What it's like to leave your kids to serve your country

Dec 26, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. ET
Image: Traci Applebee

Motherhood is all about sacrifice. But military mothers know the value of that sacrifice a little more than the rest of us.

Traci Applebee, now 51, is a military mom who knows the true sacrifice of service.

Retired from active duty in the Air Force after serving from 1981 to 2007, Applebee now works in the Air Force in their civilian personnel office as a lead HR specialist. As a then-single mother to a daughter and a son, now 27 and 22, Applebee's version of "having it all" looked a little different than most mothers' — for her, she didn't just balance motherhood and work. She balanced motherhood and serving in the military.

In 2003, when her children were only 15 and 7 years old, Applebee began preparing for a tour in Turkey that would take her away from her children for a year. "They knew I was going to have to leave and we decided we would all continue with our normal daily activities while I was gone just as if I were there, since they would just be with grandparents and close friends," she describes.

While Applebee's daughter stayed with some of her closest friends so she could finish her last year of high school in their hometown, her son had to move in with his grandparents in Arkansas. Unable to see her children, Applebee recalls that she stayed in touch with her kids through weekly phone calls during her tour.

The sacrifice of serving as a mother didn't end with her tour, however. During Applebee's last five years of service in the Air Force, she describes how she became a sergeant, a role that came with increased responsibilities. She says the hardest part about being in the service with children was, "Never knowing where you are going when you get that late night phone call."

Many nights were spent away from her children — and those long nights often turned into mornings. "There were plenty of nights I had to leave them at home and was still not home when they left for school in the morning," she remembers. "But they were very self-sufficient kids and knew where I was and could get me by phone at any time."

But this military mom feels that the years of sacrifice were worth it — and that her example has only served to strengthen her children. "It shows that we have the same abilities as dad does," she notes. "It shows them that they can do anything that they set their minds to."

Applebee may not consider herself to be a supermom, but she does believe that military moms are making a difference. "Not only do they love their children and their families, but they love their country and are willing to leave the most important people in their lives to support the U.S.A. — to show them they can believe in anything," she says. "I know I did and would do it all over again."

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