The military lifestyle is a subculture under American society that often goes unnoticed. With military bases around the world, service members and their families make up a small and unique community of military suburbia. These families find normality in camouflage, frequent relocations, deployments and extended separation. While a soldier is off at war, their families are left to adapt in their absence. This story explores the Allen family and their dynamics afterr the patriarchal figure, Brad, leaves for a deployment in Afghanistan. Left behind in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, is his pregnant wife, Janitha, and their four kids Breeann, Jahanna, Lyddia and Kaleb. Janitha must now play the dual parenting role for the kids and take care of all responsibilities at home.
Brad and Janitha joke an laugh while their four children play in a nearby park. Brad is park of the 82 Airborne Division's 4 Bridage that is being deployed for six month. This will be his second tour of duty and will miss the birth of his fifth child. After they first arrived to Ft. Bragg, Brad immediately deployed, leaving his family alone in an unfamiliar location, making the first tour a difficult transition for the whole family. It was then that Janitha realized the importance of building a community and finding support.
Wearing matching camouflage pants and refusing to let go after a piggyback ride, Kaleb, 5, laughs with his father before a farewell dinner. Affected most during Brad's first deployment, Kaleb frequently lashed out in his behavior and often became easily emotional or frustrated over little things, but could not vocalize that he missed Brad.
Brad looks out the window while driving his family to a gear drop-off location before departing. Even during the first deployment, although he had a phone and more opportunities to stay in contact during the first deployment, Brad would try to keep as little contact with Janitha and his family. "May that's bad, but it make it easier," he said. During this deployment, Brad won't have a phone and internet access will be very limited.
Lyddia, 7, practices aiming while her father, Brad, hold up his assigned weapon during the family's last hour together before departing. Brad held up the gun as all four kids took turns looking through the scope and aiming. The exposure to weapons as this one is a normality within the military life.
Janitha playfully reaches through one of the locker holes to touch Brad's finger on the other side. Janitha's father was in the military and she witnessed his struggles to reintegrate into civilian life after deploying. She worries about Brad missing important moments in the kids' lives and especially the birth of their fifth child. Unlike the first deployment, the Allen family has found a community within the base and have a huge support from many other military families and their church. "This one is different because we didn't have anyone during the first one, which made it harder," Janitha said.
Breeann, 9, lies on her neighbor's driveway after playing outside with the other children in the neighborhood cul-de-sac. Of all the kids, Breeann expresses the most how much she misses Brad.
Breeann, 9, carries her half-asleep brother, Kaleb, up to his room after a late night of movies. As the oldest of the four children, Breeann has had to help her mother more with the little tasks that Brad would normally do, like carrying her brother up to bed. She is the older of the twins and is constantly trying to held out at home, "she's my little mama," Janitha said.
Janitha and the kids walk towards one of the neighborhood pools for the first swimming lesson of the summer. In an effort to keep the kids distracted from Brad's absence, Janitha tries to keep everyone involved in multiple activities at one time. She says keeping everyone busy, including herself, makes the time go by quicker and the military base offers and unlimited amount of activities for families to participate in.
(From left) Jahanna, 9, and her brother Kaleb, 5, arrange magnets on a refrigerator. The magnets are intended to help children of deployed parents express their emotions and were given to Janitha during a deployed families retreat in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Janitha attend seminars on who to cope and build communities with other spouses of deployed soldiers within Ft. Bragg. These retreats are offered frequently throughout the year to families during and after deployment as a chance to vacation find helpful resources.
Janitha warns the kids to be careful after they jumped over the neigh neighbor's fence to jump on the trampoline. Like most families, living on base, deployments are so frequent, that neighbors often build tightly knit relationships to offer support . Most of the time, children play outside with other military brats, so it's not uncommon for different houses to host a big group of kids for an afternoon as they play.
Shortly after Janitha leaves the room, Jahanna, 9, leaps across the bed of their hotel room as her siblings join in a quick game before bedtime. Though the kids have low points in Brad's absence, Janitha tries to keep a sense of normality for them, "they're happy kids."
Janitha walks alone along the shore, holding journals for the girls. The journals were intended to help children of deceased soldiers write their emotions, but she later decided not to give them to the girls. Janitha says she doesn't keep up with news about the war because it overwhelms her and causes her worry and stress. She is just graceful every time she gets a phone call or Facebook message from Brad.
James reacts to his father's voice while being weighed at the Womack Army medical Center in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Brad was able to connect from Afghanistan to Skype while his son was born, witness his first bath, weighing and feeding before have to disconnect. This is the only birth that Brad has missed and Janitha worries he will miss out on intimate moments of James' first months.
After screaming and cheering, Janitha and the kids run up to embrace Brad during a homecoming for his bridge in Ft. Bragg. After waiting for several hours, along with hundreds of other families, the Allen's were finally reunited. Janitha hid his arrival date from the children for days before surprising them that night. Brad held his new son for the first time and returned home with his family.