Story by Capt. Richard Barker – KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The first part of this story examined the celebrations of the lives of military families in the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade who are only given two weeks a year to spend with their deployed spouses. In this second part, those stories continue with an inside look at how strong military families really are.
While many families plan rest and relaxation around special events, such as anniversaries and children’s birthdays, sometimes other events bring their loved ones home.
This was the case for Gerri Armstrong and her 15-year-old daughter Kyra who needed their husband and father, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Roger Armstrong, Company C, 3-25 Aviation, 25th CAB, home during an emotionally frightening time.
Their daughter was diagnosed three years earlier with a bone tumor located on her right femur which had restricted her movement and caused constant pain.
Although most of the tumor was successfully removed in 2009, in May, while Roger was deployed, doctors decided it was time to try and remove what remained. Roger knew that he needed to be next to his daughter during her surgery.
“On the 18th of May I got the message that they were going to do the surgery,” said Roger. “I went on R&R on 27 May and arrived in Oahu, [Hawaii] 1 June.”
The surgery was scheduled for the morning of June 4.
“She had got her driver’s permit a few weeks prior to me coming home and she was very excited to pick me up from the airport,” explained Roger. “It was her first time driving on H1; she did amazing.”
They spent the weekend just driving around the North Shore. That was all Kyra wanted to do.
“I just sat in the passenger seat and enjoyed the ride,” said Roger.
The surgery took about 3 1/2 hours and was a success. Kyra remained in the hospital for five days of recovery.
“Once she got home I spent my time making sure she was comfortable,” said Roger. “We ordered her a wheelchair and she slept in the recliner in the living room since going up the stairs wasn’t an option.”
Roger’s rest and relaxation ended one short week after his daughter returned home.
“I had originally planned my R&R so that I would be home for her 16th birthday,” said Roger. “But I am happy I was able to get home to be there for her while she was having the procedure.”
In the next rest and relaxation story, one simple scheduling mistake led to a wonderful first day of rest and relaxation.
Sarah Powers was busy getting ready to pick her husband, Sgt. Randall Powers, 209th ASB, 25th CAB, up from the air port when their 6-year-old son missed the school bus.
“I decided that I was going to take him the airport to pick up daddy,” said Sarah.
Their son, who is PDD ADHD autistic with a speech impediment, had not seen his father in nine months. His birthday was the day before his father returned home.
“All of the sudden our son saw his daddy before I did,” explained Sarah.
Regardless of their son’s condition, he talked to his father from the time they got into the car all the way to their house and they continued talking at home until they both worked themselves into a nap for the remainder of the day.
“When my son woke the next morning he was tickled to death to see that daddy was still home and all he could say was, ‘The bestest birthday gift ever is having my daddy come home’,” said Sarah. “All I could do was cry because my dream was a reality. We were a family for two weeks.”
Some soldiers and their spouses take their limited time on rest and relaxation to seek excitement and adventure.
Staff Sgt. Bobbie Gabaree and her husband Staff Sgt. Jeramie Gabaree, both with Company B, 209th Aviation Support Battalion, 25th CAB, decided what their rest and relaxation needed was a little challenge.
“While on R&R, my husband and I, known as Mr. and Mrs. Forrest Gump, decided to do a relay triathlon with my sister Staff Sgt. Deirdre Maldonado, who is stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.,” said Bobbie.
Because they had nowhere to train for swimming in Afghanistan, that task went to Deirdre.
“I did a 12-mile bike and my husband finished it up for us fast with the 5K portion,” said Bobbie. “It was great to be able to spend time with my sister. Being in the Army hasn’t always permitted me and her to be stationed at the same place.”
Bobbie’s team placed first in the race.
“The feeling of getting 1st place was huge and a big accomplishment and good training tool for us. We will now prepare for the Hilo Marathon in March of 2013,” said Bobbie.
Heidi Burton and her husband, 1st Lt. Jason Burton from Company B, 2-25 Aviation, 25th CAB, were newlyweds at the time Jason deployed. They had been married less than five months when he left for Afghanistan.
“It was very hard to say goodbye to my new husband,” said Heidi, “but we were very lucky to get such a perfect R&R slot that landed over our one year anniversary.”
This anniversary took the Burton’s to London and Paris.
“We had so much fun seeing such world known landmarks,” said Heidi.
They visited sites such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It was the last day of rest and relaxation in Paris that was especially memorable though.
“Jason took me to Pont de Artes Bridge where he surprised me with a lock that he engraved J + H 2012 on,” explained Heidi. “We locked it up on the bridge and threw the key in the River Siene. [He’s] such a romantic. It was the best two weeks I have had all year,” she said.
This article started with stories of new births, and as state these stories would cycle through the circle of life. This last story sadly begins with a family death.
Spc. Shawn Carriere, with Company F, 2-25 Aviation, 25th CAB was looking forward to spending rest and relaxation with his wife Andrea Carriere. They were newlyweds who had been together following their wedding for less than a month before Shawn had to deploy to Afghanistan. Their plans for rest and relaxation suddenly changed when Shawn was notified his grandfather had died of a heart attack.
“Because the flight from Afghanistan to California took quite awhile, he was not able to say goodbye to his grandfather before his scheduled cremation,” said Andrea.
Andrea explained though that Shawn was able to say a heartfelt goodbye at his grandfather’s funeral.
“Although a sad and difficult time, it was a joyful time, for it was the first time in years that Shawn’s family got to see him,” said Andrea. “It was my first time meeting all his family from his mother’s side. I had the honor of getting to know his late grandfather through his family too.”
Although it was not how they originally planned to spend their rest and relaxation, Shawn and Andrea benefited from the time and experienced growth.
“I learned a lot about his grandfather and got an idea of the childhood Shawn had,” said Andrea. “Shawn and I learned that life is short and we should spend it being happy, especially with each other. I felt that Shawn and I had grown closer together during those 15 days.”
These stories from the soldiers and families of the 25th CAB are only a glimpse of how many have spent their precious two weeks during rest and relaxation. There are many more stories. Some will be told but many others will not. Regardless, for the soldiers and families of the 25th CAB who experienced them, they are the stories that have created special memories which they will hold on to until they return home.