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What it means to be a nominee in Fort Bragg's Family of the Year competition

By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: November 30, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Wearing a white faux fur bolero jacket with a blue polka dot dress, 2-year-old Kaylee Hawkins rolled a plastic Humvee tank back and forth across the table.

"You are loud," Kaylee's older brother Seth, 17, gently told her, as parents 1st Sgt. Howard Hawkins and Linda Hawkins spoke.

"My mother-in-law, who's my best friend, she's Linda Kay and I'm Linda Lee so Kaylee is how she got her name," Linda Hawkins said, while Kaylee's 4-year-old brother Paul sat content in a chair nearby with a tablet. "I would not have survived the things that I had without her."

Originally from Florida, Linda Hawkins has been with her husband for about nine years out of his 18 year military career.

For about half of those 9 years, 1st Sgt. Howard Hawkins has been on deployments – four to Afghanistan and one to Iraq.

"Even when he's gone we always make him feel appreciated and missed and all that stuff," Linda Hawkins said, adding that even pictures colored on behalf of the family's six dogs are sent. "He always knows that no matter what he's in our thoughts. And the time apart is hard, but we take great pride in knowing that my husband and their father is a hero, and not everybody gets to say that."

Seth said there are "ups and downs" to the deployments.

"But knowing that he's coming back and being able to go fishing and stuff – we like to be outside a lot and we do a lot of outside activities together – being able to go on a boat and enjoy a night with dad is something that's really remembered," Seth said.

And one of those shared memories will be when the Hawkins family – Howard, Linda, Seth, Tyler, Paul, and Kaylee – are introduced as one of five nominees for Fort Bragg's Family of the Year on Wednesday.

Fort Bragg's Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilitates the nominations.

The Family of the Year will help light Fort Bragg's Christmas tree during a ceremony Wednesday.

"They contribute quite a bit to the community, and so we see it as a way for them to kind of help kick off the holiday season," Theresa Smith, special events coordinator for Fort Bragg's MWR, said of the families. "They've usually been a part of a lot of things here, and it's just our way to kind of honor them."

This is Howard Hawkins' second stint at Fort Bragg. His first was about 10 years ago when he was part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

Now assigned to the B Company of the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Hawkins and his family have been at Fort Bragg for a little more than a year.

Linda Hawkins is the Family Readiness Group leader for the company, works with the battalion's FRG and makes quilts for Operation Kid Comfort, an Armed Services YMCA program for children of deployed service members.

"I don't want any of his soldiers or their spouses to ever feel like they're just kind of wading in waters, and his command team has been awesome about a lot ... my ideas are crazy but they are always open to my ideas," Linda Hawkins said.

She helps organize park day events for kids and spouses of the FRG, volunteers for the battalion and company and meets with new mothers bearing gifts and information about safe kids car seats.

"She does it all," Howard Hawkins said. "The fact that she juggles everything – currently she's a full-time student – so between full-time student having multiple sclerosis, managing the entire FRG for the company and including most of the battalion in that then of course the six dogs on the side and four kids, there's a lot of juggling going on."

Linda Hawkins was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis – a disease where the immune system attacks the central nervous system – about 14 years ago.

So I do some kind of like forum talking with other families or people that have been affected and try to help them ...," she said. "New people who don't know what's going on with my body,' I can kind of help with that and talk them through having children and multiple sclerosis and the struggles with that and all that."

And Linda Hawkins isn't the only member of the family who stays active.

Seth will graduate as a senior this year with emergency medical certification.

He also helped organize a Harnett County blood drive this past year.

"And it is great for the unit's recognition nominating us just in general ... you can look at the Army as basically a job, but at the end of the day you can also look at it as a big family," Howard Hawkins said of the Family of the Year nomination.

Linda Hawkins said they're not a perfect family, and she approaches things by being honest.

"I think that's kind of the stereotype is that people need to feel like everything's perfect, everything's right," she said. "Let's show our flaws. Let's work on them. Let's support each other in our differences, and let's figure out how to make it work because deployments are tough ... so just counseling people I think is the best thing we can do."

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(c)2019 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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