

Garcia recognizes she won't be quite as spoiled this year. She's hoping to throw a cookout with her unit and to look through the five cards she's already received from her son and friends. She keeps them tucked under her pillow, along with a few other special notes, to look at each night just before going to sleep, she said.

For her own mother, she mailed home a unique Mother's Day gift: a camel carved out of marble, picked up at a local Arab market.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christine Buckley, deployed to Djibouti with Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, is becoming something of an old hand at spending Mother's Day away from her kids. After six years in the Navy, the personnel administrator has celebrated just two in person with her sons, ages 8 and 6.

Buckley said she's not expecting anything like the Mother's Day she used to treat her own mother to, with breakfast in bed and "spoiling her rotten" the rest of the day. This year, as her mother cares for Buckley's older son in Rhode Island, Buckley plans to call home and hopes a package will arrive in the mail in time for the May 14 mail call. A friend deployed with her already bought her a Mother's Day card, so she'll have something to enjoy, just in case the package doesn't arrive in time, she said.

Being on shore duty during Mother's Day might make it a little more difficult than when she's at sea, she said. "But I'm a social butterfly, and I usually don't get down in the dumps," she said. "I'll do fine."

Although she's expecting a quiet Mother's Day this year during her deployment to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Paige Meads said she won't be surprised if she hears a lot of Mother's Day greetings. At age 43, she's one of the oldest members of Port Security Unit 305, but she thinks it's her motherly instincts that earned her the nickname "Momma Meade."

"I've always been a caretaker," she said. "And that's probably an asset to the unit. It's helped morale."

And while she's playing temporary mom to her fellow Coast Guardsmen, Meads will have to make due with a phone call home to her real-life children, ages 17 and 19. "This will be the first year they won't be able to come pick me up and smother me with gracious gifts and love," she said.

Meads said she takes comfort in knowing she's making them proud, particularly with her decision to join the military at age 39.

This year, she plans to "hang around Camp America," her barracks compound, and hopefully throw something on the grill. "It will be okay," she said. "I have a lot of people here who are my friends."

Like Meads, Army Sgt. Michelle Harrison, also deployed to Guantanamo Bay, says she takes consolation knowing that she's setting an example for her two children, ages 18 and 14. This year will be the first year she's spent the day without them, except for one time she left them to spend it with her own mother.

While the Maryland National Guard soldier won't be with them this Mother's Day, she said her deployment to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is the best gift she could ever give them. "I may be here serving, but I know what I'm here doing is for the betterment of my children and my mother," she said. "What I'm doing here allows them to do anything that God puts on their hearts, without fear or threat."

Harrison plans to call home to talk to her children tomorrow night and to spend a quiet Mother's Day that starts with church services, then dinner, then watching a video in her barracks room.

But she insists she won't be feeling sorry for herself. "Most people hope for world peace, and in some small way, I'm doing something to protect world peace," she said. "And knowing that I didn't just sit around and hope for peace is showing them that I did a part. I'm showing my children by example what's important."

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