Unspoken Heroes: The Kids Left Behind

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Eighth graders Grace Paladino and Alexia Zitzke proudly display pictures of their parents in the military. These two students are among the many who have active parents in the military and are both eager for their parents visit home.

Imagine waking up everyday and not knowing whether you will see your mom or dad ever again. Imagine you’re distracted every second of everyday because you are worrying about the wellbeing of your parent while they are off fighting for their life, and yours, too. That is what almost two million kids experience everyday. This is also what many kids at OJH are challenged with everyday.

“The last time I saw him ‘face to face’ was over two years ago,” stated 8th grader Grace Paladino.  “My dad rarely comes down to visit us. He moved to Whiteman, Missouri for about a year, and is now in Mississippi and has been for one year.”

Grace Paladino is one of the many students who have a parent active in the military. Her dad is a Chief Master Sergeant, and is serving in the Air Force.

“Even though my parents are divorced, it makes me upset when I don’t see him for a long period of time. It’s different because even though I didn’t see him everyday when he was in Missouri, not seeing him for long periods of time now just really makes me miss him.”

Grace is very tolerant when it comes to people trying to understand the struggle of having a parent in the military, but she truly doesn’t believe anyone could come close to grasping what students with military parents go through.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around your parents not being there all the time, and most kids do have their parents with them a lot. And even though my parents are divorced, I used to see him regularly, but now I hardly see him at all.  The only time I do get to communicate with him is through FaceTime, and only on special occasions,” Grace explained looking down with tears in her eyes.

Grace won’t get to see her dad this year for the holidays, but she’s hoping to see him again before her birthday in the summer.

Grace isn’t the only OJH student who misses their parent everyday. Eighth grader Alexander France’s dad, Senior Chief Navy Counselor Joe France, has been serving in the Navy for 23 years and three months. Before his first deployment, he was anxious for what was to come while serving in the Navy.

“My first emotion was excitement about what I was going to do and then I had the concern about leaving home,” stated Senior Chief Navy Counselor France. “I was a little scared to leave home, but I figured that so many men and women had done this and been successful so it couldn’t be a bad thing.”

His son, Alex, misses his dad every time he’s deployed. “I used to spend every day of every moment with him, and when he’s gone I feel empty. There is just nothing to do. I get bored. I miss him more and more every day.”

Alexander’s dad was home for the holidays, but he won’t be here with him for long.

“I get to see him around Christmas. He’s home right now, but he gets deployed again somewhere around December 29th.”

Alexander’s dad has been all over the world. “I have been to Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Diego Garcia, which is near the Indian Ocean. Additionally, I served aboard fast attack submarines and a submarine tender (repair ship) during my career,” stated Senior Chief Navy Counselor France.

Having one parent in the military is tough enough, but imagine having two parents who have served or are currently serving. Alexia Zitzke is an example of a student who has two parents in the military.

“My dad is retired now, but my stepmom is currently in Maryland. We don’t get to see her that often, so when she comes home my whole family is really happy. I just wish we could see her more than we do.”

Alexia’s dad served in the Marines for six years and the Army for eight years. Her stepmom has served for almost 18 years. Alexia has been affected emotionally by her dad’s employment for as long as she can remember.

“I remember my dad telling me he had to rush home for my birth, and then having to leave right after I was born. I only got to see him during the summers until I was ten because he was always overseas,” added Alexia.  “I used to have to go to school in different states because of his deployment, and then I would have to go back to that state half way through the school year. But it doesn’t affect me much anymore since we get to stay in Missouri now.”

Alexia also agrees with the idea that other people cannot completely wrap their head around the idea of their parent not being there for them.

“I think they try to sympathize, but I don’t think that they could possibly understand the struggle of having to move so much, and not having your parents with you at certain times. They don’t understand the feeling of not having your parent there for you when you hit a big milestone in your life.”

These three students are among the many at OJH that have parents in the military. It takes perseverance and a strong mind to be in their position.

“ If I had to say one thing, I would say be grateful for your family,” voiced Grace. “You never know what could happen, your next moment with them could be your last.”