Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oregon National Guard family members used online tools to bridge deployment gaps

Family members join Oregon National Guard members at the Army Aviation Support Facility #1 in Salem, Ore., Jan. 25, to welcome home the approximately 120 soldiers of the Oregon Army National Guard's C/7-158 Aviation unit, who deployed to Iraq for one year. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Rutherford, Oregon Army National Guard Public Affairs Office).

About 400 people packed into the Oregon Army National Guard's Army Aviation Support Facility #1 in Salem, Ore., Jan. 25, to welcome home members of C/7-158 Aviation, following their year-long deployment to Iraq.

As I stood amongst the many family members, fellow Oregon National Guard members, friends, and children of the soldiers who stood in formation yesterday, I came to the realization that while there is a wonderful story to tell about what these brave men and women accomplished half a world away, there was also another story to tell--the stories from their families.

I noticed in the list of accomplishments for the unit, there was also a list of other accomplishments. During the deployment, members completed 100 college credits, and participated in morale & welfare programs such as the America's Got Talent Balad, in which one soldier won the 2009 title.

What caught my attention were those who got married, and the five children who were born during the deployment.

One soldier, Spc. Michael Buchan, scheduled his mid-deployment leave so that he could be home in time for the birth of his daughter Brooklyn, who was born Sept. 14. He requested leave around her due date, and Brooklyn's mom, Sallie Bakke was induced after he arrived home.

Brooklyn is known to Buchan's family as the 'miracle baby'.

Sallie wasn't even supposed to be pregnant--after surviving breast cancer, she found out she was pregnant just before Buchan's unit was set to leave for Iraq.

"It's been such a cool experience," he said.

After heading back to Iraq, Buchan kept in touch with his new family using online tools.

"I saw her almost every day on Skype," Buchan said as he held his daughter following the demobilization ceremony.

For Megan Lulay, whose husband, Capt. Adam Lulay is still in Iraq, the ceremony was bittersweet. As the deployment for C/7-158 drew to a close, Adam transferred to the 41 Infantry Brigade Combat Team to help them with their deployment.

He was able to schedule his mid-deployment leave to coincide with the birth of the Lulay's daughter, Abigail on Feb. 16--only two weeks after the unit left Oregon.

"Adam barely made it home in time," Megan said.

Indeed, Adam arrived at Willamette Falls Hospital in Oregon City four hours before Abigail was born.

Megan, who also serves as the unit's Family Programs Coordinator, said the separation has been stressful at times, but she and Abigail are also able to keep in touch with Adam using online tools.

"We Skype," Megan said. "She (Abigail) can see him, and recognizes him. She even calls him 'daddy'."

Adam is scheduled to return to Oregon in about a month.

For the unit's First Sergeant, 1SG Travis Powell, the deployment included nuptual plans. He married his fiance, Jill, on Sept. 27.

She said while planning the wedding was stressful, they kept everything 'simple', as well as flexible to allow for changes in schedules and flights.

Jill said her husband-to-be chose a unique way to propose. He purchased a carved wooden jewelry box in Iraq, and mailed it to Jill back in Oregon. It contained a wedding ring and a note.

"When you read this, I'm down on one knee in Iraq proposing to you," the note said. "Will you marry me?"

Jill immediately contacted Travis on Facebook.

"Because I wanted to contact him as soon as possible," she said.

Travis was able to secure a "window of opportunity" for his mid-deployment leave in order to tie the knot.

The ceremony was successful in spite of the fluid nature of Travis' leave. Most of the guests and attendees were already in Oregon, and Jill's parents flew in from Colorado for their special day. After several days of post-marital bliss, Travis rejoined his unit in Iraq.

"It's the little things that kept me going," Jill said of her husband's deployment. She and her children Brendon and Audrey kept in touch with Travis via e-mail, Skype and Facebook.

Jill and Travis shared a quiet moment following the unit's demobilization ceremony. Caught in an embrace, Jill answered the question, "What now?"

"On to home projects--the 'honey-do' list," she said with a laugh. But we're so proud of him and glad he's home."

Story by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Social Media Manager

To see a related Oregonian article on yesterday's demobilization ceremony, along with a slide show by Oregonian photographer, Torsten Kjellstrand, go here.

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