3 minute readMilitary Support
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Home is Where the Military Sends You

By Dena Howard, Service to the Armed Forces Director, American Red Cross Iowa Region

Airman Lonnie Hyter in the late 1950’s, Dena’s father

By the time I was born, my father had already served our country for 8 years and was away from our family for long durations of time. He was stationed in New Hampshire, New York and Nevada along with an 18-month tour in Taiwan.  During this time, my mother and brother stayed in New York and later New Jersey near my grandparents, to provide stability for our family. This was during a period of time when phone calls were too expensive and far before the time of the social media platforms we enjoy today.  “Snail mail” was the preferred method of communication during those days.

As his career progressed, my father chose a field in the military that would take him overseas again; this time our whole family would join him.  I was six weeks old when my family moved to Europe for our great adventure.

Dena and her father waking up in Italy in 1963

My father began to travel again soon after arriving in Europe, not on deployments or remote assignments, but with the military installation’s baseball teams. Military sports teams were extremely popular in the 60’s, and my father was very good.  While he was stationed in New Hampshire, he was actually scouted by the Dodgers!

During his tour in Europe, we were stationed at two different bases, San Vito and Aviano, and lived in three different homes during our time in Italy.  We were also stationed at three different bases in Germany, including Wiesbaden and Darmstadt.

I attended grade school in buildings originally built for some purpose other than a school: a trailer, a basement of the base housing, a military barracks building and few other locations.  In addition to traditional studies, I also learned Italian and German.  I had the opportunity to see and experience historical sights, castles, museums, parks, zoos and many other interesting places.

Dena and her husband, LTC Doug Howard, after Doug came home early to surprise her after his third consecutive holiday season deployment. This photo was taken in 1999 when they were stationed at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota.

Looking back, at our time in Europe, I’m sure my father didn’t think we would be there for 10 years.  He was my cheerleader and poured wisdom into me very early in my life. Being the child of a military service member molded my worldview. I noticed, as I got older, that I saw the world through a lens that was much different than my peers’ view.  I knew the world was a much smaller place, and we are part of a larger community.

All of the moving was challenging at times, however, my mother was amazingly resilient. Leaving friends and “homes” became familiar. She taught us that “home” was where the Air Force sent us, a well-learned lesson I absorbed.  It helped me to adjust at each new location and prepared me for my future; I also married a military member. My family made change and adventure not something to fear, but instead, something to look forward to.

When my family returned to the U.S., we had been here for about a year when I began asking when we were going home.  My father explained that I was home, and we had been merely visiting Europe.  It still makes me smile when I think of that conversation. I think of my mother and the great care she gave her family throughout my father’s career.  She was a wonderful military spouse, I am grateful for the example she set for me.  She often comments now on how she misses the moving and new adventures.

Dena and her father, Lonnie, at a family reunion in July 2015.

My father retired from the Air Force after 22 years of service when I was a teenager.

When I reflect on his career and his service to our country, I am so very proud of him. You see, my father made a decision to serve in the military rather than pursue a professional baseball career, one of the great loves of his life.  That decision impacted my life forever and gave all of his children, including me, an amazing, life-changing experiences that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Being a military child was one of the greatest aspects of my life, and I’m so proud to have a father who served. Thank you to all of the men and women who serve our country at home and abroad. The American Red Cross is proud to serve you.