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Heroes on the homefront

Special to the Daily A woman and a child in post-war Afghanistan. A solider who has returned home to Eagle-Vail said his wife and children were the real heroes and had to remain brave when bad news was reported from the war zone.
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Soldiers say good-bye. It’s always tough, even for guys trained to be tough.

When Capt. Roy Addington left the 10th Mountain Division headquarters at Fort Drum, New York for the Middle East, he, like every other soldier, was leaving one world behind to be thrust into another. The departures left a soldier-sized hole in the lives of the families of the deployed troops.

But in a few weeks, Addington will leave the Army and the 10th Mountain Division, with whom he served in a combat hospital in Afghanistan. He, his wife Stacy and their two sons have settled in Eagle-Vail, where they plan to live happily ever after.

“Separation from family is the worst,” said Addington, a University of Northern Colorado graduate who says he’s home to stay.

“Soldiers go to war. That’s what soldiers do,” he said. “The real heroes are spouses who stay behind and deal with the kids. The spouses are the ones riddled with worry, especially the blow by blow horror of seeing Operation Enduring Freedom on television.”

They were apart, but they were never alone. Since the Gulf War the military has devised countless ways to help families deal with separation and uncertainty.

Communications technology has rarely been put to better use than the video links and phone calls from the Middle East to home. For the Addingtons, the video links meant the kids got to see dad, that he looked good and was doing fine.

Not long ago things were much different.

“One woman came by whose husband was in Vietnam,” said Stacy. “They got two letters in a year.”

After the Gulf War, the military devised programs like Army Family Team Building, Operation Ready and the Family Readiness Group. They’re designed to help both soldiers and families understand as much as possible about the complexities of what’s happening, how to deal with it, how to separate and how to reunite as well as matters as simple as how to read the military version of a paycheck stub.

“While the soldier has been deployed, the spouse has had to be in charge of everything,” said Stacy. “The chain of command is the chain of concern. If I have a problem, who do I go to?”

News is not a big part of daily life. In a military town, everything and everyone gets covered – death makes headlines – and you can’t watch it with the kids in the room.

“When you live on a military base, and someone is injured or killed, there’s a different feel,” said Stacy. “There’s a realization that my husband or wife is over there.”

Back home around Fort Drum, everyone’s in the same situation and everyone’s emotions and sensitivities are on edge. Kids may be giving each other a hard time at school, and not mean to. In church, there’s a prayer request every Sunday. No one has to ask what for.

Roy said troops had lots of support in Afghanistan. Robin Williams did shows there. So did Al Franken and the Washington Redskins cheerleaders. It helped, but it didn’t reduce the distance. The Army provided unlimited phones and video links, and that helped, but even with a satellite connection it’s still a long way from home.

Addington left Fort Drum in August 2003. It was the family’s first deployment – their first extended time apart. It took four days to complete all the preparations to leave. In those four days they went through their good-byes again and again – home, then gone, then home again and finally gone for good. At Fort Drum, all kinds of people on their block were going through the same thing.

“By the fourth day everyone was completely emotionally drained,” said Stacy.

The Addingtons’ two sons did their best to understand, and did most of the time.

“We told them dad was going to Afghanistan to work in a hospital to help people. If people get hurt or sick, dad could take care of them. They know that’s what he does,” said Stacy. “But then they saw his M-16, and that put a different perspective on it.”


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