Like the song says, 'there's no place like home for the holidays" ... but for many service members this is not an option. Many of them will be deployed and away from home. They won't pick out a tree and decorate it with their children, they won't come together with their friends and families for a celebration dinner and they won't be opening presents underneath the tree.
For SMSgt Kristen Stanley, public affairs superintendent for the 128th Air Refueling Wing, missing the holidays because of her military commitment has happened 3 of the past 4 years.
December 2, 2017 - U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kristen Stanley and her family open gifts from the USO of Wisconsin after a sendoff ceremony at General Mitchell Air Field in Milwaukee, WI. For some Airmen, this will be their first time away from their families as they embark on this deployment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Kellen Kroening)
In 2013 she served as First Sergeant during a two-month rotation in Guam for the Theater Security package. In 2015 she spent the holidays deployed as first sergeant with seven hundred and fifty aircraft maintenance airmen assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. Last Christmas she celebrated in Djibouti, Africa while assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
Military obligations prevented Stanley from physically being with her family for the holidays but she didn't let it stop her from celebrating with them through creative measures.
"Technology makes it easier to stay connected. With video chat I've been able to watch my kids open their Christmas presents on Christmas morning even though I'm in a totally different time zone." said Stanley.
"Last Christmas our family celebrated in October prior to my departure. After watching a Green Bay Packer win on TV we called the kids upstairs to surprise them with a lit Christmas tree and presents."
Christmas of 2017 is looking much different for Sergeant Stanley but military obligation is still weighing in. Her oldest son who is currently at Air Force basic training will graduate just days before Christmas. She will fly down to meet up with her Air Force veteran parents to witness him become the next generation Airman.
"Ironically the Air Force almost had me away from home again this Christmas but I've arranged it so that I will fly back to be with the rest of my family on Christmas Eve."
The merriment of the holidays will be bitter sweet as the stress of deployment will hit the Stanley home again soon. TSgt Chad Stanley, her husband is scheduled to deploy early in the year for a 6 month tour in Southwest Asia.
A send- off ceremony was held during December's regular scheduled drill weekend to recognize those that have answered the Nation's call to duty and will depart for areas around the globe.
"During his deployment I'll be looking to the support services that are offered to the families of deployed service members. This will be a bit of a role reversal for me as the parent that is left back at home." Stanley said.
Like many military organizations the 128th Air Refueling Wing has programs set up to aid families during these stressful times. Yellow Ribbon and Strong Bonds programs help families pre, during and post deployment. Through these programs members and their families learn resiliency skills and have time away to enjoy each other's company.
"The family strong bonds program has been a beneficial way for our kids to open up about how deployment affect them. They let us know what we can do as a community effort to support them through the difficulties." remarks Stanley.
Not everyone will be home for the holidays but with creativity and flexibility the holiday spirit can be enjoyed wherever you are. These are the sacrifices that are made by service member and their families for the defense of the Nation.
By U.S. Air National Guard Master Sgt. Kellen Kroening
Provided through DVIDS
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