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As deployments continue, families feel new pressures

Julia Botero
WRVO news
Matt and Paige Harper with their children, Laney, 4 and Logan, 6 outside their home at Fort Drum.

More than 4,000 Fort Drum troops are on missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the world. We’ve heard a lot about the soldiers, but less about their families.

Many are still here, at the grocery store, Sunday church services, the playground, going on with their lives. It could be as long as nine months, or even a year before their soldier returns.  

The floor of Staff Sgt. Matt Harper’s garage is covered in duffel bags. There’s a stack of neatly folded shirts, another of just gloves and hats. Matt is packing for his fourth deployment with the Army. In a few days, he’ll board a plane to Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.

“When you get there, the thing you want to keep track of is your weapon. It happens. There’s always one guy who leaves it in the bathroom and that’s a big no-no if you lose that," Harper said.

According to Matt, it takes time to get used to constantly carrying your weapon. “And that thing will be strapped to me for the next 12 months."

Matt will be deploying to Afghanistan with 200 soldiers in his unit. Close to 3,000 Fort Drum troops are already there.

Inside Matt’s home, his wife Paige is heating up leftovers. She places a bowl of soup in front of their four-year old daughter.

Paige and Matt met when Matt was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas back in 2005.  Matt is from a small town in Georgia. Page grew up next to the base.  While they were dating, Matt found out he was about to deploy.

“I remember I was sitting in my car and he called me and said, I just wish you’d be here waiting for me. And I was like, oh gosh, he’s suckering me in," Paige said.

They got married a month before Matt left. Now, they have two children. Logan, their oldest, is five.

Paige says being away from Matt for months was hard, but doable.

“The first two deployments we didn’t have kids so I mean we just went with on with our everyday lives, went to work and did our thing."

But then, Paige and Matt started a family.

“I was pregnant with Laney by the third deployments,” she said.

Matt looks relaxed when he talks about what lies ahead for him. He’s no longer an infantry soldier on a combat mission. On this tour, he’ll be working in IT on the base. 

“When I compare what I do now to the last two deployments, I’m not overwhelmed by it or anything. Yeah it’s a long time, but I feel pretty good about this one,” Matt said.

But Paige sees this next deployment very differently.

“Overwhelmed is the word to describe how I feel pretty much. I think this deployment is going to be the toughest go-around especially with the kids now that they’re the age four and five. They’re able to understand,” Paige said.

This is becoming one of the hardest things about military life for Matt and Paige. There’s less stress for Matt. The mission has changed. He’s more confident in his job. But for Paige, these same deployments are getting a lot tougher. And they’ll continue to be harder as the children grow.

“I’m usually the one to say it.. ‘Guys let’s go love on daddy because he’s only got a few more days.’ And Logan’s like what?”

Laney climbs on Matt’s lap. He’s bouncing her up and down on his knee.

On the inside of Matt’s left arm is a tattoo of Logan’s footprint from the day he was born. Matt will be in Afghanistan when Logan turns six in a few weeks.

“He’s all into Star Wars right now…He’s asking for this big Star Wars cake,” Pagie and Matt said.

Matt plans to stay with the Army for the full 20 years. They know after this tour, he’ll be asked to leave again.  

“It’s -- whatever. I mean I really don’t have any choice. That’s the thing. I don’t have any choice,” said Paige.

Matt and Paige won’t be joining the other families at Fort Drum at the gymnasium on departure day to say goodbye. They say the scene is just too emotional.  Instead Paige and the kids will be dropping Matt off at the curb outside the gym, just like at the airport, when someone you love leaves on a trip.