“He has his days where he is mad at us for leaving and other days, he cannot stop telling me how much he misses us,” said Cpl. Ashley Hibbler, of her 3-year-old son Landon.
Hibbler and her husband, Spc. Kyle Hibbler, are deployed to the Middle East with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade and have been away from their son since July.
“At first, he did not understand what was going on,” said Ashley. “But he has grown a lot since we left and has become more understanding of the situation.”
At the beginning of the deployment, the Hibblers’ challenges included learning how to work with each other as fellow Soldiers instead of a married couple. Being separated from their son, they also worked to gain support from their command about their situation.
“When we first arrived at Fort Hood and met our unit, Sgt. 1st Class [Melanie] McCracken talked to me about how she had been deployed with her husband before and she made us feel very comfortable coming to her with related issues,” said Kyle. “She and the command team were very accommodating.”
One such accommodation was arranged for them to be assigned to the same duty location and, recently, to live together on base. Despite their different duties, Ashley as a logistics specialist and Kyle repairing helicopters, they work similar schedules so they can video chat with Landon at the same time daily. Living together has helped establish a sense of normalcy, even while deployed.
“She still makes me take out the trash,” says Kyle.
Though many say they are lucky to deploy together, they had to get creative at times. Having a solid foundation of communication and understanding has helped them overcome obstacles. For the first six months, they did not have a private area and had to spend time together outdoors. But they said the deployment has strengthened their relationship. While they are away, their extended family is taking care of Landon.
“There are some days he is upset and does not want to talk. We count down the days together, and although he does not fully understand the concept of time, he gets excited when I say we have ‘this many days left,’” said Ashley. “He just knows momma and Kyle will be home soon.”
Kyle is not Landon’s biological father but has been very much involved for most of his life.
“The first thing he says almost every time when Ashley calls him is, ‘I want to talk to Kyle, momma,’” said Kyle. “Although he is not biologically my own, I love him so much and share a bond with him that is the same as if he were.”
While Kyle and Ashley are grateful to be together, they concede it has been harder for Ashley to be away from her son than it would have been to be away from her husband.
“Being our age, we have a better understanding of being away from each other than my 3-year-old has with being away from his mom,” said Ashley. “It’s harder for him to understand because he is so young. He knows mom is gone and he feels emotions he doesn’t know how to process. That makes it more difficult for him and for me.”
Ashley has mixed feelings about whether the deployment experience has been worth the separation.
“It took me six years to finally be able to deploy and I was excited for it because I love my country and this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “However, being away from my son has made it very difficult and I have had to really push through most days.”
Even though she has doubts, she is still happy to serve and share moments with her husband. Recently, Ashley was laterally promoted to corporal, with Kyle pinning her new rank during the ceremony. Ashley was happy to share that “sentimental moment” with him.
“It felt good seeing her recognized for her hard work and perseverance,” said Kyle. “Being a mother away from her child for the first time has been the greatest challenge, but she was able to put her mind to the task at hand and accomplish something that I always knew she could do.”
The Hibblers are deployed with Delta Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, 28th ECAB, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against Daesh, and Operation Spartan Shield.
By Spc. Stanford Toran – 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade