Military deployments are not easy for any family. The adjustments and challenges are many and ongoing.
For a Quail Valley Elementary School teacher, a military deployment came full circle to her classroom after nearly seven months of operating as a single parent.
Air Traffic Control Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon Hale, a nine-year Navy veteran, came back two weeks early from a deployment in the Middle East. When he got home in late April he surprised his wife, Tiffany Hale, with a visit to her first-grade class.
“We went out into the hallways and suddenly there were these red, white and blue decorations, and at the very end of the hallway, I see my students from class coming around the corner holding a sign, and within seconds all the pieces came together,” Tiffany said. “I saw my husband coming around the corner, too, and I ran down the hallway and that first hug, I instantly just started crying in utter disbelief. The first hug was unbelievable.”
Jon’s visit home was just as special for the couple’s two young daughters, Mallory and Avery, who had not seen their father since last fall. Their only contact with him since September was through a video reading program called United Through Reading (UTR) in which American military members record themselves readings children’s books or stories that are sent to loved ones back home.
According to the UTR website, the program “eases the stress of separation for the service member, spouse, and child, and builds family bonds and resiliency.” It’s like a virtual story time for military families.
“My girls were always asking, ‘I want to see Daddy!’ and I would put in the CD and get the book and we would all read together – even though he was far away,” Tiffany said.
Home and away
The Hales, who were high school sweethearts, married in 2005 and became a military couple early on. Jon enlisted in the Navy and Tiffany received a teaching degree from Texas State University. She became a military wife after graduation and moved with her new husband to bases in Virginia, Maryland and San Diego.
While in San Diego, in January 2018, Jon received orders to go overseas for a world tour aboard an aircraft carrier in the Middle East. Tiffany was pregnant with their second child, so they decided it was best to temporarily move the young family to Katy to live with Tiffany’s parents while he was deployed.
“We are a very close family, and they love my husband, and when I called and asked, it was a definite ‘yes,’ ” Tiffany said. “It was a great way to save money and not have to worry about paying for child care, and the kids would know Mimi and Grandad.”
While her parents agreed to help out, and Tiffany quickly found a job with Fort Bend ISD, there were still challenges.
“Not only finding a new job, but making the move and adjusting to everything,” she said. “The feeling still that it’s not my place, not our own home, it was adjustment. But it was easy because my parents and I are so close, and they really enjoyed having us here with them.”
Jon’s lengthy stay away from the family ended last month, when he flew in from France a few weeks before his scheduled arrival back to the U.S. Instead of going to his base in San Diego, he decided to arrive in Texas first – with Quail Valley being his first stop.
He contacted the school principal, Carla Patton, to see how he could arrange a special visit, saying he wanted to come surprise the first-grade teacher at her school but didn’t want to disrupt any of the daily school activities.
The other teachers worked along in secret with the principal, planning the homecoming event. Patton wanted to get the whole school in on the welcome-home celebration.
The secret was still hidden in an early morning email sent to Tiffany from the school principal, saying there was going to be a last-minute school assembly in the hallway for a few people from the school district.
“I thought it was probably for one of my fellow teachers,” Tiffany said.
The Hale family, including Jon, will wrap up their tour in Katy this summer and move back to the Naval Air Station in San Diego.
Tiffany’s advice for military families coping with their own long separations?
“Build your community and your close friends and family,” she said. “You may not have family around, but my advice is to find your own family – other military spouses and friends you can trust, especially in the same units and squadrons you are stationed with. To be able to find a few people you can rely on and trust is so important. Here in Fort Bend, the teachers at my school, along with my family, are my support system.”
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