In army families, grandparents are heroes, too

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought largely by parents. Back home, grandparents often picked up the slack.

Here’s a letter I got from Cara Kless, 48, a mother of two in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, whose husband, a Special Operations officer in the Army, was repeatedly deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat zones during the first decade of their kids’ lives.

“Grandparents saved my life, my son’s life, my family, and my sanity.

I was lucky enough to have all four of my kids’ grandparents around when they were little, and they came together to help me in a way that was above and beyond.

Cara Kless in 2012.

Cara Kless in 2012. Her kids are now teenagers, and her husband has retired from the Army. Photo courtesy of Cara Kless.

I am a military wife, but my husband is a member of the National Guard. That means he’s supposed to have just a part-time job in the military. And because he is in the Guard, we don’t live on a military base, and we don’t have access to many of the resources that full-time military families do.

But when your husband is sent overseas to a combat zone for a year or longer, the Guard certainly doesn’t feel like a part-time job.

“I’ve been gifted beyond what words can express with four wonderful parents who helped me raise my children and were always there for me when I needed them.”

Even before my children were born, my parents and my husband’s parents stepped in, often without being asked, and provided help I desperately needed.

My husband was training in Fort Carson, Colo., in 1997 when I went into labor early with our first child and almost lost him before he had taken a breath. My parents came and rushed me to the hospital, where the doctor managed to stop the contractions.

Later, during my husband’s many deployments abroad, I became a single mother who had two of her own part-time jobs as well as two small children. Both my husband’s parents and my parents stepped in and provided childcare so I didn’t have to look for daycare that matched my odd hours.

But that wasn’t all.

My son had male role models in his life even though his father was halfway around the world trying to keep his team alive in places that were not easy to stay alive in.

When my son was three, he became so ill with rotavirus that his pediatrician told me to get him to the hospital without delay. My husband’s parents showed up just on a hunch and drove with us to the hospital, holding my hand while the doctors put an IV in his arm and told me he needed surgery.

The next year, when I came down with West Nile and literally could not get out of bed, my father showed up at my house with a small suitcase and slept on the couch to keep an eye on me and take care of my son.

My father taught my son how to coat tilapia with just the right amount of breadcrumbs and spices to make a perfect fillet. He taught my daughter how to plant tulip bulbs and know when a tomato was ripe enough to pick.

My mother read her poetry and sang traditional Celtic songs to her.

Yes, my children missed their father when he was deployed five times to combat zones and half a dozen times to other overseas locations. But they saw both sets of grandparents several times a week, and I know that they are richer for this.

I’ve been gifted beyond what words can express with four wonderful parents who helped me raise my children and were always there for me when I needed them. ‘Thank you’ does not begin to cover the gratitude I feel to Granddad, Grammie Anne, Papa, and Grandma.”