FORT LEE, Va. (April 6, 2017) -- In 2011 at Fort Bliss, Texas, Sgt. Donna Adkins was a single parent who left her infant daughter in the care of her mother in Virginia prior to departing for a one-year tour in Saudi Arabia.
“When I came back from deployment, my daughter was 2-years-old and she didn’t know who I was,” said Adkins, noting the toddler scampered off in fear upon seeing her again.
Crushed by the moment that was otherwise filled with joyful reunions, Adkins allowed her daughter an extended stay with her mother but later had to move the toddler from her mother’s familiar surroundings back to Fort Bliss, further exacerbating the problem.
“I had ripped her from everything she knew, and we had severe bonding issues and still do,” she said.
Adkins said she requested help through agencies such as Army Community Service and Military One Source, but none offered services specific to her situation. She later realized military members with spouses would not have problems similar to hers because spouses can fill the void. Having an effective network prior to the deployment and the availability of specific support services afterward could help mitigate her ordeal.
Single-parent support services is an idea she presented to anyone who would listen. When she was relocated here, she got the ear of Sgt. 1st Class David Miedaner, the Religious Support Office noncommissioned officer in charge. He eventually organized and administered working groups to address issues unique to single parents.
“One of the key points they (the participants) made is that this is definitely a leadership and retention issue,” he said. “There has to be an educational component for leadership.”
Miedaner said leaders who are married can sometimes lack empathy or sensitivity when it comes to accommodating the needs of single parents. He used the example of an inspection to make his point.
“You’re a sergeant major who has been married 20 years and you have an inspection that requires some after-duty-hours work from your Soldiers. One of them is a single parent who has to pick up his or her kids (before daycare closing hours) – no ifs, ands or buts. It’s something that doesn’t always register with leaders, especially those who have never experienced that particular struggle.”
Miedaner said the program need is viable because the issue is valid, but nonetheless, requires leadership buy-in to sustain itself over time.
“If the leadership of this installation gets involved and endorses this program, it will gain momentum,” he said.
Additionally, other installations and the Department of the Army have expressed interest in the forthcoming program with the hope of using it as a model, said Miedaner.
As for Adkins, the fact the ball is moving toward establishing a custom program for single parents is a godsend. She said it is the start of developing a network for single parents that could offer mentorship, encouragement and support.
“I want to give them a safe place to come and make sure they know there are people in similar situations who care and can help.”