Monday, July 08, 2013

TOP STORY >> Base family’s burden of service

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Exhausted from another day of managing tantrums, diapers, laundry, dinner, baths and bedtime, Heather Drain finally sits down in her Cabot home.

She is free at last to enjoy the solitude that her labor has earned her. 

The refuge lasts nearly 10 minutes before her son, Ayden, gets up from bed. After a brief confrontation, he retreats back to his room, but not before waking 6-month-old Everett, who is ready for a feeding.

The frustration of even the smallest task or chore amplifies as each day passes. Rest comes in small increments, as most nights she is lucky to get just three hours of sleep. Her parental duties are a relentless cycle, and her day mirrors the military spouse lifestyle.

For Drain there are no typical days. Yet, each one seems like a rerun. It begins each morning when her young boys wake and ends when they fall asleep in the evening. In the four months that have passed since she said goodbye to her husband, Aaron, Drain has spent nearly every day and night caring for the couple’s sons.

Through all of the hardships, she insists that her biggest challenges have been neither physical nor mental. Instead her battles are being waged on an emotional front.

“The hardest part of being here, by myself, raising two boys, would be not having anyone around to experience the special moments and the things that your kids do, someone to share it with,” said Drain, whose husband has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

While she accepts that deployments are a way of life in the military, and in fact come with some benefits, it’s little consolation for the moments that will be missed out on as a family. Drain gave birth to the couple’s second child, Everett, just three weeks before her husband deployed.

This was the first of several changes she would have to prepare for, and deal with, on her own during the deployment.

“I prepared by kind of disconnecting myself a little bit,” said Drain. “I had to, to make it less emotional.”

The decision to disconnect was born, in part, from a flood of postpartum emotions.

“About halfway through the deployment I was able to get back to where I was before he left,” said Drain. “It was really hard because typically I’m not a super emotional person; I never really have been.

“I’m a pretty logical person, but after the baby came along, I was a whole new me. I couldn’t control any of it. It made it pretty difficult.”

While many of the changes occurring in her life were internal, others were very visible. She does her best to keep Aaron a part of the boys’ lives, however, webcams and video clips offer only a small measure of comfort to either parent.

“(Aaron) missed his first smile, his first laugh, rolling over,” said Drain. “He’s almost sitting up on his own now; he’ll miss a lot of firsts.”

Drain also achieved a few milestones of her own. After serving on active duty for eight years as an aerospace medical technician, she transitioned over to the Air Force Reserve in November. The move will allow her to become a stabilizing force at home.

“Ayden was just 2 when (Aaron) deployed the first time,” said Drain. “It took a long time for him to feel secure that his dad wasn’t just going to leave. It could be as simple as just walking out of the house or dropping him off at daycare. It became very difficult, and Ayden had a really hard time with that.

“If I were to deploy it would not be very good at all. His dad affects him so much being gone I can only imagine what would happen if I had to leave. So, the main factor of me getting out is just doing what’s best for my children,” she said.

With nearly two months to go, the deployment was beginning to reveal signs of fatigue in 4-year-old Ayden as well. Drain noted that she had observed some changes in the toddler’s behavior.

“Ayden had a few changes, negative changes, in his behavior after his dad left,” said Drain. “He started to get clingy, very, very clingy and would be violent if not given his way. Really anything would set him off.”

Drain credits her own military service in helping her appreciate the importance of the sacrifices her husband is making. However, she feels those sacrifices may have had detrimental effects on Ayden.

“He never really had a secure bond with his dad,” said Drain. “Aaron had missed the whole first year of (Ayden’s) life, due to the military. We were separated geographically at the time.

His whole second year he was with him, Aaron was in school. There really wasn’t much interaction. So, just this past year is the most interaction he’s had with his dad in all four years of his life.

So, for him to leave again, it set him back a little bit. There will be a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done.”

For now, Drain returns her attention to the task at hand. She carefully places Everett back in his swing and tries to slog through a few more chores. She briefly acknowledges this day, like many others, appeared to be a draw, and suggests that her time would be better spent resting for the day ahead.

In only a few short hours the cycle would begin again. It would inevitably be another exhausting day of laboring for those she loves. Still, it would be one day closer to Aaron’s return.

This is the second part of a three-part series. To see a video clip of this story, visit the Little Rock Air Force Base YouTube page at