Marine deployment

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 2nd.

Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

KENT COVINGTON, HOST: And I’m Kent Covington. Our next story involves a military acronym you may not know. It’s MEU, which stands for Marine Expeditionary Unit, or “mew” for short.

A MEU is a mobile fighting force composed of some 22-hundred U-S Marines and their Navy counterparts. At any given time, at least two MEUs are floating in international waters, ready to provide immediate crisis response.  

REICHARD: Last February, members of the 26th MEU loaded their Humvees and howitzers onto three amphibious assault ships: the USS Iwo Jima, the USS Oak Hill, and the USS New York. They left the East Coast anticipating a 6-month deployment.

And while these Marines bring an important U.S. military presence to Europe and the Middle East, their families back home are coping with their absence. WORLD correspondent Kim Henderson brings us this report from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: When our son was barely 13, he told us he was determined to join the military.

I suppose you should pay attention to the aspirations of 13-year-olds, but their record for following through was never very good in our household. This son threw the curve.

AUDIO: The few, the proud, the Marines.

Earlier this year our family traveled to North Carolina to see him off on his second deployment. While he packed up, we tried to pack it all in – the last pizza, the last steak, the last trip to Krispy Kreme. On the last night, we gathered in Room 3-10 at the Marriott to sing “We Rest on Thee.” His dad and brother prayed aloud. I couldn’t.

AUDIO: Alarm

The final morning, we got up at 3:45 and drove to his command post at Camp Lejeune. In the car, he and his brother tried to make conversation. They talked about his rack – that’s where he sleeps on ship.

AUDIO: They’re built into the wall, solid. Ok. Three high. Yeah.

We parked next to a line of white vans waiting to transport members of his battalion landing team. Less than an hour later, he pulled out, and we held it together. Sort of.

AUDIO: Gentlemen by show of hands real quick, who has not yet received their 268?

That’s Family Readiness Officer Jim Chartier speaking to the left-behind crowd of wives and children and parents. For the next 6 months, he and his staff will serve as the direct link between the deployed Marines and their family members.

AUDIO: Look left and right. Shake each other’s hand.  Meet and greet now. This is our extended military family. These ladies are all going through the samething you are… Lean on each other as needed.  

Samantha Derenoff is following that advice. It’s been 8 weeks since her husband left on the U-S-S Iwo Jima as part of the 26th MEU. The pregnant mother of two meets regularly with other wives in Kilo Battery.

AUDIO: We walk seven miles a week together, we push our kids in strollers, and we do it just to kind of socialize and give the kids time to play. We do playground meet-ups as well that I go to. And it helps the kids to be familiar with kids whose dads are with their dads.

The children are a big concern during deployments. Jessica Martinez has a three-year-old daughter, Mia.  

AUDIO: Every once and a while she’ll ask, you know, “Where’s Daddy?” or “Can we go see Daddy?” Stuff like that, and you know, that kind of hits the heart. She understands that Daddy’s on a big boat. Daddy’s off, you know, doing his thing, or what she likes to say: hunting bad guys…  

Some deployed families take advantage of a program that provides custom-printed photo dolls to children of deployed service members. Gunnar Streeter and his younger siblings each have one.

AUDIO: They send in your dad’s picture and they make a doll from it. My sister takes her daddy doll everywhere.

Gunnar also stays connected to his dad by sending care packages.

AUDIO: We give him air fresheners and sour patch kits. And candy.

Sometimes kids receive their own care packages, and they contain storytime DVDs made on ship.

AUDIO: Clifford

In the United Through Reading Program, members of the 26th MEU can record a video of themselves reading a book – like Clifford Takes a Trip – and send it to their families.  

On my own home front, I found that mailing packages to deployment locations can be complicated.  

AUDIO: That’s the right one? Yes, ma’am. Your information up here where it’s going, down here, what’s inside – quantity, ounces, pounds, value, and you sign at the bottom. [KH: What are the differences between these two?] It’s pretty much the same in concept. Just some places out of country use this one, and some use this one.

Deployments naturally carry the stress of the unknown. Families must be content with not knowing where their Marines are. They can’t ask what they’re doing. Communication is sporadic. And when the rare phone call comes at 3 a.m.? Well, wives like Natalie Miller eagerly take it.

AUDIO: I think everybody has this idea of being a military spouse as this glorified, just magical experience, and I don’t think people know what we go through on a daily basis. It’s like you know, I’ll see a guy in cammies and go, Oh my gosh, we only have X amount of months before I get to see my husband in those cammies.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson, reporting from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

(Photo/Kim Henderson)

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