Technology helped soldier, family stay connected
The Internet has certainly changed the way soldiers at war keep in touch with loved ones at home.
Not only did George Vargas communicate with his wife and daughter by phone, Skype or email almost daily, he also found a house in Champaign online that his wife ended up buying while he was away.
"It's a technological blessing that we're all connected. I don't know how the World War II parents made it, and they had housefuls of kids," said Jeralyn Goodfellow Vargas, who has been married to her husband almost five years.
They have a daughter Emmie, 3.
Jeralyn Vargas observed that the WWII generation tended to have more connections with other military people because so many served. While she knows people who have been deployed, they are not in her close circle of friends.
"It's really hard to find kindred spirits. As far as knowing other moms whose husbands are gone, I don't have that," she said.
When George was in Kentucky for the first year of his latest two-year tour, communication was easy.
"We were in the same time zone. Simple things like text messages and cellphone calls were accessible. When he went overseas, the communication just changed. I couldn't call him, but he could call me," she said.
Being nine hours ahead in time in Iraq and 10 hours in Afghanistan, George typically called home as soon as he got to the office before his wife and daughter went to bed or late at night for him when they were just getting up. He had to pay for Internet service, but it was only $20 for three months.
"I always had a computer or phone in Iraq. Wireless around the base was really good so I could Skype from my room and my office," he said.
Missing out on the rapid changes of his daughter was tough. The longest stretch during the two years he went without a visit home was 10 months.
"She was 20 months when he left. She's 45 months old now," said Jeralyn, adding that she's glad her daughter won't remember much about her father's absence.
He worried about her remembering him but was glad to be able to see and hear her on the computer, noting especially the improvements in her speech.
"I have photos of him talking with her on Skype. We sent care packages every month. She would do her scribble art work," Jeralyn Vargas said.
Emmie rejected the Valentine that Jeralyn had picked out for George, opting for a "Transformers" card intended for a grandchild, knowing her dad is a "Transformers" fan.
"He was in Kuwait when we were engaged so I played the deployment game before. I would write every week and I asked if he saved all my letters. He said, 'No, I threw them away.' But of course he comes back with Emmie's 'Transformer' card," she said, laughing.
Like her husband, Jeralyn is grateful for the benefits the military has brought their family, but not so eager to have to repeat being a single parent or being separated from her husband.
"You make do with it because you have to, not because you want to," she said of being alone.
"It's so much nicer to have four hands instead of two in everything. Emotional support, household chores, taking care of a toddler is so much easier with a mom and a dad.
"I know that he is so dedicated to his clients and really wants all those service people to get a fair shake. He has a passion for it. It's the moving and traveling that just doesn't fit with the rest of his priorities. It's a life that not everyone is designed to live," she said.