Honoring Our Troops: How some West Michigan Military Families Cope with Deployment

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (May 26, 2014) – Some military families say words cannot express the feeling of reuniting with family.

Two West Michigan families share laughs across the dinner table now, after their husbands returned home from deployment.

They say nothing can really prepare you for the time apart, as they faced so many unknowns, but sometimes parts of returning home can be just as heart-wrenching.

“The hardest part was coming back, when I went to pick (my daughter) up, she looked at me like she wanted to cry, like she had no idea who I was,” said Jeremiah Berger, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class.

Jeremiah and his wife Kelly Berger say Jeremiah’s second deployment, when he spent a year in Afghanistan, was most difficult. He left his seven-month-old daughter and four-year-old son with his wife; they say their son took it the hardest.

“Finally when they got in the car and they started backing out, he started realizing I wasn’t going home with him, and I had to choke back tears to try to be strong with him because he was balling his eyes out,” said Jeremiah.

“Sticking his hands out the window, ‘daddy!,’ it was pretty traumatic for him,” added Kelly.

But Kelly says the strong bonds she forged with other military families during deployment pulled her through.

“They become like your family,” said Kelly.

Eryn and Tommy Wukawitz were also stationed at the Fort Bragg base in North Carolina near the Bergers before moving to Michigan. During their husbands’ deployments, Eryn and Kelly say they celebrated Christmas together and held onto “normalcy” as best they could.

“You adjust and as soon as you adjust, then you have to go somewhere else. It is the Army, and it’s okay, I like it,” said Eryn.

Another couple, Nichole and Dillon Kimmel, are both active U.S. Navy members who are preparing for deployment. Dillon is originally from Grand Rapids, now living in northern California with his wife and young son. He’s getting ready to be apart from his wife, who is planning for deployment five hours away in San Diego. It’s a move they call unexpected.

“It’s kind of weird that things we’ve collected together as a family it’s now like we have to split everything up. A lot of it is stuff that’s both of ours: Who’s going to take the marriage license that we have hung? Who’s going to take this picture? Who’s going to take the dresser?” questioned Dillon.

Again they said supporting and trusting each other is key. They feel the sacrifice is worth it, and added that they have the extended support of other military families.

“No matter where you go everyone has to relocate and be away from people they love. You have to rely on each other. It’s hard but it’s nice knowing you have a huge extended family,” said Nichole.

It’s a lifestyle that many serving the military call unpredictable, but a choice they say is worthy to serve their families and their country.

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