Master Sgt. Rodolfo and Tech. Sgt. Christina Gamez’s young children began 2011 with a tearful goodbye to their mother in an Ohio airport when she deployed to Afghanistan. Three months earlier, the children had a similar scene in San Antonio when they saw their father leave for his own 365-day deployment. But Eva and Tomas Gamez enjoy a much happier beginning to 2012.
Their father returned in October, and on Jan. 22, 4-year-old Eva and 6-year-old Tomas got their mother back. The children were once again in the San Antonio International Airport, holding posters with photos of their mother and family as they waited for the plane to land. Just like the earlier airport goodbyes, there were hugs and tears when they were together again, but with a completely different set of emotions.
“I just never felt like it was going to be real,” said Christina, a financial analyst with the 802nd Comptroller Squadron at Joint Base Lackland, Texas. “I didn’t expect I’d see them that quick because that whole terminal was new to me,” she said, referring to the terminal that opened while she was deployed. “So I wasn’t expecting them there at all. It didn’t feel real until that minute.
“When [Rodolfo] left, it felt like it was going to be a long year. But now that year is done. Today, it just felt like, finally, it’s done.”
When the mother’s eyes met those of her children, she ran the final dozen steps and fell into an embrace. She then hugged her husband, then his mother, Rosalind Gamez, Master Sgt. Charles and Jessica Palmer, and Tech. Sgt. Justin and Tammy Cook and other friends, before she quickly returned to her husband and children.
Rodolfo, a member of the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency at Joint Base Lackland, deployed in October as chief of plans and programs in the NATO Training Mission in Kabul. He’d deployed six times, but for the first time he learned what his wife experienced back home as he waited for her plane to land.
“I never had my heart in my throat coming home from any of my six deployments like I felt today,” he said. “It was just a different emotion, with a lot more anxiety and anticipation from this end. I think coming home in uniform, you’re the hero, and everybody’s welcoming you. But I think from the non-deployer’s side of the house, there’s just so much more raw emotion.”
Christina and Rodolfo wrote about their experiences in the past year from pre-deployment preparation throughout their time in Afghanistan in the “Double Duty” blog, which is still available at doubleduty.dodlive.mil. There were times when writing wasn’t easy because of the roller coaster of emotions the family endured during their separation.
“I think the hard part was being honest in the blogs and not trying to water it down, and having some genuine thought and feeling in there was the hardest part for me,” Rodolfo said. “You’ve got to remain optimistic and look at the upside of it. Not all situations downrange give you a lot of room to stay positive.”
“I thought sometimes it got kind of hard to blog because I’d be so frustrated at a situation or the military from having to be separated for so long,” Christina said. “I knew if I wrote something like that, it would be disparaging to the Air Force, but the truth was [being separated] sucks.
“The one I’ll write next will deal with knowing how to fit back into the family again. Obviously, when he goes TDY, I’m going to have to step back into that role [spouse at home]. It’s weird being on this side, trying to figure out your place and where you fit in the mess. I think it made it a little easier that I’d been through it so many times on the other end.”
When they learned she was due for a deployment, the Gamezes tried to plan to deploy at the same time to lessen the impact on their children. But the deployment cycles didn’t match, and Christina deployed about four months after her husband.
“We’re not the first ones to do this, and we won’t be the last,” Rodolfo said. “It was the community around us that made us successful, whether it was the Facebook and blog communities, or our friends here and family members. After all we’ve endured, we may not have done everything right, but we’re good. Everybody’s safe, and our family’s back together.”
The Gamezes verified that their Air Force Form 357 or family care plan was up to date and arranged for the children to stay at their grandmother’s home in Ohio when she left in January. The children marked off the days until their parents’ return on a calendar and looked forward to goal dates, which always came with a reward.
The reward for their mother was seeing her children again after her year in Afghanistan as a deployed budget analyst. Even though they’d kept in contact through Skype as often as possible, she was still surprised at their physical changes since she last saw them.
“They’re huge,” she said. “Tomas lost some teeth and ties his own shoes now. Eva talks like an adult now. I noticed that when I came home on [rest and relaxation] she speaks in complete sentences. They also use these huge words they get off the Disney Channel.”
One word Eva picked up brought a smile to their parents when they heard about it from their grandmother, Maryellen Germinaro, while both were still deployed. Eva told her grandmother she was in a conundrum.
“Grandma asked her, ‘What’s a conundrum.’ Eva said, ‘I don’t know, but I’m in one,’” Rodolfo said. “I love you guys, but I love Mom and Dad, and when they come home, I don’t know what to do.”
Now that everyone is home, the family is trying to make 2012 their year by settling back into normalcy. They’re excited about the return trip to Disney World the parents promised the children before they left for deployment. But for now, they’re just happy to be together again.