Military Family Overcomes Deployment, Education Challenges

By Shannon Collins DoD News, Defense Media Activity

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md., July 31, 2015 – Military families face the challenges of deployments and frequent moves and the impact they have on their children’s morale and education.

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. David Mason, a security forces first sergeant here, his wife, Jennifer, and their four daughters spoke with DoD News about the impact his deployments have had on their family.

Missed Birthdays

David Mason’s last deployment was to Iraq five years ago. He said he was fortunate that during his seven deployments he didn’t miss any births, although he did miss birthdays.

“He was here for my graduation and when I turned 16 and 18,” said Brooke, 18, who was happy her father didn’t miss her special days, but joked that her curfew becomes stricter when he’s home.

The Mason’s youngest daughter, Laura, 11, said her father ordered Daddy Dolls and daddy blankets that had their baby pictures with him on them. Daddy Dolls are personalized soft dolls printed with the image of a loved one.

“I still have the doll, and I still sleep with mine,” she said, her face lighting up.

Melanie, 15, said she missed seeing her dad around the house.

“I missed waking him up in the morning, tackling him and hugging him, telling him good morning,” she said.

Venessa, 13, said she remembers when her father came back from one deployment, they all surprised him.

“He dropped his bags, and everybody started running toward him. I ran up to him and hugged him,” she said. “I was upset he was gone so long because I love my dad so much. I missed him.”

Jennifer Mason said his last few deployments to Iraq were the hardest for her.

“He would usually go out on night missions, and I would be up all night, just waiting for his phone call to let me know that he got back from his mission safely,” she said. “He likes to deploy because he likes to be out there doing the mission, but I’m like, ‘Can you go somewhere that I don’t have to stress?'”

Moves Challenge Children’s Education

Military families experience permanent change of station moves every four or so years for enlisted members and slightly less for officers. Their children face challenges as they adjust to different school requirements from state to state.

While at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, the Mason children attended school at Fort Bragg for 10 years. When they moved to Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, they attended a public school off base. Jennifer said the high school was new and employed a different grading system with Us, Ps and Ss instead of the usual A to F system.

“I don’t think it was Common Core,” she said. “It was nothing we had seen. When the girls got their report cards, we couldn’t tell if they were progressing or if it was a bad grade. We moved the girls to a charter school and a normal grading system. It was really nice there, and people from our church went there but they taught the science courses backward. They taught physics, then chemistry, biology and earth science instead of the other way around like I was taught.”

Jennifer added, “When we got to Maryland, it was really difficult. My oldest had to take biology with the freshmen, and she was like, ‘They’re going to think I’m stupid because I’m a junior.’ She was ahead of them on chemistry and physics, though.”

Brooke said the other challenge was the testing. She had taken the exit exams in Colorado and had an issue with those scores transferring when she moved to Maryland.

“Here, they have testing that you have to take and that almost interfered with my graduation,” Brooke said. “I didn’t want to not graduate because the military decided at the last minute to move us. That’s not fair to me or anybody else that has to deal with that because they’ve had problems with that at the school.”

All of the girls said it’s hard to move away from the friends they make.

“You get really close to them and you get to know them and then you have to move again — it’s hard,” Laura said. “The first few days of a new school, you have to walk the hallways by yourself because people who aren’t military are with their friends because they don’t move as much.”

Melanie said she met her friend Rebecca in North Carolina in the third grade and hadn’t seen her in five years.

“When she came from Texas, and she showed up at my door, we both cried, and we were so overwhelmed that we got to see each other after five years,” she said. “We just clicked. We had so much fun together.”

The girls said through it all, they have each other, though they can get on each other’s nerves.

“I have a close relationship with my mom, my dad and all my siblings. We’re all really close and we get along great but sometimes it sucks because if they do anything, I get blamed for it because I’m supposed to be setting the example for them. We all get along,” Brooke said, smiling at her sisters.

Proud of Father’s Military Service

Venessa said though the moves can be a challenge, she’s still proud of her dad being in the military.

“Whenever he comes to my school in uniform, they’re like, ‘Is that your dad?’ I’m like, ‘Yes!'” she said, smiling broadly. “He’s a good dad. He’s my twin. We joke around a lot.”

Brooke plans on going to community college so she can “have a good job,” she said.

Venessa said she hopes to either be a lawyer or work for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

“Education is important because it’s good to learn and be smart so you can be successful and have a good job,” she said. “I have good goals. I take school seriously. I want my parents to be proud of me and at the same time, I want to be proud of myself too.”

Jennifer said she hopes all of her daughters will go to college.

David said he continues to work on his time management, to make time for just him and his wife, as well as having daddy-daughter dates so that he can spend one-on-one time with each daughter.

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