Mothering from the War Zone

In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s a look at how some military moms dealt with separations from family during long deployments.

Parents who have had to leave their children for an extended period of time can attest to the difficulties the absence can cause. Those serving in the military know this all too well. And those with no spouse with whom their children can stay during deployments find themselves in an even worse situation.

This Mother’s Day, the VFW pays tribute to moms who have sacrificed by leaving their children behind for overseas deployments. 

Here’s a look at some of those mothers, and in their own words, how deploying overseas affected them and their children.

Terry Mom War Zone

Name: Shera Terry
Overseas service:  Doha, Qatar (Al Udeid Air Base)
Dates: January to August 2016 
Unit: Naval and Amphibious Liaison Element of the Combined Air Operations Center 
RaTE: Chief Petty Officer
VFW Membership: Post 8787 in Austin, Texas

My son, Ryan, was still in preschool. He stayed with his Papa and Gma. My family really stepped up to help. Not once did he miss a day of school. Once he graduated from preschool, he went to spend the summer with his dad, stepmom and stepsisters in Colorado.

By the time I came home, his 14-year-old stepsister, Nina, had him reading beyond a kindergarten level. I was able to take him to school on the first day of kindergarten and that meant the world to us both.

This was the first time I had deployed after becoming a mom. One day, I just started crying out of the blue in the mobilization shop. It helped to form a support system with other parents. I was able to speak to Ryan via video once a week on Sundays. It gave us both something to look forward to.

In my absence, Ryan was such a trooper. Never once did he cry when we would talk over video phone. However, when he tackled me at the airport, he instantly started crying. Now when I go drill, even though I come home every night, he doesn’t like it. He is excited that I plan to retire soon and will tell everyone he meets, “This is my mom. She is in the Navy, but she is about to retire!” I think he’s ready.

Hershey Mom War Zone

Name: Donna Hershey
Overseas service:  Afghanistan 
Dates: June-December 2002 
Unit: 339th Combat Support Hospital
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
VFW Membership: Post 5752 in Mount Joy, Pa. (where she serves as quartermaster)

My spouse, Scott, cared for our two children. By 2002, both my parents and my in-laws were deceased so Scott was on his own with the kids. He is a better cook than I am, so that wasn’t a worry. The women I worked with at my civilian job were supportive as well and helped Scott get the kids to their extracurricular events.

There was no cell service, and landlines were limited, but I worked to call home once a week, Sunday afternoon my time, early Sunday morning at home. The reason for this was so my husband could update the folks at church. The Sunday calls were very therapeutic for the kids, my husband and me.

Our daughter, Laura, was 14 and our son, Scott, was 12 when I deployed, so they were old enough to understand what was going on and what I was doing. Some days were tougher than others. There was no Skype or Facebook, so I wrote a lot of letters.

My daughter sent me cards every day, many very touching. My son had to be reminded every once in a while, but he came through. They were proud of what I was doing and my service. In the grand scheme of things, I think they did very well and have grown to be wonderful young adults.

Torres Mom War Zone

Name: Ann Marie Torres
Overseas service:  Camp Stryker, Baghdad, Iraq 
Dates: 2009-2010 
Unit: 812th Quartermaster, U.S. Army Reserve
Rank: Specialist
VFW Membership: Post 2375 in Kingsville, Texas (where she is a service officer)

Unfortunately, I was divorced right before I joined. I was a single parent to four children. My ex-husband was not able to care for our children at that time. My 19-year-old daughter, Brigette, was a teen mother to a 3-year-old at the time. She said, “Mom, I don’t want us to split up, so I can take care of all of us.”

My daughter did an excellent job taking care of her siblings and holding down the fort. Sometimes, I saw she did a better job than I ever did. My 16-year-old, Brittney, graduated in the top 10 percent of her class, and my boys were also A/B honor roll students while they were under her care.

One day we were on Skype and our camp was mortared and everything went down. I couldn’t call back until everything was cleared. My children had initially heard the sirens so they were scared. My 6-year-old cried himself to sleep. After that, my daughter and I had decided it was best if I didn’t call all the time, and we settled on a couple of times out of the month.

I don’t know how I made it through my deployment somewhat sane, missing my kids. Detaching myself with work was how I dealt with the emotional aspect of being away from my children.

Brigette told me that my youngest son, Roman, would cry every night before bed, but watching a bedtime story DVD I had made through the USO helped him through it.

The transition home was difficult for me, but we held on together and made it through, even though the road was tough.

Greene Mom War Zone

Name: Iris Greene
Overseas service:  United Arab Emirates 
Date: 2011-2012 
Unit: 3rd Bn., 4th Air Defense Artillery Regt., 108th Air Defense artillery Brigade
Rank: Specialist

I was separated from my husband at the time of my deployment. We had three kids together: 10, 8 and 4. They were in California while I lived in North Carolina.

My R&R was changed, and I let my family know exactly when I would be there to pick up the kids. When the kids got into the car, my oldest looked at me and said, “Mommy, I’m so glad you came to get us out of there. Please don’t make us go back.”

There are things that will echo through your mind over and over when you’re deployed. This is one of those things that still, years later, crushes me on the inside.

The older two kids told me about being hit with telephone books, being left on the side of the road, living without lights or hot water. So many terrible things I learned. I filed for emergency custody.

My chain of command was keeping in contact with me through email and phone calls every so often. The biggest concern they had was that I had to come back, and I had to get a family care plan in place if I did get custody.

The judge granted me emergency custody. My sister didn’t have enough space, and my grandma couldn’t take care of them for 10 months. My ex-husband’s parents agreed to pick the kids up from my sister’s house a week after I went back overseas.

The dreadful day came. I had to leave my kids. My middle child crumpled to the floor in tears. It was the worst sight I had ever seen. I didn’t know what to do. It would be another 10 months before I saw them again.

Back overseas was very difficult. I did my job, cried and smoked more cigarettes than was necessary.

I made some great friends while deployed. I can say that even though we went through all of the stress in the beginning, it was a great thing in the end. My kids have some amazing people in their lives.

The saying usually goes, “It takes a village to raise kids.” I say, it takes the Army and a few [members of the] Air Force to raise kids.           

Gominger Mom War Zone

Name: Rebecca Gominger
Overseas service:  Jebel Ali, United Arab Emerites 
Dates: August 2011-June 2012 
Unit: Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 8
Rate: Petty Officer 2nd Class

My spouse cared for the girls, with much help from my sister, family and friends who live near us and my parents. The youngest was the one who needed the most assistance, but with my oldest’s medical issues (she is in a nursing home), he had to deal with decisions on that, too.

I tried to speak with my youngest daughter at least once a week, but she did not want to speak to me. She later said she was very angry I was gone and left her. I sent the girls and my niece and nephew several postcards of Dubai.

It was difficult seeing children my daughters’ ages running around happy, particularly children who looked similar to them. My roommate was a mother, too, so we discussed our children and issues with our spouses to keep each other sane.

My youngest daughter traveled with my husband to visit me while I was training. He wanted to ride the Amtrak. We had a nice visit. When he returned home, he wanted to make a scrapbook for me of my deployment. He could not find the train tickets to include. He also lost money his mother had sent him for Christmas. When I returned home from overseas, I looked under my daughter’s crib. There was a water bottle, a train ticket, trail mix, a diaper and the money. She said she wanted to find me and was hoping these things would help her find me in Dubai. She was 2.

Whittenberger Mom War Zone

Name: Annette Whittenberger
Overseas service:  Iraq and Afghanistan
Date: 2005-2006 and 2008-2009 
Unit: 589th CSB, 212th Fires Brigade, 4th Infantry Division; 3rd Brigade, 1st Inf. Div.
Rank: Captain (2005) and major (2008)
VFW Membership: Post 3619 in Deridder, La.

The first time I deployed, my mother moved from California to Fort Hood, Texas, so that both my husband and I could deploy. She was the primary giver at that time.

I was able to speak with my children any time I wanted to as long as I was not on a mission. I knew that they were going to be OK, but I also felt guilty leaving them. I knew that I had to take care of my soldiers and make sure that we all came back home together.

Being able to speak with the kids anytime I wanted was something I was very grateful for, as I know many were not able to do that.

My children missed me and constantly asked when I was coming home both times I deployed. My mom often had a difficult time because of that. I knew that after the second deployment, I would try my best not to leave again because it did leave an impression on my children. They needed me around, and I tried to make sure that I made that happen.

I know that many of my peers left more times than that, so I try not to complain.