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The Burden of Service (Part 3)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain holds his son, Ayden, at a redeployment event on the flight line Jan. 23, 2013, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. Drain said seeing his family again was an emotional event, and the entire experience of the deployment helped him realize the importance of family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain holds his son, Ayden, at a redeployment event on the flight line Jan. 23, 2013, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. Drain said seeing his family again was an emotional event, and the entire experience of the deployment helped him realize the importance of family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain sits down to relax in his home for the first time in nearly six months Jan. 23, 2013, in Cabot, Ark. Drain, a 53rd Airlift Squadron flight engineer, was deployed to Afghanistan supporting expeditionary operations there. The quiet house was a sharp contrast to the deployed environment he had grown accustomed to. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain sits down to relax in his home for the first time in nearly six months Jan. 23, 2013, in Cabot, Ark. Drain, a 53rd Airlift Squadron flight engineer, was deployed to Afghanistan supporting expeditionary operations there. The quiet house was a sharp contrast to the deployed environment he had grown accustomed to. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain holds his sons, Ayden and Everett, on his first day home from a deployment to Afghanistan Jan. 23, 2013, in Cabot, Ark. Drain said he felt the need to tread lightly at first, and slowly work his way back into the boy’s lives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain holds his sons, Ayden and Everett, on his first day home from a deployment to Afghanistan Jan. 23, 2013, in Cabot, Ark. Drain said he felt the need to tread lightly at first, and slowly work his way back into the boy’s lives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain and his wife, Heather, take their children to the park April, 7, 2013, in Cabot, Ark. Military families are faced with many challenges every time their loved one leaves and deploys to a land of uncertainty. One of those challenges is re-integrating back into family life and a normal routine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain and his wife, Heather, take their children to the park April, 7, 2013, in Cabot, Ark. Military families are faced with many challenges every time their loved one leaves and deploys to a land of uncertainty. One of those challenges is re-integrating back into family life and a normal routine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain gives his son, Everett, a bath April 9, 2013, in Cabot, Ark. For Drain, it took several weeks to feel comfortable settling into a steady routine.  The change of pace from the frontlines, back to the home front can often be challenging for military members and their families.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain gives his son, Everett, a bath April 9, 2013, in Cabot, Ark. For Drain, it took several weeks to feel comfortable settling into a steady routine. The change of pace from the frontlines, back to the home front can often be challenging for military members and their families. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- After six months of getting by on her own, Heather Drain was ready to welcome her husband, Aaron, back into the family dynamic.
 
During Aaron's deployment to Afghanistan, Heather had become the rock of the family. Day in and day out, she cared for herself and the couple's two young boys with little respite. The occasional break provided by a friend or neighbor was always a welcome reprieve, but she was eager for the day that the couple would again share in the joys of parenthood.

"I was really excited to have him back to get some help with the kids," said Drain. "I felt many emotions before he came home, most of the time I was in a state of panic. I was unsure if I could accomplish the million tasks I had left around the house. I was very excited and unable to sleep most of the nights. That morning I was very forgetful and I just couldn't wait. "

Likewise, Aaron had grown accustomed to the solitary nature of deployed life. While he had the distinct advantage of regular adult interaction, the solidarity it provided was no consolation for what he was missing at home. Six-month-old Everett, and four-year-old Ayden were achieving milestones that would be lost to him forever.

As a C-130H flight engineer, his daily routine and the expectations placed on him were perhaps no less stressful the ones placed on his wife, but he did had the advantage of regimented schedule.

"This time around, I think Heather and I did it right," said Drain. "Don't get me wrong, there was conflict, but there's always going to be some sort of conflict when she's alone taking care of two children by herself. It's her versus the world really. I tried not to ever complain about any long day that I had, because I realized how long her days were."

Then, on a chilly winter morning, the family's wait was finally over. Heather Drain bundled her young boys and boarded a bus for the Little Rock Air Force Base flightline.

"I was anxious, you think about coming home a lot the last month of the deployment," said Aaron. "You're going home, you're happy, and you think about all the things you want to do, and you're going to do, and how you'll react. When I got back it was exactly as I expected, my family was there, there was a big crowd. I got off the plane, found my family and I finally got to see them. It was emotional, it's a great feeling. You don't know what you have until it's gone. When you're deployed, you realize what you have."

After the initial joys of reuniting, Drain had to face the challenges of settling back into his daily life. While he acknowledged that his position didn't put him on the front lines in a typical sense, flying missions in a combat zone routinely put Drain in harm's way. For many, the shift from bullets to babies can be unsettling.

"When you're deployed you get used to the heightened sense of danger," said Aaron. "When you get home it doesn't die off right away. I didn't like run around and try to do things all the time, but I would go around and close all the blinds and things like that. It's something they brief you about, and it's real. The calming down didn't really happen for a long time. At night I would hear something and it's like 'what was that?' It's something that is hard to get used to."

As the days passed, Drain made it a priority to reconnect with his wife and children. Often lost amid the redeployment shuffle are the enormous sacrifices that were made by family members left at home. There are no medals of valor for toddlers who help watch their baby brother, or Purple Hearts for learning how to ride your bike without training wheels.

"I had to tread lightly right off the bat," said Aaron. "Ayden was still sensitive, so I had to ease back into his life. I've tried to just be here as much as possible, and help out as much as possible. Now that it's gotten nice I've been able to take Ayden fishing. It's something I haven't been able to with him, he didn't really want to do that last year. Everett, he's easier, all you have to do is pick him up a few times and start building that bond with him. Me and Heather, we really haven't figured it out 100 percent yet. We're getting there, and we're getting along great. The home life is great, but you can't rush it."

Most members would likely agree that raising a family in the military is a challenging way of life. But every day, all around the world, military families pull together to make life work. For Drain and many others, the real heroics happen regaining the trust of those who love them the most.

It's never insignificant to recognize the sacrifices of any deployer. Regardless of the length of the tour, duty position, or the location of the deployment, any absence is too long for those left behind. We are heroes to our families first and foremost.

"No one experience is the same," said Heather. "Any one person can have a different dynamic in their relationship or different circumstances at home. Similar to mine, I would want someone to know, to not be afraid or ashamed to ask your friends for help. Try not to take on extra things while your spouse is gone and over burden yourself."
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