How Does Deployment Impact Soldiers' Kids?
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
So ten years since the start of the war in Afghanistan. That anniversary coming this Friday. It's a sobering number to think about, and that looming milestone prompted us to check back with someone we met on this program in 2007. Barbara Critchfield, then a counselor at Shoemaker High School in Kileen, Texas, home to Fort Hood. When I visited four years ago, Critchfield told me nearly all the kids in her school had at least one parent in the military. Many had been deployed repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and her weariness was clear.
BARBARA CRITCHFIELD: It's getting old. It needs to stop, you know? It would be so nice if it would stop and everybody would come home, but we just have to hang on, you know? I mean, that's - the kids just have to hang on.
BLOCK: Barbara Critchfield is still in Killeen, Texas. She's now a guidance counselor at Live Oak Ridge Middle School there. Barbara, welcome back to the program.
CRITCHFIELD: Thank you.
BLOCK: What's it like to hear that tape again four years later?
CRITCHFIELD: I still - we're hanging on, and it would be nice if it would end. It's a little different now being at the middle school, and it's a little different since it's gone on as long as it's gone, but it needs to end and we need to take up where our lives were before.
BLOCK: What do you think it means to the kids at your middle school that we're coming up on ten years of war?
CRITCHFIELD: I'm not sure really. These kids were, you know, two and four years old. They're, you know, now 12 and 14. They haven't really known anything but the war. I'm not sure they even remember life before the war, and I think it's become more of a way of life for them, for their parent to be gone to Afghanistan, Iraq, whatever.
BLOCK: That notion of not knowing anything but war for these middle school kids is really so striking. How do you see the impact of the deployments - the repeated deployments, on the lives of these kids?
CRITCHFIELD: With the middle school kids, we might see some grades dip from time to time when parents come and go. We have seen a lot of divorces and how they struggle or how they handle the divorces or the remarriages of their parent. You know, we also see a lot of parents returning with PTSD. That plays a big part, you know, in the - just the environment at home and how it feels and what's happening and what their parent goes through and how they react to certain things.
They might overreact, or react differently than what they used to, just, you know, because of the PTSD or because of what they've been through.
BLOCK: I wonder if there is one child's story there at the middle school that really stands out for you that symbolizes what they're going through right now.
CRITCHFIELD: Yeah. We had a sixth grader, his dad came home from Iraq and, you know, they all come to a central location, their own post, and the families are all there to meet them, and they have banners and signs and flowers and balloons, and, you know, it's a big deal. There was no one there to meet him.
BLOCK: The father?
CRITCHFIELD: The dad, right. You know, he decided he would take a cab over to his son's middle school, and when he got there, he found that his son was no longer enrolled in that middle school. So the dad takes another cab from that middle school to my middle school. And so we get his son up there to the office, and, you know, we're expecting - well, we were expecting it to be very different.
The dad questioned his son about why he wasn't in the other middle school where he was supposed to be, and the son proceeds to tell his dad that, well, we're living with so-and-so now and mommy's pregnant, and so-and-so's driving your truck.
CRITCHFIELD: Turns out so-and-so was one of dad's really good friends. No child should have to tell their dad that they haven't seen for a year, you know, what's going on in their lives and that be it. Dad, I think, came back like a couple days later and withdrew his son and took him to his home state to live with his grandparents.
BLOCK: Barbara, what keeps you going?
CRITCHFIELD: Sometimes I ask myself that. It's - I love the kids, you know, I support the military 110 percent. I don't know. I love what I do.
BLOCK: Well, Barbara Critchfield, it's really good to hear your voice again. Thanks so much.
CRITCHFIELD: Thank you, I appreciate it.
BLOCK: Barbara Critchfield is a guidance counselor at Live Oak Ridge Middle School in Killeen, Texas. That's home to Fort Hood. She's worked for decades with kids whose parents serve in the military. We first spoke with her four years ago.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.