Those of you who are long-time readers of this site know I re-enlisted in the National Guard after a 13 year hiatus. For those of you who don’t know that story, you can read about it here. Anyway, when I raised my right hand last August and swore to protect and defend the Constitution of this great nation, I was well-aware of the weightiness of that decison. Trust me on this, I harbor no illusions of what type of world we find ourselves living in. To paraphrase Stinky Pete, “It’s a dangerous world out there for a toy [soldier].” I know what to expect going forward and have accepted any and all possibilities. My wife has as well. Everything is on the table. I would love to roll back the clock to some time during the Cold War where we just compared our junk with the Communists – “My heat-seeking missile is bigger, ya pinko bastard!” “No, my warhead is bigger, yankee pigdog!” – and we all just played wargames, drank beer and, well, drank beer. Alas, those days are gone.

Today, we are in never-ending rotations. This BCT rolls out after eight, nine, twelve months in country, another takes its place. The game never changes, only the players. Men and women, fathers and mothers, are separated from their families a year or more at a time. Eight to ten weeks of mobilization and training. Nine or more months in country before they’re back home for good now. Then it’s wait three years and do it all over again. Can you imagine the havoc that can wreak on a family? The National Fatherhood Initiative has and each year recognizes those military dads who go above and beyond for their children and families. Read on to learn about this year’s nominees.

Imagine you’re LS1 Christopher Cady and you’re Active Duty Navy and the single father of a profoundly disabled son (epilepsy, cerebral palsy, blind and deaf). Yeah, that’s about the point where my brain clicked off too. Cady is an active duty sailor who deployed when his son, Joshua, was younger. As the primary caregiver, he had to create a meticulous plan to provide for his son’s care and many needs while he was away, in addition to getting himself ready for a deployment, no easy task in itself. Since then, Cady has been compassionately reassigned so he could better care for Joshua. He also is the Command Exceptional Family Member Coordinator and helps other service members seek out resources for their children and families. Cady also is “a mentor for the Military Special Needs Group, the Special Education Advisory Committee, and the Kitsap Fathers Network. He also is active in the Boyer Children’s Fathers Group, where he is an advisor. Cady also is a facilitator for the Washington Fathers Network, and most recently, has become involved with the National CMV Foundation.” Phew. I’m tired just thinking about all that. No, seriously, I’m exhausted. I don’t know how he does it. But he does. You’d probably find me curled up in a ball somewhere.
CPT Scott Kulla is a married father of six. SIX! I have three and can’t even begin to calculate the level of difficulty in managing his brood. Anyway, Kulla, in addition to being a full-time soldier (Army! hooah!) also is a full-time student in the US Army Doctor of Science Occupational Therapy Program. The demands on his time are great, but he always makes time to spend with his children. “Daddy dates,” camping trips, 4 a.m. workouts, late night study sessions and sleep deprivation are just some of the ways he puts his children and family first. Now, just to add to the reasons why this military dad rocks, during a 17-month…17 MONTHS?!?…deployment to Iraq and without computer or phone (ack!) he wrote letters to his wife and children every day. EVERY DAY! Even after daily patrols and interminably long days (de rigueur in the military). Then, during a hardship tour (unaccompanied) to Korea, Kulla Skyped with his wife and kids and never. missed. a day. And, depsite this modern convenience, wrote letters and sent cards on a regular basis. So there. Finally, according to Carol Haertlein Sells who nominated CPT Kulla, “he has never taken the easy road in life; he is committed to his kids and sacrifices to assure their futures.”

If you were adopting a child from Russia and making several trips to care for your future sons’ health and show your “immeasurable love for these boys,” would you also arrive with enough food, formula and vitamins for the other 100+ children? That’s just what MAJ Marc Matthes did while waiting for the adoption approval. After his wife, Kerry, suffered an injury at her job, the couple “chose to adopt Russian orphans. He visited Russia several times at a great financial cost to adopt two boys. Later, while stationed in Korea, they adopted two girls from Guatemala; again, at a great cost.” During separations, the 41-year-old father, records stories prior to his departure “so [his children] will hear his voice and feel his love while he is away.” Matthes also makes sure to take leave days to spend time with his wife and children, celebrating important events he will miss while he’s away from them. Moreover, he counsels other military dads on the adoption process and has helped several families when the obstacles seem insurmountable. James Bottomlee summed it up thusly in his nomination of MAJ Matthes: “He is a self-sacrificing father; bringing 4 orphans into a stable family, overcoming behavior issues, nurturing health, and fostering joy despite previous circumstances….Marc is having a world-changing impact in their lives and in all those around him.”

These military dads have set a very high bar for some of us. But, in any event, they have given me some great ideas should I ever find myself deployed for any length of time. I hope to be able to live up to the example they have set. Hooah!

For more information on the National Fatherhood Initiative’s 2011 Military Fatherhood Award, please click here. Or, to vote on which father should be this year’s recipient, visit NFI’s facebook page.