As Mom and Dad Deploy, Kids Struggle to Cope

Jeri Yingling is an energetic, no-nonsense mother of four. She is married to a Fort Hood, Texas, soldier -- Lt. Col Paul Yingling -- who has been deployed to Iraq twice and to Bosnia before that.

Jeri has handled it well -- even giving birth to one of her children while her husband was deployed.

The toughest days, she says, come when he is in a trouble spot and communications are cut off. "Phone communications would just stop. I would be talking every day and all of a sudden there would be nothing. And you would just have to know that, because there wasn't a knock at the door, everything was OK."

That attitude has gotten her children through all their father's deployments, but it has not been easy for them, especially 11-year old Megan. "Megan feels everything stronger," her mother says. "She takes everything to heart."

Just before his last deployment, Paul came up to read to Megan before she fell asleep. "Daddy was leaving," Megan explains, "and I remember, I was going to bed and he was like, 'Oh, Meg, it's OK,' and he was reading a book and it was like I couldn't believe he was leaving."

Megan's voice drops to a whisper as she thinks back to that evening. "I remember that really well. I remember that was really bad." She looks away, whispering almost to herself. "That was really bad."

Her older siblings, A.J., 14, and Katie, 17, are more circumspect. They have grown used to the deployments and fully expect more to come. Their father, who is back home now, spends much of his time training for the next one. And it looks as if it will occur about the time Katie graduates from high school next spring.

"It is tough," she says, with a wistful smile. "I'm the oldest and the first to graduate, so I think it would be nice for him to be there, but it's another sacrifice. And we're kind of used to it."

"You're constantly kind of gauging their emotional level," explains Jeri, as the four children (the youngest is Will) zip around her in their kitchen, grabbing breakfast and getting ready for their day.

A Close Eye on the Kids

Jeri has made it her top priority to know how the children are handling the ups and downs, setbacks and disappointments of the continuing deployment cycles.

"Especially with the multiple, multiple deployments again and again, you just don't even have time to recover," she says. "It's so important to keep track of where your kids are and how they're handling all the stress that's going on. Because so easily, I've seen, so easily things can slip. Kids can go into crisis mode, and if you're so busy with everything else that's going on, you won't be aware of it until something tragic has happened."

So she makes sure her children are involved in all the things that interest them, and that they focus their attention on the positive. For A.J., it's lacrosse. Megan is a rock-climber, Will is a gymnast. Katie excels in horsemanship and is very busy with leadership activities at her high school.

She strongly believes the way to get through a deployment is to be involved. "The biggest thing is to stay active, because if you just sit home, you're going to think about it more," Katie explained.

Mary Keller agrees. She is the executive director of the Military Child Education Coalition, a group formed to reach out to military children, including those in the National Guard and Reserves. (For more information contact: militarychild.org)

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