Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Full-Time Soldiers, Part-Time Parents

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Full-Time Soldiers, Part-Time Parents

Article excerpt

HALFWAY through the movie "Home Alone," the mother of eight-year-old Kevin McCallister stands at an airport counter, frantically trying to book a flight home to the son she and her husband unwittingly left behind on a family vacation. But all planes are full, and an airline agent is less than sympathetic to Kevin's plight.

"They get over it," the man says airily, dismissing the mother's concerns for her son. "Kids are resilient."

The scene in the darkened theater is obviously fictional. But in new and troubling ways, the film seems to echo the real-life situation of thousands of young children whose parents have abruptly left home, not for brief vacations but for long-term military duty in the Persian Gulf. Some children have watched as both parents have been deployed. Others have said goodbye to a mother who may be their only parent. Whatever the situation, the effect is the same: bewildered children left in the care of loving but equally bewildered relatives or guardians.

Fathers have always been dispatched to war zones, of course. So have women, although never to the extent that they are represented in the Gulf, where 28,000 women are now stationed. The great difference today is the presence of servicewomen with families. Among the 82,000 women in the Army, for instance, 16 percent - or more than 13,000 - are single mothers. Another 53,000 soldiers - 7 percent of enlisted troops - have spouses who are also in the Army.

Already these new military demographics are creating family hardships. One of the earliest cases involved a soldier at Ft. Campbell, Ky., a father who has custody of three children, aged 13, 12, and 9. When the man's unit was deployed for Operation Desert Shield, his estranged wife could not afford to fly from her home in Hawaii to care for the children. So he left them home alone, although not before tacking a note to the wall, telling them which bills to pay and explaining how to use an automatic teller machine.

In other cases, fathers have been left to care for newborn babies when their wives were sent to the Gulf, and grandparents have had to retrain as fairly permanent baby sitters. …

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