A Marine Daughter's Graduation Without Dad

Sgt. Maj. Robert Breeden i i

hide captionSgt. Maj. Robert Breeden was deployed from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to Afghanistan last month. While his daughter was graduating from high school last weekend, he was at Camp Leatherneck in the desert of southwest Afghanistan.

David Gilkey/NPR
Sgt. Maj. Robert Breeden

Sgt. Maj. Robert Breedan was deployed from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to Afghanistan last month. While his daughter was graduating from high school last weekend, he was at Camp Leatherneck in the desert of southwest Afghanistan.

David Gilkey/NPR

The Marines known as "America's Battalion" are in Afghanistan as part of the 21,000 additional forces President Obama is deploying in the administration's strategy to counter the Taliban insurgency. NPR is following the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment over the months of their deployment, focusing on the efforts of these Marines in Afghanistan and the burden shared by their families back home.

The top enlisted man in America's Battalion is Sgt. Major Robert Breeden. Now in Afghanistan, this is his 13th deployment. He is the first to admit that's made him something of an absentee father.

His daughter and only child, Rebecca, was born while he was deployed during the 1991 Gulf War. Last weekend, he missed her high school graduation.

Before the ceremony, family members converged on the Breeden house in North Carolina to eat cake and celebrate. The fact that Bob Breeden wasn't there weighed on his mother, Judy Breeden. She knew she'd cry if she thought about her son, though it helped that they got to talk with him that day.

The sergeant major managed to call his daughter.

"I didn't really think about how he wasn't here until he called," Rebecca says. "I think about him all the time, so then when he calls, I don't really know what to say."

After saying goodbye to her father, it was time to go. With her navy blue cap and gown in hand, Rebecca and her mom arrived at school and parted ways in the parking lot. Taking one last look at her daughter, Barbara Breeden headed toward the football field for the ceremony.

Barbara wished her husband could have been there, but 13 deployments have taught her not to be too sentimental about such things.

"It's the way of the military, you know? His life changes more than ours. Ours goes on, his kind of stops."

Besides, this was no time to cry. The graduates sat in folding chairs in the center of the football field, while family and friends crammed onto metal bleachers. Barbara took a seat in the front row, flanked by Rebecca's grandparents, and waited to cheer her daughter.

After the ceremony, everyone poured onto the field. There were hugs and photos.

Rebecca's going to college in Virginia, hoping to land a job in the arts one day. It's a less focused future than when her father graduated high school.

Bob Breeden always knew he wanted to be a Marine.

Catherine Welch reports for member station WHQR.

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