Love and duty: Mil­i­tary fam­i­lies face sac­ri­fices on home front

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Gary Emerling

On a crisp fall af­ter­noon, 9-yearold Vir­ginia Bul­ger takes a lit­tle in­field prac­tice from Daddy out­side Hern­don El­e­men­tary School in Hern­don,Va.Sh­es­mooth­ly­catches a few short tosses and bob­bles a few, too.

“I can do bet­ter when Mommy throws it,” she yells to her fa­ther, Maj. Pa­trick Bul­ger.

An­other such fa­ther-daugh­ter mo­ment is not likely to be re­peated for a year.

Maj. Bul­ger, 39, is among about 500 mem­bers of the Vir­ginia Army Na­tional Guard called to ac­tive duty in sup­port of a NATO-led in­ter­na­tional force to main­tain se­cu­rity in Kosovo.

Mil­i­tary fam­i­lies face daily chal­lenges that are for­eign to most civil­ians. The Wash­ing­ton Times re­cently spent sev­eral days with the Bul­gers and two other mil­i­tary fam­i­lies. Th­ese are their sto­ries.

Maj. Bul­ger, a staff gen­eral of­fi­cer with the 29th Di­vi­sion of the Vir­ginia Army Na­tional Guard, co­or­di­nates lo­gis­tics and serves as an as­sis­tant to his task force com­man­der, Brig. Gen. Douglas B. Earhart. He will re­turn home for a brief pe­riod over Easter, but his de­ploy­ment to Kosovo is sched­uled to last un­til next Novem­ber.

Maj. Bul­ger’s wife, Court­ney, is man­ag­ing the home front alone as their blonde and bois­ter­ous daugh­ters — Vir­ginia and 6-year-old Emma—go­to­school,par­tic­i­patein Girl Scouts and grow a year older in his ab­sence.

Maj. Bul­ger is acutely aware of how the de­ploy­ment pulls at his al­le­giances.

“They’ve been pay­ing me since col­lege to get ready to do some­thing like this, so I feel it’s the right thing to do,” says Maj. Bul­ger, a project con­trol an­a­lyst at Science Ap­pli­ca­tions In­ter­na­tional Corp., who at­tended the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia on an ROTC schol­ar­ship. “Then you call home, and there’s a fight over home­work. You feel like a mis­er­able slug be­cause you’re not there to me­di­ate that.”

The de­ploy­ment, the ma­jor’s first in 16 years with the Na­tional Guard, will test his met­tle in a dan­ger­ous re­gion. It also will test the strength of his fam­ily at home.

“It’s a ‘Catch 22’ for a wife when you see your hus­band the hap­pi­est he’s been in 12 years of mar­riage, but it’s also go­ing to be the hard­est thing on us,” Mrs. Bul­ger, 39, says.

The en­er­getic mother also man­ages busi­ness re­la­tions for Fair­fax County (Va.) Pub­lic Schools and hopes to run for po­lit­i­cal of­fice one day.

In her hus­band’s ab­sence, Mrs. Bul­ger must as­sume all of the du­ties in their 50-50 part­ner­ship, in­clud­ing Maj. Bul­ger’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of cook­ing din­ner and shop­ping for gro­ceries.

De­spite such changes, the Bul­gers don’t ex­pect his as­sign­ment in Kosovo to cre­ate the sort of fi­nan­cial hard­ships en­dured by many other fam­i­lies of the nearly 80,000 Army Guard and Re­serve troops now de­ployed.

The Bul­ger home

Mrs. Bul­ger hired a live-in au pair to help get the two girls to school and to ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, such as Brown­ies and dance class.

She also found some pos­i­tives in the try­ing sit­u­a­tion, in­clud­ing the op­por­tu­nity to forge deeper re­la­tion­ships with her daugh­ters — which might not be so easy.

“I [now] have to be 100 per­cent the love source,” Mrs. Bul­ger says. “But I also have to be 100 per­cent the dis­ci­plinar­ian.”

On a quiet evening soon af­ter Maj. Bul­ger’s de­par­ture, the Bul­ger home ap­pears to be a pic­ture of nor­mal.

Emma and Vir­ginia di­vide their time be­tween home­work and the Dis­ney Chan­nel, while Mrs. Bul­ger ful­fills a din­ner re­quest by grilling steaks.

Mrs. Bul­ger, who says her hus­band calls ev­ery day, is happy to know he is in­ter­ested in the de­tails of their ev­ery­day lives.

Still, the worry is ap­par­ent in her tone.

“I try to stay as busy as I can,” she says. “The hard­est time is week­ends and fam­ily time.”

And hol­i­days. For Hal­loween, the girls’ god­par­ents took them trick-or-treat­ing, with Emma dressed as a witch and Vir­ginia, a self-de­scribed “Army brat,” in full cam­ou­flage.

For Thanks­giv­ing, Maj. Bul­ger wasn’t there to carve the turkey. The fam­ily in­stead had din­ner at the home of a friend.

“It’s hard to be with­out Daddy,” says Vir­ginia, look­ing at the empty couch in the fam­ily’s liv­ing room. “I miss him sit­ting right there watch­ing foot­ball and hid­ing the re­mote from him.”

Mrs. Bul­ger, with the help of fam­ily and friends, tries to main­tain the rou­tine of sports ac­tiv­i­ties, home­work and hikes.

“We’re Team Bul­ger,” she says. “We kind of laugh, but the three girls — we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna sur­vive.”

John­nie and Tami

The mar­riage of Army Mas­ter Sgt. John­nie F. Hil­lis and Sgt. Tami Reiman is far from one of con­ve­nience.

“We’re used to chang­ing time­lines,” says Sgt. Reiman, 32, sit­ting in an empty class­room on the grounds of Fort Meade, where she and her hus­band are sta­tioned. “It’s part of your lifestyle.”

In­deed, Sgt. Hil­lis, a broad­shoul­dered mil­i­tary po­lice of­fi­cer, has been de­ployed nine times in 16 years.

Sgt. Reiman, a farmer’s daugh­ter who teaches edit­ing at the De­fense In­for­ma­tion School at Fort Meade, has been in the mil­i­tary for 12 years. That in­cludes a mis­sion to Iraq.

The cou­ple met in a mil­i­tary course at Fort Car­son, in Colorado. She sat be­hind him in class. Their first date: a drive around a lake and a meal from Quizno’s, topped off by ice cream.

“We just started talk­ing,” says Sgt. Hil­lis, 36. “It took like four or five months, be­cause she’s re­ally shy.”

Their five years to­gether, in­clud­ing three as hus­band and wife, have seen sac­ri­fices and com­pro­mises — ones that civil­ians might find hard to un­der­stand.

To be sta­tioned to­gether at Fort Meade, Sgt. Hil­lis ac­cepted a de­ploy­ment to South Korea with the 728th Mil­i­tary Po­lice Bat­tal­ion, which ran the se­cu­rity mis­sion in the south­ern sec­tor of the coun­try. He left shortly af­ter the cou­ple’s wed­ding — a mod­est event at the court­house in El­li­cott City, Md. — and was over­seas for most of the first year of their mar­riage.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing re­la­tion­ship be­cause you sort of have to give a lit­tle, get a lit­tle,” Sgt. Hil­lis says.

That’s a pat­tern. The Fort Meade as­sign­ment was to ben­e­fit Sgt. Reiman’s ca­reer. Sgt. Hil­lis’ next as­sign­ment will take him to Sergeants Ma­jor Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he will be trained in up­per-level man­age­ment and placed in line for a pro­mo­tion.

Sgt. Reiman’s next as­sign­ment looks as if it will send her to Fort Ste­wart in Ge­or­gia, where the cou­ple ini­tially had been as­signed to­gether. But both are op­ti­mistic the or­ders will change and that they won’t be sep­a­rated.

“It would sort of stink if she were to go to Ge­or­gia, and I’m in Texas,” Sgt. Hil­lis says. “We’d have to have two sep­a­rate house­holds.”

When Sgt. Reiman re­turned in the sum­mer from spend­ing 63 days in Iraq teach­ing a course in pub­lic af­fairs to Iraqi of­fi­cers, her hus­band was de­part­ing for classes at Fort Bliss. They saw each other for five days in Texas, while Sgt. Reiman was re­turn­ing her gear.

“Ev­ery time we go and leave, she cries. She makes me cry,” Sgt. Hil­lis says. “But I’m not go­ing to slow down her ca­reer.”

More than 2,800 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, ac­cord­ing to the De­fense De­part­ment. The sound of mor­tar shells ex­plod­ing in the dis­tance didn’t faze Sgt. Reiman when she was there. Miss­ing her hus­band did.

“It is tough,” Sgt. Reiman says. “You have to have strong com­mu­ni­ca­tion. That was the key for us, be­ing able to talk.”

To help pass the time dur­ing her de­ploy­ment, Sgt. Hil­lis re­mod­eled their four-bed­room house in Glen Burnie. Sgt. Reiman had

bought it dur­ing her hus­band’s time in South Korea.

“I try to im­press her still,” Sgt. Hil­lis says. “It’s al­ways good to im­press your wife. Then she’ll keep you.”

And while he was at Fort Bliss, she pa­pered walls and re­placed cab­i­nets. The cou­ple ex­pects the re­mod­el­ing to be com­pleted by this month and plans to sell the house be­fore their next move.

Their home rep­re­sents a per­sonal life not touched by the mil­i­tary. The cou­ple chose to move off base with a com­bined al­lot­ment of $2,700 per month for hous­ing else­where.

A photo of the cou­ple at Lake Ta­hoe is a re­minder of the day Sgt. Hil­lis pro­posed.

“You ap­pre­ci­ate the time you have to­gether,” Sgt. Reiman says. “Even if it is only a day.”

The Galvins

It’s tough for Sgt. Pa­trick Galvin’s wife, Jolyn, and their three chil­dren when he is de­ployed, even by mil­i­tary stan­dards.

Sgt. Galvin, 35, is as­sis­tant fire chief at An­drews Air Force Base, and his de­ploy­ments of­ten land him in the heart of dan­ger.

Last year, he was de­ployed with five oth­ers from the An­drews fire sta­tion for haz­ardous-ma­te­ri­als op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan and Qatar. That de­ploy­ment, from Jan­uary un­til May, was his eighth over­seas mis­sion in 14 years.

“It’s hard with hav­ing the kids and where he goes,” Mrs. Galvin, 33, says. “There’s al­ways the worry that if some­thing hap­pens, how do I ex­plain that to the kids? You just don’t dwell on it.”

Eldest child Pa­trick — or “P” as his mother calls him — was di­ag­nosed at 8 with high-func­tion­ing autism. Pa­trick is now 12, and the only signs of the neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der are a se­ri­ous na­ture and a not-so-un­usual aver­sion to home­work.

“School­work is hard for him be­cause he gets bored very eas­ily,” Mrs. Galvin says. “His easy read­ing is en­cy­clo­pe­dias.”

Pa­trick speaks slowly and dis­tinctly when talk­ing about Dad’s de­ploy­ments, made some­what eas­ier by the tech­nol­ogy of video e-mails.

“It’s kind of hard. I worry about him,” says Pa­trick, whose up­stairs bed­room is lined with Trans­form- ers toys. “But I try to make the best of it. I play and try to keep it off my mind.”

He also helps in his role as big brother to Vic­to­ria — a bub­bly 4year-old with her mother’s big, brown eyes — and Joey, the cou­ple’s 9-year-old mid­dle child, who has Down syn­drome.

“When Joey wouldn’t lay still for an EKG, Pa­trick took his hand and said, ‘Lay still, and you’ll be done,’ ” Mrs. Galvin says. “He did.”

Joey’s health prob­lems have been the Galvins’ big­gest chal­lenge, but the sit­u­a­tion also made the fam­ily strong and close.

A gan­gly boy with a sweet smile, Joey had open-heart surgery to re­pair a miss­ing wall when he was 6 months old. A feed­ing tube, an oxy­gen tank and about 10 surg­eries later, he is as ac­tive as other chil­dren his age and gladly shows off his sur­gi­cal scars.

Ar­riv­ing home from school, Joey rushes into the open arms of Mrs. Galvin and his sib­lings, then sheds his jacket and changes into his fa­vorite di­nosaur shirt.

Joey, Pa­trick and Vic­to­ria seem to play well to­gether, whether it’s bat­ting prac­tice in the back yard or chas­ing a tiny rab­bit that has made its own home be­hind the Galvins’ house.

“So­ci­ety has made it that you say ‘men­tally re­tarded’ and it’s such a bad thing,” says Mrs. Galvin, who is a class­room aide for dis­abled stu­dents at nearby Tan­gle­wood Re­gional Cen­ter.

“They’re still peo­ple,” she says. “They still have feel­ings and want to be loved like any­one else. Some­times, peo­ple put the dis­abil­ity be­fore their be­ing a child.”

Mil­i­tary life, with all its sac­ri­fices, also has helped the Galvins care for Joey. The gov­ern­ment cov­ers the bulk of the hospi­tal bills, and liv­ing on the base cre­ates a net­work of friends, co-work­ers and neigh­bors.

Joey’s heart surgery alone would have cost the Galvins more than $250,000. In­stead, they paid roughly $250.

When doc­tors said the wood floorsi­nan­ear­lier­base­home­would have to be re­placed with car­pet to ac­com­mo­date Joey’s phys­i­cal ther­apy,main­te­nance­crews­com­pliedat no cost to the fam­ily.

“It’s been a huge re­lief,” Mrs. Galvin says.

Still, the Galvins, like other mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, pay a dif­fer­ent sort of price.

“What seems to be get­ting harder for me is be­ing away from the chil­dren, miss­ing the birth­days and stuff like that, watch­ing them grow up,” Sgt. Galvin says. “That seems to be get­ting harder, go­ing away each time.”

“This is our life,” Mrs. Galvin adds. “You learn to kind of grin and bear and ad­just.”

Maj. Pa­trick Bul­ger, 39, got to spend some time with daugh­ter Emma, 6, at her sis­ter’s soft­ball game at Hern­don El­e­men­tary School. Left be­hind when he went to Kosovo, Mrs. Bul­ger and their two daugh­ters have united as “Team Bul­ger.”

Nancy Pas­tor / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Sis­ters Emma, 6, and Vir­ginia Bul­ger, 9, got a big hug Oct. 8 from their fa­ther, Maj. Pa­trick Bul­ger of the Vir­ginia Army Na­tional Guard at Wash­ing­ton Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Maj. Bul­ger was ar­riv­ing home af­ter two months in In­di­anapo­lis, where he was trained for de­ploy­ment to Kosovo. Maj. Bul­ger spent one week at home be­fore ship­ping out.

Maya Alleruzzo / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Jolyn Galvin shares a mommy mo­ment in May with daugh­ter Vic­to­ria, 4, at home on An­drews Air Force Base. Her hus­band, Air Force Sgt. Pa­trick Galvin, was de­ployed to Qatar at the time. The Galvins also have two sons with health prob­lems.

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