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SHERIDAN — When his dad deployed to Iraq, Preston Gromer didn’t understand how important it was for his dad to go. He didn’t understand service to country or helping people overseas.
“I was sad and mad that he had to leave. It didn’t seem like he was helping anything because he wasn’t helping me,” Preston, now 14, said. “I was a bit selfish.”
Preston was also only 6 years old during that deployment, his dad’s second. All he knew was dad was gone for a long time and short, sporadic phone calls were a poor substitute for a daddy he could play with and hug.
Scott Gromer deployed to Kuwait with the National Guard — his third deployment — just a couple years after returning from Iraq. For Preston, that year-and-a-half stretch was much easier. He was 10 then and understood more about his dad’s work and mission.
“It was like he was in a long shower,” Preston said.
By that point, he had three younger siblings and a fourth on the way. “I got to be the man of the house, and that was pretty cool.”
Becoming the man of the house at age 10, and learning to talk sports and life to a mom or dad overseas at 11 o’clock at night via Internet video chat, and counting down those 12 or 18 months until the family is complete again — that’s normal for military children.
It’s not easy.
But it is normal.
And that is why Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger designated April as “The Month of the Military Child” in 1986. For nearly 30 years, April has been a time to honor the children who make their own contribution to America by supporting their military parents.
In Sheridan, the Board of County Commissioners declared April as “The Month of the Military Child” at its regular meeting today. Several local military families were in attendance to observe the declaration.
According to Janel Gromer, volunteer for the local Family Readiness Group, Sheridan County is home to approximately 115 military children. Many are active in the Family Readiness Group, which exists to support military families through get-togethers and education on available benefits and services such as counseling, support groups and financial assistance.
“It’s always important to have a battle buddy,” Janel Gromer said. “Even if we’re not physically in the battle, we are at home in the battle.”
Military Mommies is what Janel Gromer calls herself and the other mothers who stay home during deployments. They are a lifeline for each other.
Stefanie Arnold, who has three children under 6 years of age, didn’t have support outside of her family members when her then-fianceé deployed while she was still in college in Laramie. She wishes she had, and she is now part of the Family Readiness Group in Sheridan.
“As much as people wanted to say they understood, they didn’t,” Arnold said. “It would have been a lot easier had it been my family and someone who knows the situation better supporting me.”
For Preston Gromer and other military children, having mom or dad gone for a year or more at a time is just part of life. They find ways to cope — and thrive, even.
“It goes by more quickly than you think it will,” Preston said. “You just have to remember there’s a lot of people to help you and you’re not alone. Take the opportunities that you can. Do sports. Don’t be a shut out. Have fun. Just because someone’s gone that doesn’t mean you have to act like they’re gone.”
When the Gromers send Scott off for a deployment, they support each other in their goodbyes and tears, and then they go somewhere fun to remember that life will go on, and everything will be fine. They cross days off the calendar; they fill a giant jar with candy and eat a piece each day, knowing that the emptier the jar gets, the closer they are to having dad home again.
And when dad does come home, they celebrate. They make colorful signs, and they wear funny hats, and they hug big hugs. They delight in watching the baby of the family see his dad for only the second time in his life. They cry.
As the years progress, and as they move from state to state, they grow together and they grow in their understanding of what it means to be a military child in a military family.
As Preston puts it: “I understand what has to be done and how important it is for us to give up a little in order to give a lot to other countries who need help.”