- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

Kimberly Jarrett will miss a lot in the next year.

She won't be able to see her two rambunctious boys Dion, 11, and Cordell, 7 navigate the maze of childhood. She can't remind her 14-year-old daughter, Monae, not to grow up too fast.

And she will have to

give up her seat in the audience as her eldest, Jermel, a dancer at the Baltimore School for the Arts, performs his hard-earned role of the prince in "The Nutcracker" at Christmastime.

The 32-year-old Baltimore woman recently boarded a bus that would take her to Fort Stewart, Ga. As a member of a Maryland National Guard company activated since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Spc. Jarrett has reported for duty.

She will spend the next year or so providing security for the fort. She received just two weeks' notice of her activation.

"It really upsets me that I have to leave my kids," Spc. Jarrett says. "I have to make the sacrifice, but it really hurts. They are going to be without me, and I know they're going to need me."

Many American children will miss their absent parents in the months and maybe years to come as members of the U.S. armed forces are activated or deployed in answer to the terrorist attacks. By Oct. 30, more than 35,000 reservists and National Guard personnel had been called to active duty by the president, says Lt. Col. Ken McClellan, a public affairs officer at the Pentagon. The Defense Department declines to divulge the number of troops who have been deployed overseas.

Chances are great that American children will be able to endure the sadness and anxiety of these separations, says Dr. Paramjit Joshi, a child psychiatrist at Children's National Medical Center in the District. The keys are stable, composed caregivers back at home and enough but not too much honest information.

The meaning behind sacrifice

The Jarrett children understand where their mother is going and why.

Spc. Jarrett says that the day she learned of her impending deployment, her husband William broke the news to their children while their mother still was at work. She didn't have a lot of time to ponder her orders, but she did make time to think about those of her children.

"I've made lists of chores, going from task to task," Spc. Jarrett says. "I'm printing out on the computer what I want them to help their father with I want it in writing so they know exactly what to do."

Worries include covering the bills: As an activated reservist, Spc. Jarrett says her income will be half of her civilian salary as a corrections officer at a Maryland state correctional facility.

Comforts include 20th-century technology, which will allow Spc. Jarrett to communicate easily with her husband and children via her laptop computer. Another consolation are the hoards of area family and friends who have offered to help in her absence.

"That is one of the reasons I haven't been moping or really, really down," she says. "I know they're out there. I know my kids will be taken care of and checked on."

Spc. Jarrett says she worries that her husband, a National Guardsman who is on alert status, could be activated as well. If this happens, the family is ready: The children's maternal grandmother will take over their guardianship.

The waiting game

Zylynda and Daniel Hopkins and their three children are well-aware of the concrete impact on their lives of the September 11 terrorist attacks. As full-time civil servants both are Air Reserve Technicians at Andrews Air Force Base as well as Air Force reservists, either parent could be activated or deployed.

Changing from reserve to active-duty status might mean Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins are ordered to report to full-time duty at Andrews Air Force Base, causing relatively minimal disruption in the lives of their children. But then again, either parent could be sent anywhere worldwide with as little as one day to prepare.

"When September 11 happened, I thought, 'Am I ready? Yes, I'm ready,'" Mr. Hopkins says. "You're ready at a moment's notice it's one of the things you think about."

For now, the family is sticking close to home, which is the Calvert County, Md., town of Lusby. The boys Corvodis, 11, and D'Kyron, 9 play football on the weekends; 6-year-old Allyson cheers. Sunday mornings are spent in church and preparing for the school and workweek ahead.

The Hopkinses also have spent time preparing for the future.

"We have a family care plan established, which was required [by the Air Force] when we got married," Mrs. Hopkins says. The plan includes documentation about the children's care.

For short-term deployment of both parents, defined as 90 days or fewer, the children's local paternal family members would step in.

A long-term deployment, or any length of time more than 90 days, would mean even more serious changes for the children.

"My parents would come to get them from South Carolina," Mrs. Hopkins says. Her father, a postmaster, and her stepmother, a teacher both in their early 50s have agreed to serve as the children's surrogate parents in time of need.

"The kids are aware of that possibility," Mrs. Hopkins says. "They love their grandparents so they wouldn't mind going to them, but we really haven't gotten a true reaction."

In the wings

Caregivers, whether relatives or the parent remaining to hold down the fort, must manage their own emotions to help children manage theirs, Dr. Joshi says.

"If the mom [or primary caregiver] is able to handle the situation in a composed way, the child will fare much better," she says. "Kids don't fare well when the caregiver is not handling it well themselves. You need to be able to comfort the child while acknowledging your own sadness up to a point."

Zerita Johnson, 50, mother of the recently deployed Spc. Jarrett, says she is sad about the events of September 11 especially as they now involve her family but she functions as her grandchildren's "strength and their leader."

A bank manager and Baltimore resident, she is proud of her daughter's contribution. That appreciation doesn't ease the pain of separation, however.

"She's not just my only daughter she's my only child," says Ms. Johnson, who adds that she manages to keep her feelings in check for the sake of the grandchildren. "The kids don't generally see me emotional. I'm the fun one who keeps things going. However, [the situation] always comes into the picture but you just keep it in perspective."

Ms. Johnson says she reminds the children that "Mom's not over there in the Middle East right now, with all the violence and killing. So we know, we understand, and I keep reminding the kids of that. And we pray prayer is really important. We pray together."

Over at Fort Belvoir, a Northern Virginia Army post, deployment specialists are busy trying to show parents and caregivers how to help their children through this difficult time.

"People are deploying daily, so we try to teach the family members left at home how to adapt to change," says Carol Janer, a program coordinator with the resource agency Army Community Services.

"We talk to people about how children don't understand things the same way as adults," she says. "If we are scared, children are twice as scared. It's very important that parents sit down and explain things to them."

She recalls the reaction of one mother to her young son as his father served in Desert Storm.

"He was upset because everyone else's dad was home for dinner and around to go to ballgames," Ms. Janer says. "His mom took him outside and said, 'See those flags that are hanging out in front of everyone's house? Your dad is working hard to make sure that flag can continue to wave.'"

However difficult the situation, activation or deployment is a sacrifice that even young children can learn to appreciate, Dr. Joshi says.

"We all have jobs in life as grown-ups that we train for and have to do, so it's a sense of responsibility," she says. "Don't ignore the fact that what the parents are doing can be dangerous. But let your children know that their parents are really special people who are selected in many ways to do this job because they're good at what they do."

Living on the edge

The good news for Kim, a master sergeant in the 459th Security Forces Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, is that her 4-year-old daughter does not understand what her mother calls "the totality" of the events of September 11. Nor does the child understand how these events could come to affect her.

Kim's last name must be withheld via Air Force Reserve policy, as she was moved from reserve to active status on Sept. 23.

She used to report to a civilian job as a crime-prevention officer at the Fairfax County Police Department. Now she makes the long daily trip from her Prince William County home to Andrews, where she serves as a security police officer, guarding base resources.

In her current status, Kim could be sent anywhere, a possibility that greatly concerns her as a single mother, she says.

"On September 11, everything pretty much changed for both of us," Kim says. "The patriotism I feel exudes. On the other hand, I am a single parent and my daughter is the most important thing in my life, so it tears at me in both ways."

For now, Kim is able to return home every night to care for her daughter, "to retain some normalcy of life for her," she says. Her plans are to "support the nation and the country and do the jobs I've been trained for."

Her other plans revolve around her child.

Kim has figured out an elaborate care package for her daughter centering on various what-if scenarios. She has awarded her power of attorney to a close friend and contacted family members, including her daughter's father, who lives in Winchester, Va. All have stepped in regularly to help out since Kim's activation.

"If I'm activated away, my daughter will go to her dad's full time," Kim says. "He will have to change the normalcy in his life in order to provide for our daughter." Her daughter's father works as a firefighter.

"My deepest fear is the fact that I have the possibility that I couldn't come home to see my daughter," she says. "The reality of it has hit and I've adapted, but there is always the possibility of instantaneous change. My whole world could change and I wouldn't be able to go home."

Kim says she has started a journal for her daughter. Her tears flow when she speaks of its contents.

"I wanted something permanent for her to have, telling the importance of what I do and why I do it, and that it's easy to turn away from something, but when you believe in something you have to see it through."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide