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Reservists cope with separation during holidays

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Master Sgt. Timothy Maguire, an Air Force reservist from Westover, writes a letter to his family while deployed thousands of miles from home (US Air Force photo/Capt. Vince King).

Master Sgt. Timothy Maguire, an Air Force reservist from Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., writes a letter to his family while deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghainstan, thousands of miles from home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Vince King)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- -- Eight-year-old Elizabeth Maguire kisses her daddy's picture on her pillowcase every night before she goes to sleep and she wears his shirts around the house. Last month, she had to settle for talking to her
dad on the phone while she opened his birthday present for her.
That's just a few of the sacrifices little Elizabeth makes while her dad is deployed with
the 42nd Aerial Port Squadron halfway around the world until early next year.
Master Sgt. Timothy B. Maguire, his wife Kathleen, and their three children showcase the hardships of family separation felt by the more than 50 aerial porters deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan through the holidays.
The close-knit Maguires agree that the
holidays are the hardest time.
"We are so traditional. It's such a big deal to us; I don't think I can pull the traditions off without him," said Kathleen, Sergeant Maguire's wife of 17 years. "He loves hosting Thanksgiving and takes pride in making the
ultimate Christmas Eve feast. I organize everything, but he runs the kitchen."
She said Thanksgiving will be very quiet this year, and she plans to take the kids to California to visit her brother the week of Christmas.
"Celebrating my brother's holiday traditions will take our minds off missing our own," she said.
Creative thinking is key to making holiday adjustments and also to coping with everyday life. A "veteran" from two previous deployments, Kathleen says deployments tend to follow
a pattern.
"The first month is adjusting roles and figuring out how to get things done, the middle months tend to be status quo in the busyness, and the final month is anticipation and excitement while planning welcome-home activities," she said, and added another month for readjustments to family life once he's home. Sergeant Maguire has high praise for his wife's support and says she has the harder role. He describes his duty in Afghanistan on 13-hour shifts as ramp supervisor, six days a week, with a few hours for eating, reading and working out, then "crashing" in his little plywood B-hut for badly-needed sleep.
"With very few entertainment options and no off-base access, it's like the 'Groundhog Day' movie every day," he said. "My wife is the one juggling her role and mine with home, work,
and all the kids' activities."
Kathleen has learned, by the third deployment, it's okay not to get everything done.
"The pace is so unbelievably fast. I feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants with everything," said the mother of three, and fifth-grade teacher. She said her father helps with yard jobs, her mom helps with chores, and the kids try to pick up the slack.
"When Tim is home, we are a team. We are best friends. Every day, I miss him so much," she said. Family, church and friends have been a major support system to the family. They are on a prayer list at St. Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs.
"The church mails cards to Tim and his unit, and my fifth-grade class writes to the soldiers and sends care packages."
Sergeant Maguire said he started to miss his family the minute he got on the plane.
"I miss the soccer games, the cheerleading
competitions, making faces in their plates with
the eggs and sausages during Sunday morning family breakfast, and their Sunday family
day activities," he said. "It was always our day
to connect."
"I wish Dad was in the stands when we
won our Grand Champions cheerleading competition," said 15-year-old Jessica. She and her
dad e-mail at least twice a week to catch up with each other. "I tell him what's going on with
me and he tells me about his job. He tells me to do my best and that he's proud of me, she
said. "I miss watching ESPN with him and having him explain football to me."
She may not be watching ESPN with her father, but she saw her father on ESPN recently when he was the spokesman for the 42nd
Aerial Port segment shown during the Army/Air Force game aired Nov. 3.
"I'm very proud of my dad. Not a lot of
people, like, want to go overseas. It takes a lot of courage," Jessica said. "I admire that."
Eleven-year-old Andrew misses his dad a
lot because now he's the only guy left in
the house. According to his mom, he's working
hard to fill in as "man-of-the-house." Andrew said he talks to his dad on the phone a
couple times a week but misses playing
basketball, playing tag, or going for walks
with him.
"He tells me how much he cares about me,
but I can't think about him too much so I don't break down in tears," Andrew said. Sergeant Maguire tries to stay upbeat and sends pictures so his family can relate to where he is
and what he does. "I want them to make a connection and feel a part of it," he said. As the 42nd APS' unit deployment monitor, Sergeant Maguire works hard with his "military family" overseas. "Friends and family are
sending holiday stuff already," he said.
"We want to make it as festive as possible to ease
the separation." Sergeant Maguire laughed when asked what he wanted to do first when he got home - indicating what would be the obvious answer for any husband away from his wife for months. He finally said, "Have a nice, cold beer and a good meal."
Little Elizabeth is proud that her dad is "serving our country and keeping our family safe."
She knows exactly what she wants to do when she first sees her dad again. "I'm going to run up to him - and he'll catch me - and he'll know how much I miss him," she said.