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Living Successfully: Making the Most of Long Separations

Jon Fleshman

Samantha Windell and her 14-month-son Damion check for messages on their computer from their husband and father Spc. Chase Windell. Photo by Krista Brown

VICENZA, Italy (Army News Service, March 6, 2008) – Friends, yoga, a family support group, online courses, England and a toddler lifted a new Army wife out of her funk when her husband went to war.

"The first few months after my husband deployed were miserable," admitted Samantha Windell from her home in Bamberg, Germany. "I wanted to stay at home the whole time."

When Spc. Chase Windell deployed to Afghanistan in May 2007, Windell had just arrived in Europe on her first assignment as an Army spouse, if you don't count basic and advanced individual training.

"Three days after I arrived and joined Chase, he left for a month of field training a month before he deployed," Windell said. "He's seen his kid all of two months of his life."

Damion is their 14-month-old son. Dad was there for his birth, however, and he did get to see Damion walking when he returned for rest and recuperation.

"He's a miniature replica of my husband," Windell confided. "Every time I look at him, I'm reminded of Chase."

Mom and son aren't housebound anymore though. Every other afternoon they head to the home of best-friend Lauren Kemp, whose husband is also deployed. While Windell and Kemp release their stress through yoga, Damion plays with Kemp's 4 and 5-year-olds Emory and Darby. The families often share grocery expenses and have a meal together.

They also travel together. To fight the holiday blues they found discount flights, as moms and kids visited London for Thanksgiving.

"The biggest change I've seen in Sam is that she's become independent," said Kemp, whose husband, Spc. Dustin Kemp, is in the same unit as Chase in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. The Kemps are experiencing their fourth deployment as a married couple, so she has a veteran's perspective.

"Sam has learned who she is," she said, "outside of being Damion's mom and Chase's wife. It's the most important thing the spouse of a deployed Soldier can learn – especially during the first deployment."

Kemp explained that during this time of growth and change, communication between deployed spouse and home-front spouse is critical. She warned: "If not, hubby comes home and asks 'Who are you?' and 'What have you done with my wife?'"

Windell and Damion are definitely staying in touch with their Soldier downrange. She said her husband calls her every chance he gets, which averages about every two to three days. They also communicate daily by instant messenger and e-mail, and she estimates she has sent "a million and a half care packages." Additionally, they have Web cams that are crystal clear.

"When Chase came home on R&R, Damion ran to his dad. It was really sweet," Windell recalled. "He's at an age where he's a little afraid of strangers, but he knew who his daddy was."

Family-oriented activities that she can share with her son are one of the things Windell likes about her family readiness group. Besides FRG special events, she attends monthly meetings and has found the group leader a good source of accurate information and support.

"The FRG opened a whole new avenue for me," Windell said. "You meet all the unit spouses, and the battalion FRG also holds events and will bring all the company FRGs together. Right now we're making welcome-home baskets for all the single Soldiers in the unit."

When the two first met, Janelle Walden, the unit FRG leader, remembers Windell keeping to herself as it was obvious she was new to Army life.

"Being an Army spouse is about sharing and mutual support. She is a true example of that and has shown herself to be a priceless asset," Walden said.

The rear detachment is another resource Windell recommends. She said when she hears rumors about her husband's unit or just needs information, she goes to the rear detachment sergeant for the straight answer. And if the sergeant doesn’t have the information, she goes out on her own to find it for Windell.

Windell's short answer to the secret of living successfully as the spouse of a deployed Soldier is simple: "Get out there - and get involved."

(Jon Fleshman is with the U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza Public Affairs Office.)

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