Deployments, TDYs, the push and pull of “hello” and “see you later:” this is the military life to which we are accustomed. This reality makes raising a family in the military uniquely challenging. But it hasn’t had much effect on one military family, LTC James Martin and his wife, Keri: neither year and a half long deployments nor mobilizations could restrain their love for one another and for their family.
In fact, over the past eight years, they have lovingly nurtured their family as it grew from three children to six; they have even taken leave in China so that they might adopt their daughter Claire. Today, the Martin family shares the joys of raising a big family despite the demands of service and gives encouragement to other military families who might consider adoption.
So, just how did they do it?
Their love story has sweet beginnings. It was at church camp during the summer of 1990 that Keri would meet a young solider named James Martin. In their earliest conversations, Keri came to understand James’ passion for military service. “As long as I’ve known James, I knew this is what he wanted. He enlisted in the Army before we met when he was 17, and shortly thereafter won a four year Army R.O.T.C Scholarship to Eastern Kentucky University.” Just a little over a year after that first meeting, Keri and James would marry.
Yet, as we all know, life in the military is rarely smooth sailing. Recalls Keri, “James spent an initial four years on Active Duty after receiving his 2LT’s commission in 1994. His first assignment was an unaccompanied one-year tour to the Republic of Korea as a Tank Platoon Leader. This was my first taste of being left alone to take care of everything while he was away. James had to leave our two year old son and I was eight months pregnant with our second son.”
James transitioned in the Reserves, eventually securing a job with Merck as an Executive Pharmaceutical Representative. But despite this transition into civilian life, the mobilizations and deployments remained at a high tempo. During his first Reserve mobilization in 2006, he would leave Keri and their now three children for a year and a half. In 2009 he spent another year away from his family, and from August 2014 to August 2015, he deployed to Afghanistan in Support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Freedom Sentinel.
Theirs is a military family that understands sacrifice and how to bond together despite challenge, but while she remains a constant source of strength and calm, Keri does not dismiss her struggles and setbacks while she maintained the home front. “There was the worry associated with having a husband in a hostile fire area,” she recalls. “On more than one occasion, our conversation would be cut short by his base coming under attack as I heard the sirens or explosions as he had to abruptly leave me. There were many other challenges, but the biggest of all was losing my mother unexpectedly in March of 2015. James was only half way done with his tour when she died. Although I was grateful the Army let him return for a few days, this was the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced alone.”
And it is what James and Keri managed to do in between–and even during–those deployments that is so inspiring.
In between the first and the last deployment, the Martin family grew from three to six beautiful children, ranging from ages 21 to three. “A few months into [his first Reserve] deployment, James used some of his military leave so the two of us could travel to China to bring home our newly adopted daughter, Claire. Shortly after James’s second deployment ended in 2010, we went back to China to bring home our second adopted daughter, Lily. Just a few months after that, our youngest son, Jack, was born.”
What is more, The Martins stress that the adoption process is becoming increasingly viable for the military community. There are, in fact, several support systems in place for military families who wish to adopt. “In addition to several programs that provide some form of monetary adoption assistance, the military has monetary adoption assistance as well for Active Duty members and those members of the Reserve who have been called to active service. Also, in 2006, the military introduced an ‘adoption leave’ which can be granted by a unit commander and does not count against a service member’s regular leave,” they note.
What made this possible was the love and strength of family, that despite multiple deployments lasting a year and longer, the Martins persevered through the adoption process–twice! James and Keri are also quick to share their gratitude for their civilian company: “Merck has an adoption assistance program in which they give up to $10,000 to their employees to cover some of the expenses associated with an adoption. Keri and I are so grateful to Merck for this incredibly generous benefit which has helped make our family whole.”
For those considering adoption, the Martins offer up their thoughts, “We encourage anyone who feels led to adopt to go for it! We sincerely think that every child in the world needs a home, and the sometimes frustrating and seemingly expensive process is absolutely worth it when your child is finally with your family. We cannot imagine life without our precious adopted daughters.”
And for this beautiful family, life is complete and content.
LTC Martin returned in August from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. Once again in the loving arms of Keri and his children, the look in their faces bears witness to the fact that theirs is a love that changes the world.
Keri’s Survival Tips For Solo Parenting a Big Family During a Long Deployment
During her husband’s lengthy deployments, Keri found herself solo parenting the couple’s six children. From toddlers to teenagers, it was imperative Keri develop some sort of system to keep the days organized! Over the years, she has X . These are lessons that she has learned along the way and whether you have a big family or small, her advice is X
- Get it together the night before: I wouldn’t call myself the most organized person so I won’t try to say that you “have” to be really organized, but I did make sure that I had everything done the night before. I learned the hard way that if I didn’t get it done before, it was much harder to do it before bed. After sitting down and relaxing, I was too tired to do much of anything.! I definitely couldn’t leave it for the morning because something inevitably would happen in the morning to slow us down.
- Maintain Consistency in Rules: It is important to keep the same rules you had for your children before the mobilization. I believe it’s only natural to feel bad for your children because one of their parents is deployed. Suddenly allowing a child to start back talking because they miss their mom or dad is only going to increase their sense of insecurity. Giving in or changing long-standing rules will lead to increased anxiety. Having said that, I do think it’s appropriate to do fun things like staying up late and watching a movie in a homemade tent or having ice cream for dinner once in awhile to help create fun memories and relieve tension.
- Keep a Master List: Finally, “if it can break, it WILL while your spouse is deployed”! Have a ready-made list available with various numbers of professionals you trust who can fix anything in your house that may decide to stop working. Also, have a number handy of someone who can unlock your car if the kids accidentally lock the keys in it. It happened to me twice while James was away!
Side Bar: Merck, A Military Friendly Company
Awarded as a Top Military Friendly ® Employer by GI Jobs Magazine, and the recipient of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award by the U.S. government, Merck is dedicated to their military veteran, military spouse and Reserve employees. The company offers numerous resources, including a Veterans Roundtable, an employee network designed to help transitioning veterans adjust to corporate life. Merck is also a proud member of the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a coalition of employers whose collective goal is to hire 100,000 veterans by 2020. Visit Merck Careers for more information.