Military families face a unique and difficult set of challenges. Service members with kids quickly learn that a predictable family routine is one of many things they need to sacrifice in the name of duty. While advances in communications technology have allowed military dads to keep in touch with family members half a world away, they’re still, well, half a world away. They miss the daily occurrences other fathers take for granted. Like watching their kids savage a bowl of Cheerios. Or consoling them after they strike out in Little League. These fathers must work harder to be part of their children’s — and spouse’s — lives.
Fatherly spoke to a variety of military dads about their service, their families, and how they managed to balance the two. Here, U.S. Army Reserve Sergeant Francis Horton and co-host of the military and politics podcast What a Hell of a Way to Die reflects on staying in regular touch with his family from a base thousands of miles away.
I went to Afghanistan in 2004, when I was 20, and I went to Iraq in 2009 when I was 26. I’m 34 now. My child’s only two-and-a-half. I haven’t had any deployments while I’ve had a kid. I have done trainings that have been a couple weeks long. Last year, I went to Japan for a couple of weeks. I’ve definitely done military trainings in places where it’s hard to get a signal out sometimes and communicate home.
My last deployment, we had kind of a unique situation in which the internet that we had in our rooms we all paid into and set up a satellite that we all used. But at our office, we had our own connection that wasn’t filtered by the military. And it was a very strong one, too. So we were able to go in early in the morning and do Skype calls.
We didn’t advertise that because we would’ve had a huge line, but I know a lot of parents specifically got up at six in the morning to go up to the trailer and jump on one of the computers. They’d log in to Skype because 6 a.m. for us was usually late afternoon for people at home.
Luckily, these days it’s not as bad as it used to be. In 2004 in Afghanistan, you were lucky to have any kind of connection to home. I was lucky enough to have a laptop assigned to me, so I was able to plug into the internet and talk to people.
From what I understand about Afghanistan, the main base in Bagram has wifi everywhere, and people bring their phones from home, and they can connect up. They can do video conferences and they can do Skype and FaceTime and things like that. From what I understand, it’s a lot better. But it’s not being at home, obviously.
Last year, when I was gone on training, my kid was a year-and-a-half, and she was still in that stage where she wasn’t really independent. Now she’s kind of independent. You can leave her alone for 30 minutes, an hour or so, and she can entertain herself. She can play and go use the bathroom on her own. You don’t have to be constantly hovering over her, but it is a lot more, it is much more difficult when you don’t have that extra set of hands. My wife and I, we only have the one kid and we both find ourselves worn out at the end of the day. So I can only imagine what military families or single parents or people with multiple kids have to go through.