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For troops' moms, Mother's Day hurts

Yvette Cataldo isn't a fan of Mother's Day like she used to be. Although she appreciates the sentiment of the day, it only serves as a reminder of what she's missing.

Instead of a warm hug from her son, Sgt. Jason Stefanovich, her only contact with him will likely be a hastily sent e-mail between his patrols with his Army unit in Baghdad.

For the Spring Hill woman, that's a small consolation. And though it's been nearly eight years since Jason joined the 209th Military Police brigade, she has never fully gotten used to him being away from home.

"I worry about him 24/7," said Cataldo, who works tending bar at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209 in Spring Hill. "In my opinion, the deployments are just too long. It puts a lot stress on families. We all do what we can to cope, but it's really tough."

Being a mom with a child or husband overseas makes for a life filled with challenges and uncertainty.

Cindy Downey understands how those women feel. Her husband, First Sgt. Chris Downey, is a member of the Florida National Guard's 1st Battalion 244th Aviation Regiment Company C, based in Brooksville. The unit was recently deployed on a yearlong mission in support of ground troops in Iraq. For Cindy Downey, the deployment not only includes her husband, but also her son, Spec. Joseph Workman.

When she arrived at the Florida National Guard Armory on the morning of the battalion's farewell, she could tell the women whose husbands and sons were leaving for the first time by the looks on their faces.

"The tears never stopped," Downey said. "They were facing having to learn how to cope without the people they've come to depend on."

Downey, who works as facility manager at the National Guard's Black Hawk group headquarters at the Hernando County Airport, serves as coordinator of the 244th Battalion's Family Readiness Group. Each month, families of loved ones in the battalion are invited to gather to discuss the challenges of being left behind and what they might expect in the days ahead.

Kelly Ryan, whose husband, Jay, is a Black Hawk pilot on his first overseas deployment, says the camaraderie with other mothers like herself has been invaluable.

"It's only been a few weeks, but it seems a lot longer," she said. "I'm not as nervous as I once was. It's comforting to know that there are people who have been through this and know what you're going through."

Meanwhile, Ryan is getting used to being the only available parent of the couple's 1 1/2-year-old son, Jacob. Because Jacob is too young to understand words written in an e-mail, she has outfitted her home computer with a Web camera so that her son can communicate directly with his father.

"He loves it," Ryan said. "He gets real excited whenever he sees Daddy."

For Tammy Vandergrift, the uncertainty of her son's deployment gives her a sense of powerlessness that she detests. While Spec. Kenneth Germer is performing his duties as a helicopter mechanic with the 244th Battalion, she has busied herself with several projects along with mothers of other guard families

"We're planning to send cards and other things to the unit once they get to Iraq," Vandergrift said. "To me, the most important thing we can do while they're over there is to show them that people support them at home."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

For troops' moms, Mother's Day hurts 05/10/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 11, 2008 1:34pm]

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