Spouse of Quartermaster 1st Class John Lehnen
USS Bulkeley at
Naval Station Norfolk
With four children in a house aged 7 or less, and two Chow-lab mix puppies, Jennifer Lehnen has raised the bar on dealing with deployment disasters.
On the first day after her husband, Quartermaster 1st Class John Lehnen, deployed aboard USS Bulkeley, her car was towed while she was at a speech therapy session. It took four hours to confirm the car hadn’t been stolen, which had her military ID and power of attorney.
After getting the car back, a week later it broke down and would cost at least $1,000 to fix it.
“So I had to get a new car, and John’s e-mail was down, so I couldn’t tell him,” Jennifer said.
Her 3 1/2 –year-old triplets – Jacob, Isaac and Lindsey – have asthma, but Jacob suffers the most. There were five ambulance trips to the emergency room, and four trips to Duke University where Jacob is treated.
During a normal health exam, Jennifer was told she had both breast and ovarian cancer. It took three months and numerous specialists to conclusively prove she did not have either, the tumors were just benign lumps.
“Then the day after getting the great news, my babysitter suffered a stroke and we had to find a new sitter,” Jennifer said.
While her husband was willing to come home, Jennifer told him to stay the course.
“Unless I did have cancer, I can deal with the other,” she told him. “Yes, I was freaking out, but I’m proud of my husband and what he does. He supported me during pregnancy with triplets and graduate school. Now it’s my turn to support him, and if that means I have to cry my eyes out with my best friend, so be it.”
She was touched her command was willing to send him home if necessary.
“That says a lot about our command,” Jennifer said. “The Navy is part of our family.”
The military life wasn’t anything new to Jennifer. Her father was an officer in the Army, first active-duty and then in the reserves.
“I understood the lifestyle when I got married,” Jennifer said.
In those eight years, the family has changed commands three times, moved six or seven times, and added Katy, now 7, and the triplets to the family.
“As long as my children are happy and comfortable, the rest doesn’t matter,” Jennifer said.
The time Jennifer gives to others is not lost of her daughter.
“I want to be a therapist just like my mommy so I can help as many people as she has helped. I know it makes her feel good to help other people. I want to be able to feel that good, too.
“Even though mommy is busy, she always takes the time to play with us and read us books every night,” Katy wrote. “She even takes us out every weekend to the park or to the mall when it’s cold outside so we can “get our beans out.” I love you mommy, I really wanted to do something nice for you because of how much you do for us every day.”
She also didn’t spend a lot of time focusing on her own problems. Jennifer and her family serve as the Military Ambassador Family for the Greater Hampton Roads Chapter of the March of Dimes and serves on a family support group for military families with preemie babies. She has lobbied for legislation changes to aid families with financial needs to offset the economic hardships of premature birth. She has served as the USS Bulkeley Family Readiness Group treasurer, helping with homecoming preparations.
“As long as the house isn’t burning down and the kids aren’t breaking windows, I can face anything,” Jennifer laughed. “It’s a lot easier to direct your attention elsewhere. My children are older and I can help other spouses, because when I needed help, my spouse family helped me.”