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Minnesota National Guard
Getting and finding support for military families

As parents are deployed in the military and return, families need continued support

The Holtan family
Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

From the moment Erik Holtan, staff sergeant with the Minnesota National Guard 34th Infantry Division, left for Iraq in December 2006, his wife Melissa had her hands full

Oldest daughter Madison, now 14, was very emotional "I remember being at school and crying every morning," said Madison, recalling the kindness of a teacher who led her into the hallway one day to ask what she could do to help

Son Hunter, now 13, had a very different reaction "He was so mad He was mad at the Army for taking his dad He was mad at Erik for leaving," said Melissa "He was okay during school, but when we were at family functions and other kids' dads were there, that's when it was the worst"

Relying on family was something Melissa, then pregnant with the couple's third child Kendall, discovered she needed to do during the year Erik was absent from their Cottage Grove home

"You think you're going to be ready when your spouse leaves, but you don't know what you are ready for You don't know how things will play out," said Melissa "I'm sure my mom got sick of me calling her every day and asking 'What am I going to do?' But she was really my rock during all of it"

It takes a village and it takes awhile

Amber Runke, a program specialist with Minnesota Operation Military Kids, serving military families during all phases of deployment, said families are frequently apprehensive about reaching out for help

"A lot of times, friends and family will rally around during the first days after the Soldier leaves with meals or offers of childcare," said Runke "However, in many cases, a few months down the line, people sort of forget, but the family still needs so much support and they tend not to ask for it"

During Erik's deployment, a new baby and a stressful work environment for Melissa were a source of worry for the couple, who had to manage the issues long-distance

"There are so many unknowns for a family Where you had two people sailing the ship before, now you only have one," said Erik "When you hear about all the stuff going on at home and you can't really do anything about it, that's hard"

Sometimes, it is the simple gesture that makes a big difference Erik recalls how grateful he was when Melissa told him a neighbor had come over and mowed the couple's lawn

"I didn't even know this guy, but it meant a lot that he would look out for us like that," said Erik
Once on the receiving end and now giving back

Both Erik and Melissa are now committed to helping other families during deployment through their involvement with the Family Readiness Group, part of a community support program called Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, sponsored by the Minnesota National Guard

"You do feel like an island when your spouse is deployed As hard as it is to ask for help, you should also remember your time will come and you'll have a chance to help someone else out," said Melissa

It is possible the Holtan family may need a little extra help themselves next summer as Erik's 1st Brigade Combat Team will be part of the Minnesota National Guard unit scheduled to be deployed for a year as part of Operation New Dawn, the drawdown phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom Erik may be included in that deployment

With the addition of 3-year old Conner and 1-year old Macy to the family since Erik's return from Iraq, Melissa, who now runs a home daycare, will face new challenges when it comes to managing their family life

"I don't know how I'll juggle all the balls," she said with a laugh "But I'll figure it out"

Operation Military Kids offers several free camp experiences for children from military families
"¢ Operation Boots On: For kids in grades K-6 who have a parent preparing for deployment (Aug 7-8 in Duluth)
"¢ Operation Boots Off: For kids in grades 7-12 with a parent preparing to return (Aug 7-8 in Cloquet, Minn)
"¢ Family Camp: For kids and parents (Aug 27-29 in Cloquet, Minn)
For more information, see operationmilitarykidsorg

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St Paul freelance writer

By JULIE PFITZINGER, Special to the Star Tribune
Last update: July 3, 2010 - 4:57 PM

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