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NEWS | Feb. 7, 2013

'Tractor-wheel donuts:' A deployed Valentine story

By Staff Sgt. Katie Gar Ward 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Editor's Note: This story is part of a series.

There was a warmth in the room as she described stories and memories of her family. The twang in her voice echoed her captivating Southern charm.

Sara Jane Arnett, an Army spouse and author, smiled as she recalled when her son's school held an event called "Donuts with Dads." Her son Gammon, wanted so badly for his dad to participate, but he couldn't - he was deployed.

She wasn't going to let the distance hinder them from enjoying a special event like this, so she resolved they would have their own "Donuts with Dads" at their home using video-chat. She even made a flyer for their special event.

That morning, she woke Gammon up early. He and his dad have a special, swirl donut they call "tractor wheels," so she made sure she had bought some the day before.

"My husband had briefed his commander early that day just so he could make it," said Mrs. Arnett.

She paused for a moment, looking up to the ceiling. Her eyes glimmered and began to water.

"It was precious," she said. "He made the time for Gammon."

For Mrs. Arnett, adapting to celebrate special moments isn't unusual. After seven years of marriage and several deployments, her family finds ways to stay strong by communicating, supporting one another and celebrating every day as if it was an occasion.

Special moments are what help her sons, 5-year-old Gammon, 3-year-old Harrison and 1-year-old Levi, while their father is gone.

"We do anything to try to have an adventure or occasion or event to get excited about," she said. "It's important to create memories, because the memories we have will keep us strong through the time apart."

Her husband, Army Capt. Sam Arnett, former 221st Military Police Detachment commander at Fort Eustis, Va., is currently on a year-long deployment serving with the Area Support Group-Kuwait as the provost marshal of the northern camps in Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Since their marriage, he has been deployed during Valentine's Day twice.

When her husband is home for Valentine's Day, the Arnetts celebrate in different ways to cover time together as a couple, and time as a family.

"We want to do something for just us too because it's important to share time exclusively with your spouse," she said. "We also do stuff with the kids like make Valentine's cookies."

This year, the family is sending Captain Arnett a themed care package, with items wrapped in red and white tissue paper.

"We put in things like homemade pictures from the boys, 'because they love and adore you,' and two packages of cookies 'because the boys and I are sweet on you,'" she said. "It's just something fun with little sayings. Last month I sent him a box with all types of nuts - peanuts, cashews, all kinds, and wrote 'The boys and I are going nuts without you.'"

In order to make the holiday apart even more special, the Arnetts are planning a Valentine's video-chat date.

"We're going to dress up - that sounds silly I guess," she said, laughing. "I got him a shirt and sent it in the care package. On the outside it says 'Skype-date attire.'"

According to Mrs. Arnett, taking the time to send packages and communicate to her husband is essential to having a successful marriage while being apart.

"If we communicate to each other that we both feel the other is special, we give each other empowerment in our relationship, and we can focus on other things because we're so secure in our relationship," she said. "I want to keep him involved in our life as much as possible because that harbors trust. Any successful relationship is going to take work and effort, but we have a commitment to each other, to the military and to our marriage, and we're going to make it work."

In addition to ensuring an open line of communication, Mrs. Arnett said she's taking steps for herself during the separation to alleviate stressors in order to help support their bond.

"Every Monday I have a babysitter come - I call it 'Mama Mondays,'" she said, smiling. "I'm working on my master's, so I go to the library half the day or make lists of things to do. It's a pretty huge thing for me to get out of the house and acknowledge that I need help. This is a luxury for me, like a mental breather."

For Mrs. Arnett, the impact of "Mama Mondays" also has a positive effect on her children.

"It's the way you approach things - your attitude," she said. "If I'm positive and calm, hopefully that will rub off on the boys. If we make sure our marriage is happy and thriving, the boys can see we're happier together as a couple; as partners. They haven't had any emotional regress since Sam's been gone, and I think it's because he and I are 100 percent committed."

While having a committed and supportive relationship is critical, Mrs. Arnett suggests ensuring those who have deployed family members also have a support system at home.

"Separations are inevitable in this line of work," she said. "If your spouse, partner or other half is away right now leaving you to maintain the home front, remember to rely on the support of your friends and family. It makes you realize you can do this another day, and find your inner strength to weather the separation - then everything else will fall into place."

Although the time apart is challenging, Mrs. Arnett said there is also a silver lining to deployments and separations.

"In the military, those times when you're able to spend holidays together are fleeting, so when you do have that opportunity, you make the most of it and you appreciate it," she said. "It's not necessarily what we do or what we get for each other, it's that time that we have with each other that is the biggest gift of all.

"With Valentine's Day and the message of love, for our family it's significant across the entire year because we love each other every day, regardless of any occasion," she continued. "My commitment to the strength of my family is that of my Soldier's commitment to our country."

It is evident that the heartbeat of the Arnett family is the strength they foster through continued commitment and support. By considering every day as something special to celebrate, the family is able to endure the remaining months of the separation until they can again enjoy adventures together, even if it's the simple joy of memories made over a "tractor wheel" donut.