DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
The holiday season is a time for elaborately wrapped gifts, homemade cookies and a chance to enjoy family and friends in the spirit of the season. It’s a time of giving, but for some military families, that means giving a little more than most. Kent Swaim gave his last four months to his four children at home while his wife gave herself to a six-month deployment in Southwest Asia.
Even though deployments aren’t unusual, each family is unique in how it processes and deals with them. Having young children, as opposed to teenagers, can be a big game changer; young children are more dependent on their parents while teenagers are usually more self-sufficient. Swaim’s kids are 3, 5, 7 and 18 years old, each with his or her own activities, interests, personalities and needs. More often than not, both parents have careers, which leaves one at home juggling a full-time job on top of multiple other daily duties.
For Swaim, 436th Mission Support Group commander’s administrative assistant, the holiday season was more difficult than usual. With his wife serving overseas, Swaim had to fill the position of both father and mother. Despite all the chaos, including his pharmacy technician classes, household chores, driving kids to various activities and getting his son ready for college, he made sure to give it his all.
When deployments overlap with holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special events, it can add even more strain and stress to military families. “No matter how hard I try, I can’t be a replacement for my wife,” said Swaim. “Missing their mother on Christmas cannot be understated.”
Aside from life at home being disrupted, Swaim said he made several personal sacrifices for his kids during his wife’s deployment. To ensure he had time to take care of his children, he gave up more than just “me time.” Not only did he quit the “Dover’s Pride” band, but he also relinquished his positions as both a board member of the Dover Key Spouses Club and a 436th MDG Key Spouse mentor.
While trying to maintain a sense of normalcy during the holiday season for his children, Swaim ensured the lights, tree and decorations were put up. Even if it meant missing his own pharmacy technician graduation, he made sure his four children attended all of their extracurricular activities, such as weekly ballet, singing and piano lessons.
With his tuition paid for by the Air Force Aid Association, he felt he needed to do his very best in the course, but due to his wife’s deployment, his time got stretched thinner and thinner. With classes of his own, his children’s after-school activities and holiday preparations, he felt as though he was getting pulled in a hundred different directions.
“I was disappointed that I could not attend [my graduation], but my two older daughters’ performance in their Christmas program was definitely my priority,” said Swaim. “The biggest issue was that I felt I was letting down my classmates; we all became friends and worked together, helping each other out. I had been chosen to give the commencement speech, which made me very proud, but then I could not attend.”
Swaim said, despite his busy schedule and lack of alone time, he doesn’t complain. The military community is like a family, and it has been his biggest support system during his wife’s absence.
“My children are what I look forward to,” said Swaim. “It melts my heart when they smile at me and run to me for a hug. I love hearing their excited voices telling about their day. I think the whole secret to this is love. The number one thing kids need is love. Everything else just falls into place. I’m so proud of my girls and my son.”
Families of deployed Airmen can use the Airmen and Family Readiness Center as a major available resource. It provides multiple programs, including car care vouchers, child care and Military and Family Life Counselors. They offer a quarterly Deployed Families and Spouses Dinner, which includes a free meal, activities for kids and door prizes. The next one is on January 17, 2019 at the Youth Center.