National Guard Family Adjusts to Deployment

There are 35,000 National Guard troops currently serving in Iraq, a quarter of the U.S. military. When husbands and wives are deployed overseas, the families left behind cope with their absence differently. Monica Brady-Myerov of member station WBUR in Boston introduces us to one National Guard family and how they're managing.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There are currently more than 35,000 National Guardsmen and -women serving in Iraq. The National Guard Bureau says they make up about one-quarter of the U.S. fighting force there. In a few minutes, we're going to check in with a guardsman we met over the summer. He's just reenlisted, this time to go to Afghanistan.

First, Monica Brady-Myerov of member station WBUR has a report that gives us a sense of what families go through during a deployment.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: This is the sound staff sergeant Jim Scanlin dreams of hearing.

(Soundbite of children)

BRADY-MYEROV: It's his older daughter, Autumn, playing basketball on the new blacktop he laid down in his backyard before leaving for a year-long deployment in Iraq.

Ms. AUTUMN SCANLIN: We just got like this court, like, my dad made it. Now we're going to play when he gets back.

BRADY-MYEROV: Autumn is tall and athletic. She plays basketball, soccer, and baseball. Usually, her dad is at every game, but he's missed each one since he left the Boston suburb of Waltham almost six months ago. He's part of the 1060th National Guard transportation company. Eleven-year-old Autumn imagines him in a different scenario.

Ms. SCANLIN: I think of it as like a long year of business trip. I don't think of it that he's like in Iraq because it's easier.

BRADY-MYEROV: In civilian life, Jim Scanlin is a short haul truck driver. Now he's in Baghdad in the Green Zone, helping map out trucking routes for supply deliveries to American troops. Back home, his wife Karen says she now has a different perspective on life.

Mrs. KAREN SCANLIN: Like when he comes home, I think - we say we're going to do more things as a family. Not that we didn't, but you know, not so stressed out. Like have more fun, just living life instead of just, you know, letting life live you.

BRADY-MYEROV: Karen says her daughters are dealing with their father's absence differently. The older of the two, Autumn, doesn't get emotional about it, but it's affecting seven-year-old Amber every day.

Mrs. SCANLIN: She seems to be more clingy. She's more afraid of stuff. She's more obsessed with death. I don't know if it's a stage she's going through, and she cries a lot. Like she misses, like she'll get sad a lot easier.

BRADY-MYEROV: Amber says she's afraid her father will be gone so long that she'll forget him.

Ms. AMBER SCANLIN: Like I really miss him that much. A lot.

BRADY-MYEROV: Missing her two front teeth, Amber is sometimes hard to understand.

Ms. SCANLIN: I can remember him because - I remember a lot of stuff about him like when he was at the park with me.

BRADY-MYEROV: Every couple of days, Jim emails from Iraq and calls when he can.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Mrs. SCANLIN: Hello? Jim, I'm going to put you on speaker, okay?

Ms. SCANLIN: Dad?

Sergeant JIM SCANLIN: Hey, Autumn, how are you?

Ms. SCANLIN: Good. Can I get - Can we please set up my basketball hoop?

BRADY-MYEROV: On the phone, the family keeps him tied into daily events, like replacing the old basketball hoop with a new one they just bought.

Sergeant SCANLIN: Hon, I told you that it's up to your mom in the end, and as long as somebody can help her do it, that's fine.

BRADY-MYEROV: While some parents get tired of driving their kids to swim meets, hockey games and school play rehearsals, Sergeant Scanlin pines for those routines of family life.

Sergeant SCANLIN: It is the little things and you know, I wish I was home now helping Autumn and Amber put together the basketball hoop that they've got.

BRADY-MYEROV: Compared to other military families who sometimes struggle financially and emotionally with a deployment, the Scanlins are doing well, something they attribute to a strong network of family and friends.

Jim Scanlin was on active duty for 11.5 years in the Air Force and Navy. He joined the National Guard four years ago to work towards his military pension. He and his wife Karen knew a deployment to Iraq was likely. She's not happy that he's over there, but neither of them regrets the decision.

Mrs. SCANLIN: It made us stronger. It made me a strong person. It made me realize what people take for granted, what you have. For us, I think this was the best thing.

BRADY-MYEROV: Karen Scanlin says the deployment is a test of marriage and family.

For NPR News, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov in Boston.

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