John Prime / The Shreveport Times
The scene in the Libro living room in Spring Lake could be anywhere in the nation, with mom Diane and 2-year-old daughter Catherine spending time with daddy, Joey Libro, miles away on a business trip.
But in their case daddy’s office is a secure site on a remote Philippines island where Libro, a major in the U.S. Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, helps coordinate movements of forces advising that nation’s military. And he’s spending time with his family via the miracle of Skype and the Internet, as likely thousands of deployed parents, including more than 400 Barksdale, airmen working around the world, are doing today, Father’s Day.
“Catherine is only 2-1/2, so she might not remember this in the future, but in the immediacy of today” will feel the separation, says Libro, an instructor radar-navigator assigned to the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron here, on a seven-month deployment. “Diane tells Catherine ‘Daddy will be home when football starts.’ So when football season starts will be a big marker for Catherine, as that’s when daddy will be home. We’re teaching her good, to look forward to football season.”
Diane Libro says it’s hard to hear her daughter plaintively ask when her daddy will be home.
The last two Father’s Days, Joey Libro was on shorter trips away to Minot Air Force, N.D.
“This is the first time he’s been ‘deployed’ since we’ve had Catherine,” she said. “He loves to read her stories so she doesn’t have that. If we run out of milk, I can’t run out after she goes to bed. It’s that stuff that makes it hard.”
A decade ago, soldiers and airmen and sailors and Marines didn’t have the avenues the Libros use today, tablets with fast Internet and Skype and Facebook. The Airman and Family Readiness Center at Barksdale would have been filled any given day with people using computers to email or stay in touch with loved ones. Now there’s still walk-in use but the ease of and access to Internet-capable smart phones and tablets and the incursion of wireless communications and computers into homes has changed that picture entirely.
“We don’t get as much foot traffic as we did years ago before the new technology, before Facebook and Skype,” says Tech. Sgt. Kimberly Fleming, who works with families at the center.
But the center does see activity on, and interest in, its Facebook page, as well as the services it provides or coordinates for families in deployments, from police patrols and volunteer handy-fixups to outings for children and programs that provide child care to give the at-home parent a break.
“In 2004, we didn’t have Facebook and all that stuff,” says Major Cameron “Lance” Magee, who with most of his command, Shreveport’s 2/108 Cavalry Squadron, returned from two weeks of training at Camp Shelby, Miss., just in time for the holiday. In 2004, he was the adjutant of the unit’s predecessor outfit, the 1/156th Armor Battalion, which was in Iraq almost two years. “Back then, it was just emails and phone calls. Being the adjutant I had access to a phone where I could call fairly regularly back home, but even then you had to call a post, in our case Camp Beauregard, and they would connect you to a land line. Back then I would call or email as possible. Now there’s Skype and Facebook and Twitter.”
Magee, now the father of four children ages 9 to almost 2, felt it most the first time around.
“I actually missed my first Father’s Day because my son was born in 2004 while I was training at Fort Hood, and the next Father’s Day I was in Iraq.”
Around that same time, former soldier Jason Marable was with the 2nd Armored Cavalry in Iraq and single, so not being able to call home regularly was not a huge deal.
“My first deployment was at a really small forward operating base and we had what we called ‘phone-con Fridays,’ in a little space with maybe 15 minutes on the phones. I was single at the time, but it was horrible for the married guys.”
But the second time he deployed, with the Shreveport National Guard unit, he had a wife, Deanna, and a new son, Connor. His combat separation from them was followed by almost four years of hospitalizations and away-from-home treatment for PTSD, so there were a lot of missed Father’s Days.
“The way I coped with it was knowing I’d be back, knowing they were there and that they loved me,” he said. “The last deployment I pretty much called every day and was on Facebook looking at their pictures.”
Deanna Marable says Facebook and Skype and Majik-Jack made the separations bearable and the holiday contact special.
“Communication is such a big thing,” she said, noting that some spouses can’t cope well. “They get angry and upset.
“You know you’re not going to hear from them very often, so when you do, be thankful. Don’t take it for granted.”
Magee cautions people using today’s modern communications need to bear in mind there are risks home and abroad when posts or photos offer locations, activities or statuses and can be viewed not just by family and friends, but the world.
“Absolutely it’s a concern,” he said. “There’s so much digital information out there, both on the military and civilian side. We can give away our movements and on civilian side they can also flag themselves as a target with the soldier of the home being gone.”
But the ability modern communications offer to stay in daily touch is worth it all, Libro said.
“I can see Catherine grow and all the cute outfits Diane picks for her as she’s growing, as we change seasons from winter to spring to summer and fall.”