Sgt. Major Bob Breeden is the top enlisted man with the Marine's 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment. He deployed to Afghanistan nearly a month ago. Back in North Carolina, his wife and daughter say they "manage" with him gone, even as Father's Day approaches.
Sgt. Major Bob Breeden is the top enlisted man with the Marine's 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment. He deployed to Afghanistan nearly a month ago. Back in North Carolina, his wife and daughter say they "manage" with him gone, even as Father's Day approaches. David Gilkey/NPR
On Father's Day, June 21, hundreds of Marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina will have been away from home for nearly a month. While the Marines are in Afghanistan, their children are learning to get along without their dads. NPR is following the deployment of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, a unit of more than 800 Marines known as "America's Battalion." On the home front, the families of those deployed are coping with their absence.
American flags dot the street that leads to the home of Marine Sgt. Major Bob Breeden, the 2nd Battalion's top enlisted man. Breeden talked with NPR before his unit deployed to Afghanistan.
He said he has missed almost every milestone in his daughter's life. His wife Barbara didn't miss a thing.
"He was gone when she was born and he left again when she was 11 months old," Barbara Breeden says at her home in North Carolina. "So what we did was we got a little recorder and he read all her books to her at night. So she knew who he was because I didn't want her to be afraid of him when he came home."
Rebecca still has the photo of her dad that her mom tucked inside the crib when she was a baby. She's now a teenager and her dad is on his 13th deployment.
Staying Strong At Home
Barbara says they have learned how to tough it out together.
"To us, it's normal, not anything new," she says. "We just help each other out while he's gone and ... it's just normal for us. We manage."
Each deployment, Rebecca picks up a new hobby to pass the time. Once she learned belly dancing, which she says really "weirded out" her dad.
For this deployment, she's learning how to tattoo and is practicing on oranges. She's thinking about giving her dad a tat when he returns.
Before he left, Breeden talked about a more serious subject: How the men in his Marine unit protect their families from bad news.
"A lot of the more mature Marines and sailors they'll sit there and say, 'Hey things are going good here,' and the wives can see through it just by the tone of the communication," he said at the time.
Barbara and Rebecca agree.
"You can tell when there's something going on; you can hear it in their voices," Barbara says.
Rebecca has already talked with her dad. That's remarkable considering the family was bracing for no phone or email messages. He told her Afghanistan is rusty and dusty and looks like Mars.
Keeping Families Connected
In all his previous deployments, there was instant communication. And Barbara used photos and audio recordings of her husband to make sure he didn't come home a stranger to his daughter.
Other moms are learning, too, that mailing photos and letters and Father's Day cards keeps families connected.
At a recreation room at Camp Lejeune, dozens of kids and mothers sit drawing and painting flowers with petals made from child-size thumbprints. Ten year-old Summer Joiner wrote a big "Happy Father's Day" on the front of her card.
"I tried to put purple messages in it cause his favorite color's purple," she says.
Summer is one of Charmaine Joiner's six kids. They're all under 12 years old. Their dad makes sure every letter he writes contains a paragraph that's just for each child.
Joiner steps outside to take a break from the card-making chaos.
"We have a lot of pictures and, in fact, today we had some developed so we can send him some of them," she says. "And we're constantly looking, constantly flipping through the camera just to see him."
Six-year-old Amelia has a photo of her dad that she takes with her everywhere.
For Joiner, her daughter's solution isn't all that different than what Barbara Breeden discovered years ago. Both families have learned how to improvise normalcy when a father is away at war.
Catherine Welch reports for member station WHQR.