SIKESTON -- As members of the 1140th Engineer Battalion spend Christmas with their loved ones Thursday, they will try to make the best of the time left with their families before their mobilization Jan. 3.
"We're trying to keep the holidays as normal as possible," noted Michelle Standridge, who is the wife of Sgt. 1st Class Keith Standridge of the 1140th's Charlie Company in Sikeston.
The Standridges were supposed to head to Minnesota this Christmas to visit with family, but because Standridge is leaving next week, the couple decided to postpone the trip.
"Most of the wives have been preparing for this mobilization and are past the denial stage, but the full impact will not be felt until the soldiers actually leave. Then we can start building up and looking forward to their return," said Sondra Armour, wife of 1st Sgt. Dan Armour. Their son, SPC Brent Armour, is also deploying with Charlie Company.
Mrs. Standridge, Mrs. Armour and Donna Alexander, wife of Charlie Company's Sgt. 1st Class Steve Alexander, said the biggest gift they can give their husbands this Christmas is support.
"They've got to keep focused, and if they're worrying about us or we're giving them things to worry about, then they can't be," Alexander pointed out.
And it would be easy for the Guard members and their families to complain or whine about things, but that's simply not their style.
"We want everyone to know how proud we are of them and as hard as this is, we don't want to be 'poor me.' We want no pity," said Mrs. Standridge. The Alexanders are expecting a new grandchild in June and her husband won't be there for it, Mrs. Alexander noted. "He missed the birth of our son, and now he's going to miss the birth of our son's child," Mrs. Alexander said. "But my husband said he'd rather go now than have his kids or grandkids go down the line."
While the 1140th members and their spouses are grateful to be with their family over the holidays, it doesn't make up for the one-time events that will be missed over the next two years, Mrs. Standridge pointed out.
"Our oldest son will graduate this year, and he's going to miss it," Mrs. Standridge said about her husband. "That's a one-time event. Christmas comes every year. We can send presents and things for Christmas, but we can't make up for the other once-in-a-lifetime things."
Birthdays and anniversaries will also be missed. Mrs. Armour said she and her husband will celebrate their 30th anniversary in April.
"We don't want pity, but we don't want to hear, 'It's not fair he's going to be gone so long' or 'How are you ever going to deal with this?'" Mrs. Standridge said.
Although they know most people's intentions are sincere, family members would rather hear "You're in our thoughts or prayers" or even a simple pat on the shoulder is gesture enough to let them know you care, Mrs. Standridge explained.
"Just show your support," Mrs. Standridge said. "Either by volunteering your time or making a donation. Moral support. That's what we need."
Of course there will be bad days, the spouses admit, but they will have each other and Charlie Company's Family Readiness Group.
"We do things outside the Family Readiness Group," said Standridge, who is Charlie Company FRG lead volunteer/president. "Our friendship goes beyond the Guard. Sometimes we'll get together for steak dinners. Some of the women in the group are some of my best friends."
Over the last 18 months, Charlie Company's FRG has grown from 12 to 50 members and has put Southeast Missouri on the map, the women noted.
And what keeps their husbands from worrying while their gone is knowing their wives have someone to talk to if they have a bad day, the women said.
"You can talk to people at work or church, but we're all in the same boat here," said Mrs. Armour, who is also the FRG secretary. "You go through all these stages of separation anxiety like denial, anger and acceptance and it helps to have those who understand exactly what you're going through."
Something also helping to ease their separation anxiety is knowing Guard members and family members may have access to a video conference center.
"They will tell us the dates and which soldiers will be there and then those family members will gather and communicate with their family," Mrs. Standridge explained.
Currently, the Charlie Company is accepting donations from local businesses and organizations to purchase equipment for their deployment.
With the money, they will purchase 22 hand-held Global Positioning Systems so soldiers can find their way in the desert. Charlie Company could possibly purchase laptop computers so they can communicate via e-mail, Standridge added.
In another effort to help military family members, a regional family readiness training will be held at 9 a.m. Jan. 17 at the Sikeston Armory and is open to all area military families whose loved ones have been deployed or could possibly be deployed.
Members of the 1140th are expected to be gone 544 days, but Mrs. Standridge said it just sounds better to say "16-18 months."
Sixteen to 18 months is a long time, but thinking positively is the best way to get through a loved one's deployment, the wives explained. If someone thinks negatively, it makes it twice as bad, they agreed.
"Just support him," Mrs. Standridge said. "He chose this career, and now you must support him."