Surviving Deployment
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Military teen Mitchell Vandiver
marched in President Obama's
inaugural parade

Creating Memories with Friends
by Karen Pavlicin and Mitchell Vandiver

As military families, we inherently know that it's all about relationships. Yes, our military loved ones are heroes - they go off to defend freedom and right wrongs. They have really important jobs that require great service and sacrifice. But as we go through deployments and moves and this often chaotic military life, we realize how close our family and friends become even in separation. Even in the midst of deployment, we find friends who march with us, who celebrate the good parts and cry with us in the sad parts. What we learn and what our kids learn in military life carries through every life experience.

During one of my husband's many deployments, I had the pleasure of living next door to an amazing woman named Kelly who at the time had a 10-month old son, Mitchell. Her Coast Guard husband had a 2-day on / 2-day off schedule. So Kelly and Mitchell and I spent a lot of time together. Over the years and through many moves, we've stayed in touch and I've had the opportunity to watch Mitchell grow, now a senior at Morton High School while his dad is stationed in East Peoria, IL. Mitchell has had tremendous life experiences, living at many duty stations, losing his family's home to Katrina, and recently, marching in President Obama's inaugural parade. His account of his parade experience is one all military families can relate to. No matter what this deployment brings, no matter what unexpected opportunities arise, remember there are friends who will dance on the bus with you and create a lifetime of memories. Here is Mitchell's story .

The week of the President Obama’s inauguration, I spent 59 hours on a Peoria Charter bus. I spent two nights in a hotel, half a day looking at monuments and wandering around the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and three hours standing in the Mall waiting for the parade to start. I spent five hours eating in various buffets in Pennsylvania . And for about ten seconds I could see Barack Obama.

While I was waiting for the parade to start, wearing my uncomfortable marching band uniform, with numb feet from the cold and a frozen reed on my clarinet, I couldn’t decide if the trip to Washington was worth it. About a dozen of our 116 band members were hit with horrible stomach problems Monday and Tuesday, and the rest of us were paranoid that we might catch what they had. On a packed charter bus, one sick person could easily turn into twenty sick people. I never felt the electrified atmosphere that was reportedly in the city, because while President Obama was being sworn in and the speeches were being given, I was waiting in the parking lot of the Pentagon.

Going to Washington D.C. for the inauguration was a once in a lifetime experience. I will probably never be as close to a president as I was when we marched past Obama. However, the best part was not seeing Barack Obama or seeing the monuments. The best part wasn’t even seeing Mohammed Ali’s boxing gloves and a Stradivarius quintet in the Smithsonian. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these things, but what made the trip worth while, what I will remember, was the time spent with my friends.

Before we left, during the hectic weeks of raising money and working out details, the staff and students constantly talked about seeing the president and being part of history. Now that I am home, I don’t remember those things as much. I remember dance parties on the bus. I remember Scrabble games in the hotel. I remember talking to kids from Virginia between our buses using sign language for two hours. I remember shooting ice at other tables in the buffet with our straws. I remember just hanging out with my friends. Being a senior, the thought of going off to college and leaving everyone behind is constantly on my mind. Our trip to Washington will always be an exciting memory because of the magnitude of the event. But I will never forget the ordinary things, the talking and playing games. The parade lasted a few hours. The friendships will last a lifetime.

Mitchell Vandiver is a senior at Morton High School in Illinois . His dad serves with the US Coast Guard, stationed in East Peoria.

Karen Pavlicin writes for a variety of web sites and magazines. She is the author of Surviving Deployment and Life After Deployment.




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Kids and Journaling - Journaling is a great way to help kids sort out all of the feelings they have when someone they love deploys. Here's how to get started with kids of different ages.

Happiness After Homecoming - Sometimes the greatest deployment challenge is coming together as a family after the homecoming.

Budgeting for Deployment - Are you prepared for the financial changes of deployment? Download this worksheet to help you create a deployment budget.

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