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Authors: Deborah Ellis

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Off to War

BOOK: Off to War
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By Deborah Ellis

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Copyright © 2008 by Deborah Ellis
Published in Canada and the USA in 2008 by Groundwood Books.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the publisher or a license from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyight). For an Access Copyright license, visit
or call toll free to 1-800-893-5777.

All photographs are courtesy of the author.

Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801
Toronto, Ontario M5V 2K4
or c/o Publishers Group West
1700 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) and the Ontario Arts Council.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Ellis, Deborah
Off to war : voices of soldiers' children / Deborah Ellis.
ISBN-13: 978-0-88899-894-1 (bound).–ISBN-13: 978-0-88899-895-8 (pbk.)
ISBN-10: 0-88899-894-5 (bound).–ISBN-10: 0-88899-895-3 (pbk.)
1. Children and war–Juvenile literature. 2. Children of military
personnel–United States–Interviews–Juvenile literature. 3. Children of
military personnel–Canada–Interviews–Juvenile literature. I. Title.
U765.E45 2008             j303.6'6083             C2008-900523-6

Design by Michael Solomon
Printed and bound in Canada

A common comment from adults (parents and educators) is some version of “military children are adaptable, tough and resilient kids, who usually have wonderful rich life experiences.” Still, they are children first and connected to the military second.

— From
Parent Guidebook, US Army Secondary Education Transition Study
, Military Family Resource Center, Arlington, Virginia



For the past several years, Canadian and American soldiers have been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. One million American military personnel have taken part in these wars, and about 13,500 Canadian soldiers have been in Afghanistan. The reasons for their participation are complicated and controversial, and their ongoing role in these countries is highly debated.

Beyond the financial and political costs of these wars, there is a high human cost. Untold numbers of civilians living in Iraq and Afghanistan, including many children, have lost their homes, their livelihoods and their lives due to these wars, which they did not seek and in which they have not participated other than as innocent victims.

But participating in a war as a soldier also carries a high cost. Part of that cost is being paid by the military families who are left behind, especially the children. As the wars drag on, deployments (time spent in war zones) are extended and repeated. Mothers and fathers are returning home altered by their experience of being involved in killing and surrounded by
devastation, and sometimes finding their families changed, too, in their absence.

According to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, 1.2 million young people in the United States have at least one parent in the armed forces. In Canada the numbers are smaller, but the war in Afghanistan involves a large percentage of Canada's armed forces, many of whom have families.

In this book we will meet some of these children. Some live on military bases and some live in civilian communities. Some have grown up surrounded by military culture; others have suddenly found themselves thrust into the middle of it. Some support the wars and their governments, some oppose them, and still others have other things to think about.

Their voices remind us that the military is made up of individuals with different viewpoints, beliefs, reasons for joining, and ways of being with their children. They remind us that when we send an army off to war, we are sending human beings with families and friends. And they remind us that in any war, it is always children who are the biggest losers — children whose voices are rarely heard.

It was an honor to meet these children and their families. They have much to tell us.

Deborah Ellis

Matt, 16, Allison, 11, and Lewis, 9

Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is one of the largest military bases in the United States, with 45,000 soldiers and 8,500 civilian employees. These numbers do not include the families who also live on post. Founded in 1918 to train infantry, or foot soldiers, it was expanded to become a training center for airborne regiments (soldiers who are flown or parachuted into battle) and for Special Forces (highly trained soldiers who fight in secret missions).

In addition to training areas, Fort Bragg has many neighborhoods where families live. There are schools, shops, restaurants, skating rinks, bowling alleys, golf courses, swimming pools, movie theaters, museums and a library alongside shooting ranges, a parachute jump school, and top-secret training areas for the Special Operations Unit. The Tolson Youth Activities Center includes dozens of clubs offering arts, sports, computer and social activities.

Matt, Allison and Lewis come from a long line of military relatives, and their father has been deployed overseas several times. Their mother is a leader with the local Family Readiness Group (FRG), a military-sponsored program to help communications between families and the military.

— Our father is a sergeant major. He goes overseas a lot, and he's about to go over again, this time to Afghanistan. I'm kind of used to it happening. It happens so often.

Before he goes we try to do special things together and have fun, and whenever he comes back we do another fun time. We're planning to go to Hawaii when he comes back from this trip.

When he's away, we're not able to go to as many places because he's not around to drive us there. Mom can't drive us everywhere, and sometimes she has meetings of her own to go to. She's the Family Readiness Group leader for the battalion.

Dad's been to Albania. He gave me a teddy bear from there. He's been to Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Bosnia, Panama and the first and second Gulf Wars. This is his sixteenth tour.

— I'm the third Lewis, and Dad is the second. The first Lewis is our grandpa, who served in Vietnam. My mother comes from a military family, too. And my father's stepfather did a combat jump in Europe with the 82nd Airborne in World War II.

— I've gotten used to the transition of him leaving. Now I hardly even think about it. There's more responsibility put on me. I have to assume, to some degree, the role of the father figure. If the kids have a question, they don't have Dad to go to, so they come to me, or to Mom, whoever's there. I have to watch over them when Mom's away, instead of Dad. I do spend more time with the kids when Dad's deployed than I do when he's here, I guess because when he's here I'm more concentrated on separate matters, like on what I want to do. When he's gone, I have to balance out what I want to do with what's going on with everybody else.

There's more chores to do, too, without Dad's extra pair of
hands. It wasn't until recently that these two started doing chores. It's little things that add up. When Dad's here, he does the laundry, but when he's gone, that falls on me. I don't mind doing it. And fixing things around the house. When he's here, I try to pick up a few of his skills so that I can take over when he's gone again.

— I do the dishes more when Dad's gone. Matt usually does them, but he gets busy with the laundry.

— I don't do any of Matt's chores. He wants me to, but so far I've managed not to. I'm on garbage detail. That's my chore. The house would be pretty smelly if I didn't take care of it.

— It's kind of a give and take. If you want to receive, you have to give. I've found that if you give more than you receive, oftentimes people are a lot happier with you.

I have to think of the family as a whole to make it all work. If I only thought of myself, then the whole family would be miserable, which would make me miserable, so I wouldn't be happy anyway.

It makes me feel better when everything works, and when I've had a hand in making it work.

Even though Dad's been in the army all my life and has always gone away, I never really adjusted to it until two deployments ago. It hit me that it's only going to get longer from here on out.

At first, I'd be bawling every time Dad left. Eventually it just kind of sank in. There's no point in crying over it because I know he's going to come home.

I remember one time he got deployed, came home for a little while, and was gone so long I forgot what he looked like.
That's not exactly a pleasant thing. He showed up in the car and I thought to myself, “Maybe. Maybe that's him.” Then he called out to me, and I'm like, “Yay! Daddy!”

— I'm used to Dad leaving. I'm not a good rememberer, so I don't remember me bawling for Dad, but I do remember I was happy when he came home. I wasn't happy when he left, but I wasn't crying all over the place. I know that he goes, a couple of months go by, he comes back, then he goes again.

— I haven't gotten used to it. I'm not used to it at all.

— I don't think we ever talked about the dangers Dad faces. He goes into some pretty dangerous situations, but we've never sat down together and talked about what could happen.

— We kind of did when he was hurt that time, when that bomb went off. He was in Iraq then.

BOOK: Off to War
11.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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