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Kim Starnes, in the back, and daughters (from left) Maya, Keira and Jasmine, send an e-mail to husband and dad Chuck Starnes, who is on a four-month deployment to the Middle East. They e-mail several times a day and talk by phone four times a week to stay in touch.
Kim Starnes, in the back, and daughters (from left) Maya, Keira and Jasmine, send an e-mail to husband and dad Chuck Starnes, who is on a four-month deployment to the Middle East. They e-mail several times a day and talk by phone four times a week to stay in touch. (David Allen / S&S)

Editor’s note: Stars and Stripes is following the Starnes family during the father’s deployment to the Middle East.

OKINAWA CITY — Deployments are hardest on the children, says Kim Starnes, whose Air Force husband is on a four-month deployment to the Middle East.

For Jasmine, 10, the toughest thing about her dad being away at war was him missing the ceremony where she was named to the A-B Honor Roll at Amelia Earhart Intermediate School.

“I was pretty sad he couldn’t be there to see me get my award,” said the fourth grader. “But he told me he was sorry he missed being there and that he was happy I made it.”

For sister Maya, 8, what’s missing is her daddy’s playfulness.

“I miss most his putting me upside down and making faces at me,” she said during a visit to the Starnes’ Okinawa City home. “He makes funny sounds on the phone, but it’s not the same.”

Jasmine, Maya and Kiera, 6, are the daughters of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Starnes, 31, who left in early January. He’s spent the time so far in Qatar, supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“When any location has a problem or has a new requirement for their radio equipment — hand-held radios, tactical radios and satellite radios — they contact us,” Starnes said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

He said the current deployment has been a lot easier than some of the more remote tours he’s had in the past. “I am lucky,” he said. “We have hot water, good dining facilities, beds to sleep in and it is relatively safe here.”

His high schoool sweetheart, Kim, said she also has hot water — something they didn’t have at their Okinawa City home the day Chuck left.

“Fortunately, we got the hot water heater fixed that day and nothing else has gone wrong,” she said. “The most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with is the girls missing their daddy. Kiera has had the hardest time; we had a lot of tearful nights. Usually I just hold her and let her talk it out. Then we e-mail daddy or look at pictures of us together.”

She said she e-mails Chuck about three times a day and he calls her twice a week for 15 minutes at a time. She also can call him twice a week.

“At first we let the girls talk first, but by the time they were done there was only a minute or two for me,” she laughed. “So, now I get to talk first.”

The girls also e-mail their dad often and are thrilled to get replies — and sometimes pictures — from him the same day. “It helps them that he can e-mail back quickly,” she said.

One of the things Kim and the girls love to do is mail him “care” packages filled with the girls’ school artwork, Chuck’s favorite candies and snacks, and “anything he can’t get there — like a folding camping chair,” Kim said.

“Whenever we go shopping we look for a little something daddy would like to receive in the mail,” she said. “We also talk a lot about what we are going to do when he comes home.”

“I stayed up a lot for the first month,” Kiera said a bit bashfully. “It was because I kept thinking about daddy being away and it made me feel really sad.”

“I didn’t expect them to be quite so sad in the first weeks,” Kim said. “But they’re pretty good now. We end every day by talking about their daddy every night.”

She keeps the girls busy, which helps take their minds off of daddy being gone.

“We do a lot of special things together,” Kim said. “We go out for ice cream after school and we have movie nights on Fridays. Then we go to the park together, paint our fingernails and read books together.”

Homework also keeps them busy.

“This deployment has been easier because the kids are older,” their mom said. “We always have something to do. I don’t have time to think about what’s going on (in the Middle East) or what could go wrong. I’m usually exhausted by the time I hit the pillow.”

The key to getting through a deployment in a war zone is “to know what’s going on,” she said. “It’s harder when you don’t know anything or if you never hear from your spouse. I also keep in touch with people in his squadron. They are always there to help.”

Starnes is a ground radio technician with the 18th Communications Squadron. He says good communications is a two-way street.

“My wife keeps me in touch with all the things that are going on (back on Okinawa),” he said. To keep his mind off being so far from his family Starnes says he keeps busy.

He also has his XBox 360 and a small monitor for games and movies and spends most of the rest of his free time studying and working out.

Kim’s advice to other wives is to share your feelings with other spouses.

“There is always something crazy that happens in the family during every deployment,” she said, adding that one of her daughters broke both arms while her husband was gone once. “It tends to ease the tension to talk about it and know that everyone shares something in common.”

Her advice to other spouses is simple:

“Keep on a schedule,” she said. “Try to do the things they would normally do daily and set aside something fun with the kids every day, even if it’s just a few minutes. Also, find something that you like to do to release stress. I have found that going to the gym while the kids are in school helps me be ready for when they get home.”

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