Family innovates to help daughters missing deployed dad

  • Published
  • By Maj. Roxy Hambleton
  • 482nd Force Support Squadron

Missing their parent is something every military child goes through when their mom or dad deploys. But it is especially hard when children are under five and do not quite understand where mommy or daddy went.

According to Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, “Deployments for military members in the United States have increased in both frequency and length over the past 10 years,” and the Air Force Reserve is especially affected as Reservists are often not surrounded by base resources as active duty families are.

The Key Spouse for the 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Mrs. Athena Avendano is no stranger to deployments. Her husband, Captain Benito Avendano, has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and is currently on his third deployment.

But this last deployment is different. Of their three daughters, their youngest, Delanah, aged three, just could not understand where daddy was.

“Our youngest daughter was especially missing him,” said Avendano, “I put a picture of daddy in uniform and a countdown calendar in the living room but she still did not seem to understand why he could only FaceTime and not come and give her a hug.”

As the 482nd Fighter Wing Key Spouse, Avendano leads and supports 15 Key Spouses from every squadron on the base. She has been the Wing Key Spouse since 2016 and one of her primary duties is to ensure that spouses and family members are taken care of when their Reservist deploys.

“There are so many resources,” said Avendano, “and not all Reserve families know about them. So, we focus on ensuring attendance at Yellow Ribbon, providing unconditional support, and sharing helpful resources to make the deployment process easier.”

Avendano, who helps other wing family members through their spouses’ deployments, suddenly found herself with a challenge with her youngest daughter. “I saw a huge change in Delanah’s behavior and her continual questioning ‘when is daddy coming home?’”

“Knowing all three girls wanted hugs from their daddy,” said Avendano, “I remembered

‘Hug a Hero’ photo dolls I had heard about at a Yellow Ribbon Conference and I ordered three dolls for the girls. I shared what I did with other Key Spouses who had deployed Airmen in their squadrons and many have ordered these dolls.”

“I had to think outside the box,” said Avendano, “and the girls love them!” Emmalyn, 8, the oldest, remembers her dad’s first deployment and is proud of what he is doing, “I think my dad is working hard overseas in his deployment. I know he is protecting people and keeping us safe.”

Carleigh, who is 7, agrees that, “My dad is helping and protecting us while he is deployed. I miss him so much.”

All three were delighted to get their “daddy dolls.” “Whenever they miss their dad,” said Avendano, “they will take their doll, give it hugs and kisses, and feel better.” She has seen a better change in Delanah’s behavior.

The dolls have a full body photograph of Capt Avendano in uniform. At the bottom of each doll they will add anything you want and Avendano added “Daddy loves you” on each one.

Capt Avendano, an aeronautical engineer, is a Program Manager for the F-35 Training Systems at Lockheed Martin in Orlando, Florida. He is a Personnel Officer with the 482nd Force Support Squadron and is deployed with a group of Homestead ARB Reservists in support of Operations Freedom Sentinel, Inherent Resolve, and Spartan Shield.