“FALL IN!” usually sends packs of sleepy-eyed Soldiers shuffling to their ranks for first physical training formation at 6:30 a.m.
While most Soldiers are barely awake by the time they begin their morning stretches and long runs, Spc. Keisha Parker, a survey specialist for 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, has been awake and ready to go for two hours. Not only has she gotten herself prepared to take on the challenges of the day, she has also bathed, clothed, fed and dropped her child off to daycare, all commencing at 4:30 a.m.
Like many, in addition to fulfilling her mission as a Soldier in the United States Army, Parker also plays roles of both mother and father to her son, James Felding III. Parker had her son, two years ago while stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. Since then, she has worked tirelessly to provide a comfortable and seamless life for him, however not without continuous sacrifice.
In April 2012, her unit at Fort Hood was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. In lieu of the upcoming deployment, Parker, just one example of the 73,000 single parents serving on active-duty in the military, cleaned out her savings account and prepared herself to separate from her year-old son. As if moving him more than 1,000 miles away to Charlotte, N.C. was not hard enough, this was also the first time Parker, as a new mother, had ever been away from her child.
The emerging possibility of deployment loomed over her unit for almost six months before it was decided that they would not be deploying as originally planned. The moment was bittersweet. Overjoyed with the knowledge that she would soon again be reunited with her son; she was also heavyhearted that she had already missed monumental moments in his life. His first words ... first steps; even more heart wrenching to Parker, was the fact that when he was hurt or was in need, he cried out and reached for his grandmother and not her. As painful as this would be for any parent to endure, this is the callous truth for thousands of single parents serving on active-duty in the military.
Currently, Parker’s unit, is among many others operating on a prepare-to-deploy order, whose mission could cause her to be across the country in less than 48 hours; once again, separated from her son.
To help counter the inevitable home demands of doctor’s appointments, check-ups, and unforeseen sickness, the Army requires Parker to have a “Family care plan,” an arrangement for short and long-term care for her son in times of emergency.
However, having a plan in place does not detract from the precious moments and comforts that only a parent can bring, that will undoubtedly be missed in her absence.
In the face of adversity, lie two critical components that assist to ease the burden of single-parenting across the Army.
The Army Family Covenant is a simple pledge that states:
“You are changing your life for the Army, so it seems that a bond should be formed that lets you know this is not a commitment taken lightly. The Army will look out for you, your Soldier and your entire Family. For we are all one Family in the Army and should act accordingly.”
It is a promise, made by former Chief of Staff, General George Casey and former Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston, on behalf of all leaders that we will serve both our Soldiers and their Families, the same way our Soldiers serve our country.
“Specialist Parker is not hindered by the fact that she is a single parent, because the leadership and senior noncommissioned officers appointed over her do their best to take care of both her and her Family,” said Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Lyford, 3rd Bn. 321 FAR operations sergeant major.
Parker recalls several instances where her leadership has gone above and beyond to ensure that her Family’s needs are always met.
“My first sargeant and commander are always very flexible when we are required to come into work early for alerts and organizational runs. They understand that daycare does not open until 5:30 a.m. and they allow me to have a few extra minutes to get my son off to daycare without being disciplined for being late.”
Resiliency training is a series of classes that aim to build physical, emotional and psychological resilience in Soldiers and Families, so they improve performance to deal with the rigors and challenges of such a demanding profession. For Parker, they provide an open forum to discuss, among others, the best way to handle familiar situations.
Facilitating discussions between both peers and superiors, allows Parker and other Soldiers to come together to see and understand how servicemembers cope with demands of single-parenting along with many other daily challenges, as well as strategize on innovative and effective ways to address additional issues.
Parker continues to strive for excellence in everything she does. At the end of the month, she will be attending the Army Warrior Leader Course, where she will participate in intense training for 30 days, preparing her to take on the additional responsibilities associated with becoming a noncommissioned officer. She understands that sacrifices are necessary; however she continues to exemplify total commitment to both country and child.
The Army Family Covenant and resiliency training continue to be integral parts of 3rd Bn. 321st FAR’s goal to foster a more Family-oriented environment, dedicated to providing resources, and solid support systems and networks for all Families. The goal is to continue to maintain focus on the needs of Families. Whether married, single or dual-military, their quality of life remains a priority for the battalion.