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The family that deploys together

9 May 2003 | Capt. Dan McSWeeney 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

"After the initial adrenaline rush of the first Scud alert, it was like, I hope it doesn't go off at night and wake me up.""You always know your own situation, but can only speculate about the others. That's the hardest part.""It was a relief to talk to him and know that he was all right."Their e-mails, sent from different parts of the Iraqi Theater of Operations over the course of several days, describe individual experiences and views of the war. What the messages have in common, however, is a remarkable sense of optimism and commitment to their own missions and to their shared goal of victory in Iraq.They are three U.S. service members - two Marines and one soldier - deployed from North Carolina and serving in the war zone. What distinguishes them from thousands of other service members in the same situation, however, is the fact that they are a family: husband, wife, and son.1st Sgt Dwayne Eubanks serves with Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/2, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. His wife, Master Sgt. Micki Eubanks, is the operations chief for Bravo Company, 8th Communication Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Brigade. They are both stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC and their son, SPC Steven Kramer, is a communicator with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Bragg.1st Sgt. Eubanks described how they all ended up in Iraq."I was nearing the end of a routine deployment and it looked as if the 24th MEU had missed the window for going into Iraq, so my unit began preparing to sail home," he said. "It was during this period that Micki contacted me and told me her unit was standing up. We began to put our family action plan into effect. We flew our two sons to Texas to stay my sister and our daughter to Maryland to stay with Micki's brother." It was meant to be a short-term measure, as he was expecting to return home soon after his wife deployed. Surprisingly, though, the 24th MEU received orders to Central Iraq and both parents had to decide on how to deal with a longer, mutual separation from home. They also turned their attention to their son, whom they had discovered would also be deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom."All the while, we were looking for my stepson, Steven," said 1st Sgt. Eubanks. "His mother eventually found him. We discovered he was in Iraq, not Afghanistan, as we had initially assumed."Master Sgt. Eubanks explained how things occurred from her point of view."I started hearing rumblings of our deployment around October. When I left for Kuwait in January, my son said as far as he knew there were no plans for him to deploy," she said.With the couple overseas and their youngest children being taken care of by relatives, things were stressful, according to Master Sgt. Eubanks. But husband and wife were firmly focused on mission accomplishment and had planned well for any eventuality.SPC Kramer offered his perspective."Once we did deploy, all was good until we went into Phase 3 communications, where most of the Internet was blocked off and I couldn't access my civilian e-mail," he said."I had no information at all about his mission or location," said his mother. "When I finally got a tactical phone number for him and called, he was so surprised!" SPC Kramer recalled a slightly different version of events."We relocated twice before my mom found me," he said. "I knew exactly who it was when our administration chief said there was someone calling for me. It really made my day. I asked her for Dwayne's e-mail address and got in touch with him, too."After establishing contact, all three members of the family continued their daily activities in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.1st Sgt. Eubanks served in the corridor between An Nasiriyah and Al Kut. MSgt Eubanks was at Camp Fox, near the Kuwaiti border. SPC Kramer was in Northern Iraq. Though each had concerns for the welfare of the others, they were able to maintain their focus on the tasks at hand. This was essential not only to mission accomplishment, but in ensuring they maintained a positive outlook in a wartime environment."So close to retirement and nearing the end of my float, I didn't anticipate this, but knew it was a possibility. It was certainly a new experience for us, as during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Micki and I were both on Okinawa and didn't participate," said 1st Sgt. Eubanks."Since the lines of communication were reopened, things have been great," he said. "Knowing that Steven was safe was a comfort. He sounded in high spirits when I spoke to him and he was even promoted in the field." In regard to his wife, he added, "Seeing how secure the bases were as we passed through Kuwait heading north did wonders for my peace of mind."In spite of their sense of purpose while in the war zone, each member of the deployed trio was challenged, knowing that the children at home were worried."The ones that suffered most were our kids. Having mother, father, and brother away from home and involved in a war effort took a lot out of them," said 1st Sgt. Eubanks."I know they worry a lot, but all have been extremely supportive, sending prayers via e-mail and letters constantly," he said.As combat operations were declared over, each deployed family member began looking forward to a return home.As the 1st Sgt. had already begun the return voyage to Camp Lejeune, SPC Kramer said, "Hopefully, I will get to see my mom before we go home. "It will be the second time I have been overseas, both times with her. She and Dwayne used to be stationed in Germany and I flew over for a visit once."Master Sgt. Eubanks added, "Now that they are both back in Kuwait and on their way home, I am happy."And the 1st Sgt. underscored the sense of relief. "Now that the war has wound down, I realize how truly blessed we have been. Upon our return to Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg, we hope to put together a grand reunion with the whole family. It'll be a dual-celebration: our safe return and my retirement!"Clearly, the experience has strengthened bonds within the family. Together, they have endured the challenges posed by wartime and their unique memories of the experience will endure.SPC Kramer offered one of those memories."How many people have mothers that, when told 'I had to sleep on the hood of my Hummer,' would say 'Oh yeah, it's comfortable, isn't it?'," he asked.Not many at all.