On a hot summer afternoon in July, Samantha and Jacob Guilford watched an airplane touch down at Columbia Regional Airport then rushed to greet their father, Sgt. Stacy Guilford, with a “Welcome Home Daddy” banner and many long-awaited embraces.
It was a joyful reunion, but it didn’t last long. A 38-year-old Army reservist, Guilford was deployed to Iraq to fly Black Hawk helicopters. But two weeks after he came home in July, he had to say goodbye again to return to Iraq to finish his deployment.
Now it’s January, and Samantha and Jacob are hoping their father will return by March. Meanwhile, they’re finding different ways to cope with his absence.
Samantha, 15, decided not to tell her teachers about her father’s deployment. A freshman at Jefferson Junior High School, she doesn’t want to be treated differently.
When she misses her father, Samantha immerses herself in dance. She takes jazz, hip hop, ballet and modern dance lessons at the Columbia Performing Arts Center six days a week.
“She’s got some outstanding teachers who help express her emotions through dance,” said her mother, Catherine Guilford. “She stays extremely busy and longs for his phone calls.”
Jacob, 12, has immersed himself in the military world, doing his best to excel and make his father proud. Jacob is a Navy League Cadet based in Jefferson City and drills one weekend each month as well as one to two weeks during the summer. He received a medal for his shooting skills at boot camp.
But keeping busy isn’t enough. Jacob and Samantha rely on their mother, family and friends, plus phone calls and a webcam that allow them to stay connected with their father.
Additional support is also available through a variety of organizations, including the military’s Family Readiness Group.
“We try to help keep families informed, through the command’s guidance, of information that can be useful,” said Cherie Hunter, a Family Readiness Group leader. “There are speakers who come to speak to families and children to help them better understand.”
The United Service Organizations is another key source of support for military families. A congressionally chartered nonprofit, the agency has 124 centers worldwide, including 71 in the United States. The USO and Family Readiness Groups each sponsor support groups for families separated by deployments.
Catherine Guilford took advantage of free counseling available through Army OneSource. Samantha and Jacob, however, decided not to participate in counseling sessions, preferring instead to call their best friends.
Still, even best friends can do only so much. Samantha and Jacob can’t help but feel that their peers don’t understand what it’s like to constantly worry and to deal with the void left by their father’s absence.
“They don’t know how bad it is,” Samantha said. “How scary it is, every night…”
Catherine and the children avoid watching the news. For them, it’s easier to focus on the pride they take in what Stacy Guilford is doing. Samantha and Jacob feel their father is a hero, and they’re willing to sacrifice.
“I’m glad he’s doing it because every person counts,” Jacob said.
Samantha agreed. “For some people, it doesn’t suit them, but for my dad it does. I’m really proud of him, and I’m glad he’s in the Army.”
The Columbia family of Capt. Norm Cox of the Army National Guard has used many of the same strategies to deal with his deployment to Iraq.
His wife, Maria Cox, said she and her two children, 11-year-old Andrew and 6-year-old Laura Beth, use a webcam to talk regularly with Norm. The webcam even allowed him to watch Andrew’s viola concert and to see Laura Beth proudly present her first lost tooth.
Maria Cox said that on several occasions she has contacted a counselor at her children’s school, Ridgeway Elementary, for support. Her Family Readiness Group has also been instrumental.
“Our FRG is just wonderful,” Maria said. “Every time we’ve had meetings, there’s something for the kids as well.”
Julia Pfaff, a military mom whose father was deployed to Vietnam when she was 5, said military kids aren’t naturally tough.
“Resilient children are made, not born,” Pfaff wrote in an online article. “Many people say, ‘Oh, military children are naturally resilient.’ That’s nonsense. Are they born that way? No, military kids become resilient, and parents and others can help the process.”