- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Mother’s Day has a special poignancy for our women in uniform stationed overseas. The holiday is both a celebration of the joys and duties of parenthood, and a reminder of the sacrifices made by our military families.

Maj. Shelley Hermes, Sgt. 1st Class Angela Amundson and Capt. Dayna Joyner of the Minnesota National Guard, members of the 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division, are spending this Mother’s Day in Basra, Iraq.

Maj. Hermes is on her second deployment, the first being in Baghdad in 2004-05. She said that conditions in the country have improved since her first tour, and their current focus is establishing conditions for handing over the security mission to the Iraqi armed forces. She has three children back in Minnesota: Andrew, 9; Nicholas, 6; and Carlie, 1. They stay in touch via e-mail and the occasional phone call, once a week or more if they can manage it. Her husband Brian is holding down the fort at home. “He actually has the harder job,” Maj. Hermes told The Washington Times. “He has to do everything - wash the clothes, feed the kids, get them to bed and run his [construction] business.” She added, “I’m very proud of him.” Not coincidentally, the Friday before Mother’s Day was declared Military Spouse Appreciation Day by President Reagan in 1984.

Maj. Hermes is working on a pilot project to connect soldiers with their families back home. Given the limited capacity of the post’s single call center, she is helping set up a temporary station in their headquarters where 250 soldiers will be able to make Mother’s Day calls. Once they have the system up and running, the unit will use it for other holidays.

Sgt. Amundson stays in touch with her two children, BriAnna, 7; and stepson Alex, 14, via a cell phone she bought in Iraq. She has been in the National Guard for 20 years, but this is her first long-term overseas deployment. Her husband Chris, a 1st sergeant in the Minnesota Guard, is taking care of the family while she is away. Her Mother’s Day plan is to “make sure to recognize every mother” in her unit on their special day. There are around 200 women serving with Sgt. Amundson, more than half of whom have children. She told us that there is a regularly scheduled 10- to 20-mile road march today, known colloquially as a “Bataan Death March,” which is made more difficult by the ever-present dust and over 100-degree heat. That’s a far cry from Sunday brunch or breakfast in bed.

Capt. Joyner has deployed three times to as many continents in her military career. She has no children yet. She recently married a fellow National Guardsman and deployed shortly afterward. She said the Army works hard to help soldiers celebrate holidays; they break the monotony of overseas duty and boost morale. However, such festivities only go so far. “They can give us presents and special meals and entertainers,” she told us, “but no one, not even the Army, can replicate my mom.”

On Mother’s Day, Capt. Joyner will reach out to her mother Diane and her grandmother Doris. She said it was an opportunity “to salute the woman who gave me the strength to pursue my own dreams.” Capt. Joyner joined the military at her mother’s suggestion, spending six years in the Navy and three in the Army. “I still love it,” she said. “I couldn’t thank her enough for giving me the courage, support, good humor and resilience necessary to be in the military. My mom taught me that humor really is the best medicine. It helps me a lot here. My mother also taught me to make a difference in the world, even if it is one person at a time.” She looks forward to starting a family when she returns, “to allow me to live my dreams and to help another young woman live hers.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.

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