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Capt. John Sackett, a base chaplain at Misawa Air Base, Japan, holds up a Sesame Street video available at the chapel intended to help kids cope with deployment. Sackett spoke Thursday night at a deployment briefing for airmen and spouses from the 35th Maintenance Group.

Capt. John Sackett, a base chaplain at Misawa Air Base, Japan, holds up a Sesame Street video available at the chapel intended to help kids cope with deployment. Sackett spoke Thursday night at a deployment briefing for airmen and spouses from the 35th Maintenance Group. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Capt. John Sackett, a base chaplain at Misawa Air Base, Japan, holds up a Sesame Street video available at the chapel intended to help kids cope with deployment. Sackett spoke Thursday night at a deployment briefing for airmen and spouses from the 35th Maintenance Group.

Capt. John Sackett, a base chaplain at Misawa Air Base, Japan, holds up a Sesame Street video available at the chapel intended to help kids cope with deployment. Sackett spoke Thursday night at a deployment briefing for airmen and spouses from the 35th Maintenance Group. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Col. Cedric George, 35th Maintenance Group commander at Misawa Air Base, Japan, talks about deployment issues.

Col. Cedric George, 35th Maintenance Group commander at Misawa Air Base, Japan, talks about deployment issues. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Family Advocacy’s Capt. Ellen Wirtz encouraged families to seek needed help during the upcoming deployment that will send more than 250 airmen from Misawa’s 35th Maintenance Group to Iraq.

Family Advocacy’s Capt. Ellen Wirtz encouraged families to seek needed help during the upcoming deployment that will send more than 250 airmen from Misawa’s 35th Maintenance Group to Iraq. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Cheryl Cameron has tended the home fire before while her husband deployed. She’s getting ready to once again slip into that role of the strong single mom when Master Sgt. Charles Cameron, the 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit’s first sergeant, heads to Iraq with the 14th Fighter Squadron next month.

“It doesn’t get any easier, but it doesn’t get any harder,” she said.

At a deployment briefing Thursday night for 35th Maintenance Group airmen and spouses, her advice to those who soon will be left was: “The first 24 hours, cry, eat the Oreos, whipped cream … but after that, what we do in our house, we just suck it up and deal with it. You can have your bad days, but don’t let them be every day.”

The 35th Maintenance Group is getting ready to send more than 250 of its nearly 1,200 airmen to war. The group’s three squadrons will support pilots and F-16s from Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron during the January-to-April Aerospace Expeditionary Force rotation. It’s the group’s largest deployment in at least a year and the first of two major tours slated for 2007, said Col. Cedric George, 35th Maintenance Group commander.

George said his goal is this: “When the member gets home and the spouse says, ‘I was really taken care of and I felt like if I had a problem, I knew who I could talk to.’ ”

The commander told a packed house at the Mokuteki Community Center ballroom that first sergeants, commanders and readiness assistant volunteers would be available to address any concern, need or question, however small, from airmen or spouses. That’s whom people should contact if they need help and, likewise, those individuals will make an effort to reach out to every person in the group, George said.

“Whether it’s shoveling snow, responding to emergencies, anything that comes up,” he said. “We want this to be a family, and this is going to be our first test.”

Readiness assistant volunteers — spouses of airmen who serve as a link between the squadron and the families — maintain a phone tree and will contact families on a regular basis throughout the deployment, Cameron said. They’ll also organize outings, such as Sunday brunch at the club or shopping out in town, she said.

The chapel also plans to contact spouses of all airmen who are deployed as part of a new program, said Capt. John Sackett, a base chaplain. A prayer wall was also to be put up at the chapel with the names of all airmen who are deployed, he said.

Other topics touched on at the briefing included finances, legal documents, emotional support, medical coverage and child care.

Vernita Beach, a spouse who is seven months pregnant as husband Staff Sgt. Quinton Beach prepares for his first deployment, asked about attaining a birth certificate and passport for her newborn. The birth certificate shouldn’t be a problem, a military lawyer told her, but she’ll probably need a special power of attorney for the passport since both parents have to sign for that.

Beach said the briefing helped ease her panic “about having a baby by myself in the middle of Japan.”

Families were encouraged to seek help if they need it.

Family Advocacy’s Capt. Ellen Wirtz tried to dispel the stigma of mental health treatment. People get so scared to even drive into Family Advocacy’s parking lot, she said, that they don’t get the help they need and problems spiral out of control.

“If you’re having a problem with your child, bring him in,” she said. “We’ll do some therapy and call it prevention, so we don’t even have to build a record” and notify unit supervisors.

On an upbeat note, she reminded spouses that even though deployments are tough, research shows that “most people do just great. You can do this. This is what we do in the military and we are good at it.”

Don’t hunker down and wait for your spouse to return, she said. “Get out there and live.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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