Stories from Home: Rolling With It

Jen Dunn

Currently serving in the military after twenty-eight years, and married to a former member who served for twenty-five years, Master Warrant Officer Robert Watkins is well versed in the demands placed on families during deployment. Through their combined experience, Robert and his wife have learned to cope with separations. “We both could be mom and dad seamlessly,” he says, “and thanks to our children’s ability to adapt easily and help out, we got through it in good form.” Originally from Newfoundland, Robert’s postings have taken him across the country, to Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and to his current posting in Ontario, where he lives with his wife and two of his children. The couple’s son is posted to HMCS Athabaskan.

When their son joined the Forces as a NAVCOM two years ago, Robert and his wife were thrilled with his decision. “We both felt elated and proud. For a young person in today’s society to choose to serve one’s country over all of the glamorous and tempting opportunities the world provides would give any parent a sense of ‘job well done.’ We could not have wished for anything more than seeing Scott happy and enjoying his career.” At the same time, with the realization that his son would eventually deploy, Robert’s perspective on deployment shifted. “Once Scott joined I knew immediately what it must have felt like for civilian parents of service members. Even though I had nothing but confidence in Scott’s ability to accept any challenge and take care of himself, there is still that worry about the ‘what ifs.’ As you watch the news or weather and see the ship in that area, it affects your sleep, as you worry.”

Though worries inevitably surface, Robert’s confidence in the ship and its crew remains strong. “One thing I have always said about our Navy is that they are really good at taking care of their shipmates and making sure everyone is playing on the same team. The best family you could ever wish for.”

By Robert’s account, the family keeps up with communication while his son is deployed, as well as across the provinces when the ship is at home in the dockyard. “We are close, and his siblings like staying in touch, as we do as well.” Certainly, communication is made easier through advancements in technology; as families and deployed members can connect on a regular basis through email, phone calls, and even video chats. “I heard the stories of mail arriving in theatre or around the world to a ship months later; now we can instantly communicate in most circumstances or at worst a day or so to get an email answered. This has done so much for keeping the families up to date and safe and cared for at home.” Ease of communication alleviates much of the stress that comes with work-related separations. With that burden lifted, Robert and his wife give their son the time and space he requires to focus on his job. “We don’t want him to think we worry about him, so we are patient to receive an email or phone call, and we know that he is safe.”

In comparison to a service member welcomed home by a spouse and children, for a service member without family nearby, a ship’s return might feel somewhat anticlimactic. Robert recounts that his wife had hoped to visit Halifax when their son returned from a previous deployment, but was unable to do so. “It felt a little sad to see how the jetty would be full of spouses and children with banners and flowers welcoming their loved ones home, but less for the single crew members.” Nevertheless, the safe return of sailors brings relief and excitement to family members and loved ones, regardless of distance. “They roll with it and do their thing; I believe it would be difficult to do anything different than is being done now.”

Jen Dunn is a military spouse and a freelance writer from Ottawa. To be featured in her series of deployment stories, please contact her at jen.dunn32@gmail.com