Deployed Fort Drum soldier couple track son's development online

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: July 9, 2013

WATERTOWN, N.Y. — In the midsized city of Middletown, Ohio, 13-month-old Aidan J. Bidwell has progressed from crawling to walking to running, from babbling to speaking words and from formula to solid foods under the careful watch of his grandparents.

Thousands of miles away, his parents, Capt. John M. Bidwell Jr. and Capt. Marjana E. Bidwell, have been deployed in Afghanistan since January with the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

The two have kept up with their son’s progress through phone calls, emails, video chats and a special Facebook page.

“Knowing that Aidan is loved just as much as if we were there really helps me to stay focused on what I am doing out here,” said Marjana Bidwell, an Albany native who does intelligence work in the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.

John Bidwell, who does logistics work in the brigade’s headquarters, said the updates have allowed him to see things such as his son’s first step, word and tooth.

“I’ve had many soldiers on previous tours tell me that ‘the firsts’ are the things that they worry about missing, and I understand that now,” he said.

The deployed Bidwells, who work out of separate forward operating bases, answered questions from the Times over multiple emails. The two have been married for about three and a half years, after meeting at Fort Hood, Texas.

Watching Aidan during the deployment are Capt. John Bidwell’s parents, John M. Bidwell Sr. and his wife, Shelley.

The couple, both in their early 60s, were asked by their son about raising Aidan days after his birth when they came to visit him for the first time, and they agreed to despite some initial concerns about having the energy to do so. The process of readying for deployment included transferring guardianship, finding a new pediatrician and creating a bank account to help with expenses.

Mrs. Bidwell, who has six children including John, acknowledged she and her husband were terrified the day their son and daughter-in-law left Aidan with them a few days after Christmas, and again from time to time, such as the day they had to take him to the hospital after he came down with the flu.

“It’s a lot different when it’s not your own,” Mrs. Bidwell said. “You don’t want to let anybody down.”

Marjana Bidwell said the biggest worry she had about the nine-month deployment was that her son would not remember her and her husband.

To remedy that, the Bidwells have made photos a big part of their grandson’s life, placing several large photos around the room, and getting him into video chats.

The work appears to have had some success. When he is held up to a picture of his parents together before he goes to bed, Mrs. Bidwell said, Aidan now says “Dada” when he puts his hand on his father’s picture, and “Mama” when he reaches for a picture of his mother.

Marjana Bidwell said her son always smiles when he sees her face during video chats.

“It melts my heart every time,” she said.

However, since his arrival, Aidan’s development has been rapid.

“He’s walking, he’s running, he’s talking,” Mrs. Bidwell said. “He’s much different from the baby that couldn’t even roll over.”

Mrs. Bidwell said her grandson has been popular when she goes out shopping or visits friends, calling him “a little flirt.”

She said she brags about Aidan when she talks to his parents about their return stateside in a few months.

“You are going to be so in love with this baby,” she remembered telling her son. “He’s just so darling.”

Though both of the Bidwells said they were looking forward to returning Aidan to his parents, they said his presence is making an impact.

“He just really truly loves my wife and I ... part of the ordeal is going to be giving him back,” Mr. Bidwell said. “Part of it will be not seeing him every day.”

Though official statistics were not immediately available about the number of married soldiers deployed to the same area at the same time, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Justin S. Platt said it was “a fairly infrequent occurrence.”

Of the 52,674 active-duty soldiers deployed overseas as of May 31, 25,759 have children.


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