How to Cope When a Family Member is Deployed Overseas

Military families face the unique anxiety of coping with the possibility of losing a loved one while experiencing the absence of that person. Children can be affected.

One mother shared her wisdom on how she coped when her husband was deployed to Iraq.

“Madison, you need to go back to bed now,” Melissa Blanco told her three-year-old daughter.

“But, I miss my Daddy,” she answered.

Madison’s father, Captain Chris Blanco, is a member of the 81st Brigade, Washington State Army National Guard. He was fighting for freedom in Iraq, and it would be a year before he came back home.

According to the Pentagon, some 158,000 American soldiers are serving in Iraq right now.

"When my husband joined the National Guard after college, as a 2nd Lieutenant, I never thought that he would actually go to war," stated Melissa Blanco.

Blanco is a minister with Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) Intl., and came up with thoughtful ways to ease her children's and her own worries.

The following day, she took her two small children to the mall to find a special toy they could hug each time they wanted their father.

"Our expedition led us to the Hallmark store where we found a stuffed teddy bear, wearing an army uniform. It was soft enough to sleep with, sturdy enough to play with, and cuddly enough to squeeze when we were really sad."

Madison named it "Daddy Bear."

Madison took the bear with her to church, camping, and to bed. The bear provided comfort to Madison in the long months until her father returned.

The family also put M&M's into a jar that equaled the number of days their dad was expected to be away. Each day the children would take out one M&M to count down the days, so they could tell when he was coming home, said Blanco.

"They were young so they didn't really understand how long he'd be gone, so those were the things that helped them," she added.

Blanco emphasized that it was very important to have the support of the extended family.

"Another is to stay involved in your family. They can help you in the event that something happens," she said. "They helped me with childcare and just being there. It's nice to have people to eat dinner with occasionally and to celebrate birthdays and holidays."

Captain Chris Blanco was gone 16 months, a year overseas plus four months training at Ft. Louis, Wash.

Melissa Blanco advised against watching the television because of the negative news coverage. To her, keeping the house positive was important, she said.

"One suggestion is not to watch the news because media coverage is very negative, and I usually read the paper in the morning but other than that, I tried to keep my house really positive," she said. "My children weren't allowed to watch the news. When the news is reporting that soldiers are being killed, they can't differentiate their dad from others."

Blanco said she supports her husband 100 percent. "If he's over there, I'm gonna support him no matter what."

She believes faith and prayers protected him. Both the Catholic Church she attends and her child's pre-school were very supportive.

The church taped up pictures of deployed soldiers on a bulletin board.

"We had a strong support system in the Church – a lot of people praying for him," she said. "My daughter went to a Christian pre-school and just the prayers and support from her teachers were amazing."

"I think it would've been a lot more difficult if I hadn't had faith and believed that he would've been protected."

Chris Blanco carried a Bible and attended mass as often as he could whiel he was away. The family is now back home in Washington state, and Chris Blanco is once again working for the National Guard.