AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- “By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder, infinitely prouder, to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; the father only builds, never destroys … It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battlefield but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven,’” - Gen. Douglas MacArthur, former Supreme Commander of Allied Powers near the end of World War II.
MacArthur vocalized the realization of the stark contrast between the duties of a soldier and a father. Many men throughout history have found themselves balancing the two.
Seven Marines from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, have recently realized this disparity with the birth of their children. Seven new babies have been born to seven different fathers in the squadron since the “Greyhawks” have arrived at Al Taqaddum, Iraq in February.
The Marines have mixed feelings about being fathers, and yet being so far away from home, claimed Capt. Aaron P. Antrim, pilot training officer and CH-46E Sea Knight pilot, HMM-161. They are happy about their new children, but have other mixed feelings as well, he added.
“It was disappointing not being there,” the 28-year-old said. “My wife and I understand the job I have and it’s something you push through.”
With the birth of Eden, April 2, Antrim and his wife Rachel now have two boys, Eden, the newborn, and Asher, their oldest.
Fellow fathers in the squadron shared Antrim’s feeling of disappointment, noted Cpl. Robert S. Phillips, embarkation chief, HMM-161.
“It was scary not being there,” the Montgomery, Ala., native said. “It was the only birth I’ve missed. She did have a lot of support back home, but it was still rough not being there.”
With the June 26 addition of Alec Owen Hyde to the Phillips clan, the 26-year-old Marine corporal and his wife Carolyn now have four children. Their other children are Elisse Marin, 6; Anna Nicole, 4; and Robert Scott Jr., 2. Phillips joked that his youngest son “is the last one, so he gets all the leftover names.”
The support the CH-46E Sea Knight squadron has given the globe-trotting fathers in their time of worry has been second to none, claimed Cpl. Scott J. Hardegree, aircrew training manager, HMM-161.
“The day she went in the hospital, the (executive officer) came and told me she was in labor,” the 26-year-old Carrollton, Ga., native explained. “He gave me a satellite phone and the hospital number and told me to use it as much as I needed. It made it a whole lot easier.”
“If I didn’t have these guys and know them so well, it would’ve been much harder,” the young corporal added. “The squadron is good about supporting its people.”
Hardegree and his wife, April, welcomed their youngest of two daughters, Cady, into their family April 20. Their oldest daughter is named Mikayla.
The support the squadron gives the Marines is good, but the support provided to their families has made the difference since the “Greyhawks” departure in February, according to 1st Lt. Steve M. Clifton, HMM-161 adjutant and Sea Knight pilot. This support net stateside has been headed up by the squadron’s Key Volunteers Network.
“I knew she was in labor, but the KVN called the duty and they called here when she was actually giving birth,” he said of his wife, Sherry Marie. “It helped a lot. (The KVN) helps to pass e-mails and keep us updated. The family can’t do much (to keep in contact with us) because they are with our wives, so they can give a simple call.”
“One of the (commanding officer’s) big points before we left is to take care of the families so we can concentrate on what we’re doing over here,” the 32-year-old Dekalb, Ill., native added. “It makes everything safer.”
Clifton’s wife gave birth to Abigail Marie June 30, who is their only child.
Antrim agreed with Clifton about the strength derived from the KVN.
“Without the KVN, you won’t have the support network that the wives need,” he claimed. “It’s easier having that so they can push information back here and get it in the United States.”
“It shows the caring level,” he added. “They go out of the way to provide for the family members of the squadron. I think a strong (spouses) network directly correlates to a strong squadron, especially on deployment.”
The “Greyhawks’” other new additions include Dana C. Hall III, the fourth child born May 21 to Sgt. Dana C. Hall, individual material readiness list manager, and his wife, Deanna; Ava Mae Kull, the second child born June 14 to Capt. Timothy A. Kull, assistant S-1 officer, and wife, Stephanie; and Kalaura Mae, the second daughter born April 26 to Lance Cpl. Stanley O. Moore, maintenance administration clerk, and his wife, Mikita.
With the great distance between the new babies and their warrior fathers, some of the father’s have expressed disappointment at not seeing their new child, but also admiration for the wives who have gone through so much, Clifton said.
“She is going through the pregnancy herself,” he said. “When no one is there she’s got to deal with it by herself. She’s a trooper.”
The distance is hard for both parties, Hardegree echoed.
“I don’t know if you can compare being here in combat or being home with your spouse in combat and not knowing,” he explained. “I know it’s hard. She takes care of the kids, pays the bills and took over the role of the head of the household. I’m very proud of her.”
With the “Greyhawks” tour of duty in Iraq coming to an end, emotions are running hot for the proud fathers of the squadron. Their emotions and desires are summed up in the heartfelt words of Phillips.
“I’m doing fine and I’ll be home soon,” Phillips said, more to his wife than anyone else. “You’ve done a great job and you raised the kids in my absence.
“You were able to step up and be a single parent by circumstance and not complain,” he added. “I am so proud of you.”