Around 3,500 Iowa National Guard soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan next fall, placing a strain on both families and employers around the state.
Amy Ritekin is married to Captain Mark Ritekin, who will be part of the overseas mission. He previously served in Afghanistan in 2003. Amy remembers their three children had a difficult time adjusting to their father’s absence.
“They’re very proud of their dad, but it is very difficult emotionally for them because they miss the milestones,” Ritekin said. “Soldiers miss the birthday parties, the dance recitals and the promotions in Cub Scouts and such…so, it’s very hard for them.”
Amy and Mark are hoping to help other military families cope with the challenges of a long-term deployment by talking about their experience. Amy says other kids in the neighborhood or at school can say some cruel things to her children.
“They say very negative things about those in the military, such as ‘they are just killers, they have no business protecting other people overseas’ and stuff like that. And the kids get very confused. Our children stand up for the military, obviously, since they’ve lived it their whole lives,” Amy said.
Amy says taking care of all three children on her own is a challenge and, at times, it can be overwhelming. But, she says friends and family – and even strangers – are willing to lend a hand.
In 2003, an elderly couple approached Amy in a grocery store. She says they noticed she was wearing an Army pin.
“They asked me if my husband was currently deployed and I said yes, he is. They said tell him thank you for fighting for our freedom. They offered to pay for our groceries, which was wonderful,” Amy said, noting that the encounter had a big impact on her kids.
At least 150 soldiers with the Iowa National Guard are spending this Christmas away from their families, in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.