The experience of holding a child for the first time after birth creates an immediate touchstone for most parents, but for deployed Soldiers, it can take weeks or months before they are able to hold their newborns.
Such was the case for Spc. Jose Santos, one of dozens of Soldiers from Company A, 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 11th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, who returned home from deployment Aug. 15. The unit was deployed to the CENTCOM area of operations where they provided tactical communications in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve Aug. 15.
Although Santos, a cable system installer-maintainer, is no stranger to deploying, his baby girl was born three weeks after he left, which he said made this deployment very different from his first.
“It was really hard being away from my baby girl,” Santos said. “I Facetimed her all the time, every chance I could get.”
Instead of focusing on not being able to be with his daughter, he used his thoughts of her as motivation for staying focused on the mission.
“Everything I was doing, I was doing for her,” Santos said. “That is what I thought about and it made the sacrifice worth it.”
There were times during the mission where the unit was the only tactical communications support for the entire operation, providing tactical radios during patrols and convoys, establishing critical communications for artillery and close air support as well as streaming unmanned aerial vehicles for the intelligence community.
As a member of the main group of Soldiers who ran fiber cables for the mission, Santos had to remain focused on every task at hand.
“It wasn’t a challenge to stay focused,” Santos said. “I just kept thinking I have someone who is looking up to me and I have to keep grinding and push forward everyday just for them.”
Santos was not the only Soldier in the company who never had the chance to experience the first moments of their child’s life like most “normal” parents do.
Jasmine Davis, spouse of Spc. Dillon Brownlee a Satellite Communications Systems Operator attached to Co. A, 57th ESB, 11th TTSB found out 3 weeks before he deployed that she was pregnant.
“Being pregnant while he was gone was very rough – mentally,” explained Davis. “The distance and him not physically being there took a toll on us, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle.”
Davis and Brownlee relied on technology to make up for the distance between them.
“We were able to Facetime, which helped,” Davis said.
Family support proved to be essential for this family, especially since this was their first deployment experience and first childbirth.
“My mother came for the last two months and helped me out around the house,” Davis said. “She was a really big help.”
Although the stress of deployment, combined with her pregnancy had led to many a sleepless night, the night before her husband’s redeployment was unlike any other Davis experienced while Brownlee was away.
“I did not sleep at all last night,” Davis said. “I was too excited to see him.”
Brownlee was just as excited to see his wife and baby boy, Sebastion.
“Wow,” exclaimed Brownlee as he rocked “Baby Bash” in his arms.
“When I was standing in formation I saw them looking for me, but they couldn’t see me,” Brownlee said. “When I walked out of formation and actually got to see him, I was in shock and awe knowing that this was my own flesh and blood.”
Although the couple was able to Facetime while separated, being able to meet his son for the first time brought mixed emotions.
“I was scared that when I held him he was going to freak out and cry, but he was actually really calm,” Brownlee said. “It was an instant bond – I’d do anything for him.”
While away on deployment Brownlee was able to keep his focus on the mission and still thrive as a Soldier.
“While deployed I shoved myself into work,” Brownlee said. “I went early and stayed late and completed as many tasks as I could. I had to stay occupied, remember to focus on the mission and get home.”
Brownlee said the best advise he could give Soldiers, who may experience not being able to see their children immediately after birth due to deployment, is to look forward to the reunion.
“Don’t let the fact that you are not there for your child’s birth depress you,” he said. “There is always a reason for everything. As soon as you see your child it’s going to be an awe-inspiring moment. Remember that. Look forward to that.”