RAF LAKENHEATH, England — When your regular mealtime companion is a few thousand miles and a couple of time zones away, it’s comforting to break bread occasionally with someone who shares your sense of loneliness.

That’s the purpose behind the monthly dinner for spouses of deployed servicemembers at RAF Lakenheath, where more than 400 airmen are now away from home, scattered from Iceland to the Middle East.

“We can sit and talk about our husbands and how they’re feeling and how we’re feeling,” said Tawnya Raub, wife of Staff Sgt. Clayton Raub of the 494th Fighter Squadron, which is now in the Central Command area of responsibility. The 48th Fighter Wing has asked that a more specific location not be used.

Raub had just finished a spaghetti dinner at the enlisted dining hall Thursday evening while her three children — Steven, 10; Justin, 7; and MacKenzy, 6 months — were entertaining themselves with other children or, in MacKenzy’s case, getting passed from mother to mother for “goo goo’s” and grins.

“It helps a lot,” Raub said of the dinner companionship.

Tech. Sgt. Gayle Smith, personal and family readiness noncommissioned officer at the Family Support Center, which puts on the monthly feed, said attendance has been as high as 100 at the dinner, but dwindles when the deployed numbers drop. About 60 showed up for this month’s dinner.

Debra Jones, wife of Tech. Sgt. Steven Jones of the 48th Munitions Squadron, said there is an obvious benefit to the free dinner.

“I don’t have to cook,” she said, while Billy, 8; Charlie, 6; and Randy, 4, finished their dinners. “And there are no arguments from the kids about what I’m cooking. It’s one less worry.”

She has attended the dinners in the past and has encouraged the wives of other deployed troops to attend, promoting it as a place to relax and meet others in a similar situation.

The dining hall staff makes the dinner as relaxed as possible. Barbara Straw, wife of Maj. Wayne Straw of the 494th Fighter Squadron, said, “They were extremely helpful as soon as we walked in the door. They carried our trays for us and let the kids pick out what they wanted.”

She held Kerry Anne, 3 months, while Weston, 5, and Shea Lynne, 2, played or helped themselves to baked goods provided by the women of the base chapel. After the meal, she chatted with the wives of two other squadron members.

She said the night was a reward for Weston because he had just started kindergarten. Next month, she said, she’ll find another reason to reward the children and herself.

At nearby RAF Mildenhall, home of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, about 130 airmen are deployed to various locations.

Tech. Sgt. Michael Gagnon, personal and family readiness noncommissioned officer for the base Family Support Center, was preparing a Hearts Apart luncheon recently for spouses of the deployed troops.

The monthly luncheon is a chance for them to share their thoughts, he said, and get the latest information on deployments.

“When the war kicked off, we were doing it once a week,” he said.

Toni Conway, wife of Staff Sgt. Richard Conway of the 100th Services Squadron, now in the Middle East, said the lunchtime camaraderie helps.

She has two sons, Jeremiah, 9, who was in school, and Justin, 3, who was beside her at the lunch table, alternately coloring and slurping juice from a paper cup.

“It’s nice to meet new people, new faces — not to talk just to the kids every day,” she said.

Anna Dumont sat nearby. The wife of Master Sgt. Jeff Dumont of the 100th Communications Squadron is enduring her first separation since her marriage in January.

“One hundred and 10 days to go,” she said.

She thinks the luncheons and other programs that get spouses together will be important to her during the next four months.

“I get to meet people in the same situation I’m in,” she said.

Gagnon said the importance of the luncheon came home to him during the war when a young wife who was eight months pregnant burst into tears at the lunch table.

Immediately, he said, five women gave the young wife their telephone numbers and offered to visit her before and after the delivery of the baby.

“She had five surrogate mothers all at once,” he said. “It was awesome.

“That’s what all this is about.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now