I let the balmy breeze momentarily brush away my thoughts as I watch my son playing with his “uncle”, Jay. Hudson’s little legs run as fast as they can while his uncle exaggerates the pursuit in slow motion. Squeals of glee rip through the air when he’s swept up into his uncle’s arms. His ruddy cheeks get peppered with kisses.
His uncle, our friend, leaves for deployment later this week. Jay’s been an integral part of our Navy journey and a constant in our lives from the start - gathering at our house for Family Fridays during Navy A school, holding his first newborn (aka baby Hudson), and exploring the beaches together of this beautiful island we temporarily call home.
My sweet toddler is too young to know what the outpour of affection is for but gingerly and wholeheartedly embraces the attention. I watch his uncle shower him with love that’s been tenderly stocked up for this occasion. Knowing deep down Hudson might not remember it past this evening but his uncle will carry these moments in the pockets of his heart and mind.
I give my husband's hand a gentle squeeze to bring his attention to the scene that’s been playing out in front of us. He looks down at our hands, then up at me as I attempt to direct him with my eyes.
Minutes later, with Hudson on his shoulders and the two of them glistening in the setting sun, they make their way back to us. Jay’s smile wavers as he kneels slightly so I can lift Hudson from his shoulders. I can sense we’re all thinking about the “see you laters” that await us in the parking lot at the end of the night.
We all head towards the restaurant in silence. My husband, a man uncomfortable with long pauses and quiet, obstructs the somber mood from escalating by saying, “Now get this …” and he launches into an obscure story that all the guys are enthralled in. I half listen and miss the jokes that cause waves of laughter at our table.
Beers are ordered, appetizers are devoured, and stories popcorn around the group over dinner. Still, half listening I tend to Hudson making sure he’s drinking enough water and eating various items on his plate (read: not just french fries soaked in ketchup). Through the window, I see that last bit of sunset, when everything is hanging onto the last bits of golden warmth. Blink, and it’s over. The sky turns to dull pastels in haste.
In a way, that’s how I envision deployment. Clinging to the last glowy, warm moments together before life turns dull + drained for months on end.
We’ve yet to experience one, but I know it’s coming.
My mind is now overcome by the thought of deployments. I can’t help but think about the day when my husband will be the one leaving.
How will we tell Hudson?
What questions will he ask me that I don’t have the answers to?
How can we talk about feelings + ways of coping without it feeling forced?
It will be the first deployment for all of us - an odd reassurance that we will all be figuring this out together. I feel tears swell in my eyes.
Laughter explodes at the table, jarring me out of the depths of my mind. Another round of drinks has been ordered, and everyone lifts their glasses toward Jay. My husband clears his throat as if to purge all hints of jokes + jesting and declares, “We love you, man. A round of drinks will be waiting for you when you get back.”
Glasses clink, smiles are feigned, and splashes of beer dapple the table with hints of citrus + bitter hops. With each empty glass that thuds the table, we’re minutes closer to the parking lot.
When my husband leaves, I know a parking lot will hold the final minutes together before a deployment. The pavement radiating the heat and the emotions. Swarms of families, companions, and loved ones all united in the moment while loneliness looms around the corner.
But for now, we walk to this parking lot and head home together.
Words by Courtnie Williams
A Child’s View of Military Deployment
Have you wondered what a military deployment is like from the eyes of children?
Have you thought about what they might be feeling, and do you question how to help them get through it?
We recognize that military family experiences can look pretty from the outside – and while the adventures are thrilling and the lessons valuable – the discomfort and grief of separation is real.
Holding light to this topic is a children’s book that Legacy Magazine is proud to highlight alongside our Editors’ Picks in Legacy Kids Magazine Vol III.
Based on Walker's personal experiences in a military family dealing with deployments, Daddy Left with Mr. Army helps both children and parents open a conversation about the time away.
Through rhyme and illustrations, this picture book shares the challenges of deployment but also the joys of serving the United States in the military.
Read aloud to your child and feel encouraged and inspired to move through the hard, challenging aspects of military life together.
Author Behind The Book “Daddy Left With Mr. Army”
Chandelle Walker is a Retired Army military spouse, mom, and award-winning author. In 2020, she was the AFI Fort Hood Spouse of the Year. She loves using her personal experiences as a military spouse to advocate for and help military families thrive during deployments and family separations.
Chandelle’s children have been ‘military brats’ since they were born and by the young ages of ten and seven, have gone through 4 year-long military deployments from their dad.
Chandelle’s reason behind writing her book is as follows:
“Four-year-long deployments from their dad was a lot of time of missed memories not shared together as a family. There really wasn't any children’s books I found to help them understand or relate to what they were going through. So, I decided to write my own book to share what our children and all military children experience through deployment or other military separations.
Many years later, in December 2018, during another year-long military separation, my story finally became a reality!
It was so amazing to see our experiences, heart, and story come to life in the words & illustrations of my special book, Daddy Left with Mr. Army. It has been a privilege to connect with so many other military families and see how my book has touched and helped their families through their own deployments.”
Now with over twenty years of experience as a military family, Chandelle is currently working on her second book.