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In 2014, I was a small, innocent four-year-old girl with an average family. We weren’t rich, but my parents were always able to provide everything I needed and more. My dad worked in the military and my mom managed a used-clothing store. My dad had never been deployed before, but that year he was. I didn’t understand much of it since I was only four, but my family had to adapt to it. In the house, it was only my mom, my half-sister, and me. We all lived in the house except for my half-sister, who lived with her mom.

We wouldn’t have been able to get through it all without the help of my dad’s family. My grandma watched me on weekends. She always made us dinner on Saturdays and took me to the farm on Sundays. My grandpa came to repair anything that was broken and snow blow our driveway in the winter. He loved to fix things and that helped my mom a lot. My uncle Nate happened to live across the street from us. He and his girlfriend helped my mom out when I got sick. I got pink eye and wasn’t able to go to daycare, so they watched me while my mom went to work. It was nice to have a lot of family members around to help us out.

We would send my dad care packages full of diet Mountain Dew, snacks, and pictures I colored. My mom and I called him on Skype all the time, and he would show us the pictures hung up on his wall. We would send him snacks to Afghanistan that wouldn’t make a huge mess when he opened them. My dad would send us stuff too! When he was in Afghanistan he had this minute, gold horse statue made for me. I can’t remember what it was made of, but it had lots of pretty colors on it. It also had gold chains on it that represented the reins on a saddle. I still have it to this day and it sits on my dresser. He also had flags flown over Afghanistan in honor of my mom and I, that he brought home to us. He also did this for my elementary school, when he deployed later on.

When we picked him up after the first time he deployed, I remember waking up that morning like it was a normal day. Instead, I was rushed into the car and we headed to pick him up. We patiently waited outside the building and multiple buses started pulling in. Men and women in uniform began scurrying out of the buses to find their loved ones. All of a sudden my mom gracefully walked up to some guy and gave him a hug and a kiss. She told me it was my dad, but I thought it was a hoax. My grandma proceeded to tell him, “Take your hat off so she can see your face.”

It was a day I’ll never forget.

In 2019, my dad deployed again, but to Iraq. This time it was a little bit easier because we had already gone through this situation before. We quickly got a routine down, and it was easier this time around as I was old enough to stay home by myself. The first time my dad deployed, I thought it was the end of the world and that he wasn’t coming back. I was too young to know any better. He was in Iraq when Covid started. It was scary, and my mom was super stressed out with work. Also, while Covid was going on, bases, where US forces were stationed, were attacked, including my dad. Thank God, he and his unit made it home safe both times. For that, I am forever grateful and I now understand how important family is.

© Alaina Bartels. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.