How Families Cope When Loved Ones Face War

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We continue our discussion, focusing on how families cope when their loved ones go off to war. Farai Chideya talks to Carol McLendon, who has one daughter currently serving in Iraq. Her other daughter, Army Reserves Sgt. Misty McLendon, also joins the discussion.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Of course, leaving home to fight overseas isn't just hard for servicemen and women. Their families have to deal with the emotional aftershocks as well. To give us some personal perspective, we've got Carol McLendon. She's a mother living in Las Vegas and her daughter D'Ambe is currently serving in Iraq. Also joining us is one of Carol's other daughters, Army Reserve Sergeant Misty McLendon.

Welcome to you, both.

Ms. CAROL MCLENDON: Welcome. Thank you for having us.

Sgt. MISTY MCLENDON (U.S. Army): Hello.

CHIDEYA: Carol, you have two daughters in the Reserves. How did you feel when they signed up?

Ms. MCLENDON: I was happy when Misty signed up. I thought it would be a good idea, which actually turned out to be a good idea. I wasn't so happy for D'Ambe to sign up. But that's what she wanted to do. She wanted to follow in her sister's footsteps. And so of course, she has my blessings.

CHIDEYA: Why were you…

Ms. MCLENDON: Both of them do.

CHIDEYA: Why were you not happy for D'Ambe? Was it just that, well, I can't deal with having two kids in this or were - what other reasons might you have?

Ms. MCLENDON: No, Misty has a stronger personality than D'Ambe, and I didn't think D'Ambe would be military material, but she shocked me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Now, Sgt. McLendon, when you were growing up, when you and your sister were growing up, did you have any inkling that this was in your future?

Sgt. MCLENDON: No. Never.

CHIDEYA: What made you change your mind, or what drew you to the military?

Sgt. MCLENDON: It was actually my mother's suggestion. And so a recruiter came and spoke with her and then she was telling me about it, and she said it was something I should do. I mean, it sounded very appealing, so four days later, I was in the Army.

CHIDEYA: And you didn't serve in Iraq, but you did go to Kuwait. How was that?

Sgt. McLENDON: Kuwait was - it's great. It's a blessing to go to Kuwait. I've been there twice, and so it's a blessing.

CHIDEYA: And were you in Kuwait when your sister left for Iraq?

Sgt. McLENDON: Yes. I was about to come home when she left.

CHIDEYA: What was that moment like, finding out she was going to be deployed to Iraq?

Sgt. McLENDON: Well, D'Ambe had a year of notice, so we all knew. Because the type of unit that she's in, she has to train up before she go. There's like a lot of specific trainings she has to go to. So we knew it was going to happen, but, you know, you always hope that it doesn't happen.

CHIDEYA: And, Carol, it sounds like you had a lot of time to prepare, but can you ever really prepare yourself for something like that?

Ms. McLENDON: Well, during the entire year, I was hoping that things would change and she wouldn't have to go because, originally, when she joined, she was not scheduled to go to Iraq. She was not scheduled to leave the United States. She was a part of Homeland Security. So, of course, I'd hope (unintelligible) them but I actually did. I did a lot of praying and, of course, you know, with Misty going, it sort of prepared me for, you know, okay, if it happens, it happens, she's got to go.

So - but that's the only thing that I could do, that was the only thing that really got me through, actually, just praying. And, of course, you know, at the end, when she had to go, it was God's will.

CHIDEYA: Well, we're coming up on Christmas and the holidays, is it going to hurt you that she's not there with you?

Ms. McLENDON: Actually, at the beginning of the holidays, just before Thanksgiving, yes, I did start feeling sad. But I'm okay now.

CHIDEYA: How often do you get to talk to her?

Ms. McLENDON: We actually instant message almost every day. She doesn't e-mail much but, you know, I'm on my computer first thing in the morning and it's night time for her, so we get a chance to talk back and forth and, you know, I tell her about, you know, things that's happening. So she really does know everything that's happening here, but I know very little what's happening there because she doesn't talk about anything, and I think it's - so that we won't worry, so that I won't worry.

CHIDEYA: And, Sgt. McLendon, you've been in the military, you are in the military, when you talk to your sister, do you try to buck her up and keep her motivated, or what are your conversations like?

Sgt. McLENDON: It's (unintelligible) to me. She speaks to me differently than she speaks to my mom because my mom will worry more, whereas I kind of understand a little bit more. So we - I just try and give her a lot of advice and things to do that can make it a little bit easier, I mean, as much as you can. But that's usually how our conversations go. We talk about gossip and all that kind of stuff.

CHIDEYA: What was it like being a woman in the Armed Forces overseas? There - a lot of things have changed in the military in the past few decades. There are so many women now that are in support positions, including ones that come pretty close to combat and, of course, there have been female casualties. You were in Kuwait, not Iraq, but that said, what have things been like for you as a woman?

Sgt. McLENDON: They have been - you know, I haven't had any bad experiences, I have to say. But I don't really - I don't separate myself as being a woman or being black or being - and, you know, I don't use that to separate myself. I just am who I am and I have a great personality, and I'm really good at adapting and working things out. I'm very knowledgeable on what I do. So, for me, I've had an excellent time. There are some people that have hard times, but it's not been a bad experience for me.

CHIDEYA: And, Carol, do you ever worry about D'Ambe, specifically as a woman, in a situation where there are a lot of pressures on women, both internally in terms of dealing with their colleagues and their units, but also pressures from outside, from insurgents and other people on the ground.

Ms. McLENDON: D'Ambe is actually on the road. You know, she has to do with - she's involved with convoy. So I could be really, really worried, but I think D'Ambe really keeps a lot of things from me. But, like I said, you know, I pray a lot, and so I think that, you know, I'd really feel confident that, you know, God hasn't - got a mission for her and that - until that mission is accomplished, she's going to be good. She's also gotten a lot stronger since, you know, going into the military as far as, you know, being able to handle things and deal with things, you know.

So - and things are different now. The things have gotten a lot easier for our soldiers over there than they were in the very beginning, you know. When Misty first went over, Misty was actually living in a tent. That blew me away. But D'Ambe is actually in a trailer, so, you know, they - it's kind of a temporary/permanent housing. You know, so…

CHIDEYA: She's got a little bit of an upgrade. And…

Ms. McLENDON: Yes.

CHIDEYA: …we're going to have to go to a break in a moment. But were you able to send her any gifts or anything physical for the holidays?

Ms. McLENDON: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I've got a box sitting on the table right now, ready to go out today. But we've sent her things, we've sent her, you know, care packages and what have you, fun things, things that she likes, like Gummi bears and stuff like that, you know. So, you know - and she's always elated when she gets things, you know. We e-mail our pictures. Misty sends pictures, you know. She has them all over her walls. She sends us e-mail showing us her room and how she's decorated it with the pictures. So you see it's not all bad, I guess.

CHIDEYA: Well, I want you guys to stay with me. And after the break, we're going to talk a bit about what lessons you've learned that could be applied to other families. So just…

Ms. McLENDON: Okay.

CHIDEYA: …stay with us.

We're talking to Sgt. Misty McLendon from the Army Reserves, she lives in Las Vegas, and her mother, Carol McLendon.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. And this is NEWS & NOTES.

If you were just joining us, we're talking about war and family. When a soldier, sailor, airman or marine heads out for combat, how do families cope?

We've been speaking with Carol McLendon, she is a mother living in Las Vegas. Her daughter, D'Ambe, is currently serving in Iraq. And also joining us is one of Carol's other daughter, Army Reserves Sgt. Misty McLendon.

Welcome back.

Ms. McLENDON: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So, let me ask you guys about advice. Both of you must have tips for how other families can deal with this. Carol, if there's someone whose son or daughter just headed out and this is the first time they're really having to deal with that reality, what would you say is the first thing they should do to center themselves for having their loved one gone?

Ms. McLENDON: I think that a lot of times people always view the negative of the situation, you know. And you have to realize that negatives can happen here, you know? You have to look at this as the glass half-full instead of the glass half-empty and know that - feel confident that your child is doing something worthwhile and that they will return to you. Send them out with a smile. Don't, you know, put that heavy burden on them.

You know, I prayed so hard that Misty would not be deployed and - to Kuwait the first time. And finally, I was just so worn out from praying until I finally said, okay, God, your will, not mine, you know, if you want her to go. Do you know that I was on my way to work, and the moment I said that and released her, she called me and said, mom, I'm being deployed, and she was deployed immediately, you know, and it was because I gave it up, you know?

And so, I would say, you know, instead of worrying about it and hating it and thinking, oh, this is terrible, this is terrible. I mean, let go. Let go and let God handle it, you know, and they're going to be okay. Because if you're worried and all distraught, then your child is feeling that, especially if this is a child that really loves you. They're feeling that, oh, my God, my mom is so annoying and she's coming unglued and, you know - you know, and that's more on their plate.

When they're over there, they need to be aware of what's going on around them. They need to know that, you know - they need to be - they need to know that you're okay, so that they can be okay.

CHIDEYA: Mm-hmm. And, Sergeant, from your perspective dealing with your sister on the peer-level or dealing with friends, maybe friends from high school, and having walked that road to go overseas, what advice would you give?

Sgt. McLENDON: Just - you know, I will just echo what my mom said. You just have to be extremely supportive. And if you're going, you just have to be in the right mindset. It's really hard to deal with it if you have a lot of like tumultuous situations going on at home. It's hard if you have a lot of problems because it weighs down on you and then you feel helpless because you're gone, and you're trying to handle that and handle at home. So, you know, whenever you talk to people, you try and keep it light. I'm not saying don't bring up, but, you know, problems. But try and keep it light and keep them comfortable, and just to take their mind off of it sometimes because it's - if you get (unintelligible) rhythm, it's monotonous, everything - the same things happen every day. And so, you know, it's easy to become complacent.

CHIDEYA: Do you ever - how do you feel about making promises - very quickly -do you feel that you should say, oh, I'm going to write or I'm going to call or don't make those promises in case you break them?

Sgt. McLENDON: I would say don't make those promises. Well, you can say I will write, too, but, you know, that (unintelligible) it was like you have to. If you're going to say it, do it because people eventually look forward to those, like a lot of people love their letters and the cards…

Ms. McLENDON: That's right.

Sgt. McLENDON: …and the packages. And just to (unintelligible) contact. So if you're going to do it, I just say do it. It - say you're going to do it once or twice, but, you know, don't keep saying you're going to do it and never come through. Because, you know, you do expect it because you miss people when you're gone. You miss them more than you would ever realize you would miss them. So…

CHIDEYA: Well, I just want to thank you both for sharing your time with us. And have a wonderful holiday to you and to D'Ambe.

Sgt. McLENDON: Thank you.

Ms. McLENDON: Thank you. And you have a wonderful holiday. And thank you for having us.

CHIDEYA: We've been speaking with Sgt. Misty McLendon with the Army Reserves, she lives in Las Vegas, and her mother, Carol McLendon, joined me from member station KNPR, in Las Vegas.

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