Military families cope with loved ones being overseas at holidays

With the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, U.S. military troops continue to serve overseas making it especially hard during the holiday season for them to be away from their families.

Children, grandchildren and other family members of active service members and veterans gathered at the American Legion in Little River on Sunday afternoon for games, treats, a visit from Santa Claus and an opportunity to make being away from their loved ones a little easier.

Whiteville resident Barbara Stansky said she took her 8-year-old granddaughter, Olivia Byrd, to the American Legion to have some fun and celebrate the holiday season. Stansky’s son is serving in Afghanistan.

“It gives her a sense of identity with other children who don’t have a parent here at Christmas,” she said. “Obviously he’s not coming home for Christmas. So she won’t be able to enjoy having him here and being with him.”

This is the fifth time the Christmas party for military children has been held, said Anne Parker with the Grand Strand Chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America. The Blue Star Mothers worked the American Legion auxiliary and the Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliary to host the event, which featured music, games, crafts, gifts and refreshments.

About 25 children attended Sunday’s party that featured a visit from gift-bearing Santa and a demonstration from the Canine Angels.

“Every one of these kids has a family member who served or currently is serving in the military,” she said. “The whole idea of the afternoon is to have fun.”

Stansky said it’s the second time her son has been away during the holidays – and that it’s always a difficult thing.

“It’s different,” she said, fighting back tears. “All the traditions we’ve established have a blank spot in the middle.”

Stansky said her son, who is stationed in Colorado, usually comes to South Carolina during the holidays so the family can be together.

“We always build a gingerbread house. This year I had to invite kids from the neighborhood to do it with her. Usually she builds it with her dad,” she said of Olivia.

Stansky said she and her granddaughter talk to her son on the phone, but she’s not tech-savvy enough to use video conferencing on the computer.

Carene Vereen of Little River embraces technology when her daughter and son-in-law are overseas serving in the U.S. Army and helps her four grandchildren video conference with their parents. She takes care of her grandchildren while their parents are deployed.

Vereen said she was thankful her daughter and son-in-law were not overseas this year, but they’ve spent the holidays apart before.

“We always talk on the telephone and on Skype so they can see the kids open their presents because they always send them things,” she said. “It made it easier for the kids. It made it feel like their parents were right in front of them.”