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Tuesday, Sep. 2, 2014

Guards' absence impacts families

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

SIKESTON -- Four months into the deployment of the 1140th Engineer Battalion, family members continue to adjust to life without their loved ones.

As parents adapt to the dual responsibilities of both mom and dad, sometimes it's the children who are unintentionally taking a backseat in the transition.

"Our children are kind of the ones left out in all this because you're dealing with the emotions and separation and you might not see how much that affects the kids," Mike McGuire told members of Charlie Company's Family Readiness Group at a meeting recently.

As State Family Program coordinator, McGuire visits with families of military service men and women throughout the state. He provides them with resources and answers any questions they may have.

Military children are going through a lot, and they're experiencing a lot of things, McGuire said. "I'm worried about our kids now," he said. "We're having some serious problems with them. We're having some whose grades are falling and are even doing some things that might hurt themselves."

Warning signs parents should be aware of include a child's grades suddenly plummeting or if they become withdrawn or start acting out.

"Talk to their school counselor," McGuire recommended. "Let them know there is a change in the household and there's a lot of stress right now. Don't be afraid to accept help. The worse thing you could do is feel like you don't need help and then don't get it."

Kim Brooks, a counselor at Southeast Elementary in Sikeston, has dealt with a couple of students whose parents are currently serving in Iraq.

"I think that kids see their moms (or dads) are stressed with an extra workload on them, and I think in some cases, older kids probably feel like they have to fill the void," Brooks noted.

And a parent's deployment can definitely affect a child's concentration and they may not be able to perform as well in school, Brooks agreed.

"Just talking about it eases their minds a little bit," Brooks said. "Let the child communicate and talk openly about what's going on in the news and do not try to hide anything."

For Denise Ratcliff, wife of Capt. Scot Ratcliff of the 1140th's Charlie Company in Sikeston, it's taking the motto of "one day at a time," that helps not only her, but the couple's four children.

The Ratcliffs have a 13-year-old son, an 11-year-old daughter, a 5-year-old son and a 1-year-old son.

"Our oldest son is 13, and he has kind of taken over the role of being the protector or bodyguard toward me," Ratcliff said. "He's struggling with trying to grow up and be a man."

The older children understand what's going on, Ratcliff said.

"My daughter is very sensitive to certain movies and things that make her think about it," Ratcliff said. "I keep the news off of it as much as possible, but I watch it early in the morning."

For Ratcliff, the most difficult part is dealing with her oldest son's transition to manhood. "It's hard because I don't know how to counsel from a man's perspective. My husband's supposed to be the one to talk to him," Ratcliff reasoned.

As suggested by McGuire, Ratcliff's children's teachers know their family's situation and are working with them, she said.

"We've been used to him being gone two to three weeks. I'm strong and we're doing well for right now. But it's going to get harder as time goes on. We just have to keep going. That's the key."

It's when the routine of the weeklong activities dies down and the weekend nears when the Ratcliff's struggle the most, she said.

But Ratcliff said her family is lucky to have the support of their family and friends. Ratcliff's parents live nearby and her dad and two brothers are in contracting. Another brother is a plumber. So if anything goes wrong in the house, Ratcliff has others to help her, she said.

Charlie Company's Family Readiness Group also conducts monthly support group meetings, which Ratcliff attends. "We also have the luxury of the Internet Web cam, and because I'm home, our 5-year-old gets to see his dad and talk to him. And that helps a lot," Ratcliff emphasized.

And Brooks encouraged area parents to let their children visit Charlie Company's Web site, which has a message board. "Just keep the lines of communication open and keep talking to your kids about it," Brooks advised. "Pray and keep a strong a faith."

For more information or resources about family assistance, visit moguard.com or to access Charlie Company's Web site, visit charlie1140th.com.