Military Moms Mark Their Special Day Overseas

Hundreds of mothers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan will spend Mother's Day separated from their children. Eric Whitney of member station KRCC in Colorado Springs profiles some of the military mothers from Fort Carson who are stationed in the Middle East.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

Of course, this is Mother's Day when most moms, especially those with young children, would like to be with their families. That's not possible for the more than 500 mothers in the Army who are now deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Some of those mothers are based at Ft. Carson in Colorado. Eric Whitney of member station KRCC in Colorado Springs spoke with several about the challenges they face.

ERIC WHITNEY reporting:

When Lisa King got pregnant in 2004, she was a 21-year-old soldier based in Germany. The Army gives pregnant soldiers the option of leaving the service before they give birth, but King not only decided to stay in; she re-enlisted for a second four-year hitch, even though she knew at the time that it would virtually guarantee she'd spend at least a year in Iraq. King, who's a sergeant and a medic, arrived in Baghdad in March. Reached on a satellite phone borrowed from an officer, she says she doesn't regret her decision, but it's still difficult being away from her one-year-old son.

Sergeant LISA KING (US Army): Knowing that, one, I volunteered to miss things--missing my son get off the bottle or missing, you know, him saying my name, things that won't ever come back--missing his first things, that's the hardest.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

WHITNEY: The only things that Lisa's husband is missing are what happens at day care. Twenty-three-year-old Darne King is a full-time accounting student who lives in married enlisted housing on base. He, too, was a soldier when they decided to have a child. He left the military, Darnay says, in part because he had more college credits. Both of them returning to civilian life, he says, was not an option.

Mr. DARNE KING (Husband of Lisa King): `How would we support ourselves?' I guess would be my question to you. If we both got out, I think that'd been a real stupid decision in that case because--well, if we're going to start a family, we want to start it off right. And this way one of us can have an education, and then she can get out, and then she can get her education and we'll both live that dream life, the American Dream life, more or less.

WHITNEY: Having the American Dream in the future, the Kings say, means they have to sacrifice now. In today's volunteer Army, being a mother doesn't keep you out of harm's way. Army spokesperson Major Elizabeth Robbins is a mother herself.

Major ELIZABETH ROBBINS (US Army Spokesperson): The Army views a soldier as a soldier, and soldiers are deployed with their units to carry out their wartime mission.

WHITNEY: The Army still prohibits women from serving in smaller units whose primary function is direct ground combat. But female soldiers in Iraq commonly pull guard duty, go on patrols and operate the turret guns on Humvees. So far 37 Army women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of the war on terrorism; seven of them were mothers. But, Robbins points out, there are plenty of men in uniform who've left kids at home, too.

Maj. ROBBINS: About 43 percent of our deployed soldiers are fathers, and about 3 percent of our deployed soldiers are mothers. And I think it is equally hard for our fathers as for our mothers to be away from their children.

WHITNEY: But just as women are now sharing the hardships that men at war have faced for centuries, they're also getting access to the benefits of a military career. That includes housing and health care for their families and leadership training and advancement. And there are plenty of women who just plain like being soldiers.

Sergeant AMY PERKINS (US Army): If I didn't have kids, I probably wouldn't even bother coming back to the States.

WHITNEY: Sergeant Amy Perkins is in Baghdad, too. She's a 30-year-old single mother whose twin six-year-olds are staying with Grandma while she's overseas. She says she feels a little guilty saddling her mom with the kids while she gets to do what she loves in Iraq.

Sgt. PERKINS: Frankly, I do enjoy deploying. I enjoy being in a different place. I like the job. I love the job.

WHITNEY: Perkins says she does miss her twins, but she's in touch with them regularly via letters, phone calls and e-mail. The Army works hard to facilitate modern communication because knowing that everybody's OK back home reduces soldiers' stress and allows them to focus on the task at hand. Sergeant Perkins says it makes for some funny moments when battle-hardened soldiers get a videotape from home and pop it in a shared VCR.

Sgt. PERKINS: And you see all these people, you know, who just come back from the field, and they've still got their camouflage on, you know, and they've still got full battle ...(unintelligible). The first thing they did was stop in the mail room, come running in with their rifle and what have you, just sitting there watching their kids, and everybody's sitting there crying. `Oh, aren't they cute? Oh.'

WHITNEY: Sergeant Lisa King, who left her one-year-old son with his father back in Colorado, is in regular contact with her family. Last year her husband gave her a day at the spa for Mother's Day. This year, she says, won't be quite as luxurious.

Sgt. KING: On days that are special, I work all day and I keep myself busy all day, so I don't think about it. So on that day I'm going to be really busy, so I don't have time to sit and think about anything.

WHITNEY: For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Colorado Springs.

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