MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
By the time Father's Day rolls around next weekend, Marines from Camp LeJeune will have been away for nearly a month. They're in Afghanistan on combat mission in the heart of the Taliban insurgency. Back in North Carolina, their children are learning to get along without their dads.
NPR is following the deployment of one battalion, the two-eight. These Marines call themselves America's battalion.
Catherine Welch of member station WHQR spent time with two families on the home front.
CATHERINE WELCH: American flags dot the street that leads to the home of Sergeant Major Robert Breedan, the battalion's top enlisted man.
(Soundbite of knocking)
Ms. BARBARA BREEDAN: Hi.
WELCH: Mrs. Breedan?
Ms. B. BREEDAN: Yes?
WELCH: This is the first time we've met Barbara Breedan and her daughter Rebecca. But we've met Sergeant Major Breedan before on this program, right before his unit deployed to Afghanistan. He told us then how he missed almost every milestone in his daughter's life. His wife, Barbara, didn't miss a thing.
Ms. B. BREEDAN: He was gone when she was born. Then he left again when she was 11 months old. And what we did is we got a little recorder and he read all her books to her at night. So she knew who he was because I didn't want her to be afraid of him when he came home.
WELCH: Rebecca still has the photo of her dad that her mom tucked inside the crib when she was a baby. She's now a teenager. And dad, he's on his 13th deployment. Mom says they've just learned how to tough it out together.
Ms. B. BREEDAN: To us, it's normal, it's not anything new. It's - we help each other out while he's gone. And, well, it is. It's just normal for us. We manage.
WELCH: Each deployment, Rebecca picks up a new hobby to pass the time. Once she learned belly dancing, which she says really weirded out her dad.
Ms. REBECCA BREEDAN: This is my tattoo machine.
WELCH: For this deployment, she's learning how to tattoo, practicing on oranges and thinking about giving dad a tat when he returns.
Before he left, we met with the sergeant major and talked about a more serious subject: How the men protect their families from bad news. I played what he said back to them.
Sergeant Major ROBERT BREEDAN (United States Marine Corps): A lot of the more mature Marines and sailors they'll sit there and just say, hey things are going good here. You know, wives can see through it just by the tone of the communication.
Ms. B. BREEDAN: You can tell. You can tell when there's something going on. You can hear it in their voices.
Ms. R. BREEDAN: If you say it in a certain way, you know they're going to mean something different.
WELCH: Rebecca has talked with her dad already - remarkable, considering the family was bracing for no phone or even email. He told her Afghanistan is rusty and dusty and looks like Mars. All the years before there was instant communication, Barbara Breedan used photos and tapes of her husband to make sure he didn't come home a stranger to his daughter. Other moms are learning, too, that mailing photos and letters and Father's Day cards keeps families connected.
(Soundbite of a crowd)
WELCH: At a rec room on base, dozens of kids and mothers sit drawing and painting - a lot of flowers with petals made from child-size thumbprints. Ten-year-old Summer Joyner(ph) wrote a big Happy Father's Day on the front of her card.
Ms. SUMMER JOYNER: I tried to put purple messages in it because his favorite color is purple.
WELCH: Summer is one of Charmaine Joyner's(ph) six kids. They're all under 12. Their dad makes sure every letter he writes contains a paragraph that's just for each child. Charmaine steps outside to take a break from the card-making chaos.
Ms. CHARMAINE JOYNER: Well, we have a lot of pictures and, in fact, we went today and had some, like, developed so we could send him some of them. And we're constantly looking at them. Constantly flipping through the camera, you know, just to see him.
WELCH: Their six-year-old Amelia(ph) has a photo of her dad that she takes with her everywhere. For Charmaine Joyner, her daughter's solution isn't all that different than what Barbara Breedan discovered years ago. Both families have learned how to improvise normalcy when a father is away at war.
For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch.
NORRIS: And on the Web you can find other stories about the Marines from the two-eight and see photos of them and their families. You can find that at npr.org.
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