Nights are the hardest for 6-year-old Jarrod Reiter.
It's then, when the business of the day has wound down, that he starts thinking about his dad in Iraq.
Every couple of weeks, the Meadows Elementary School first-grader asks when his dad, Army Capt. Troy Reiter, will return.
"I'm proud of him for fighting for our country," he tells anyone who asks.
Reiter left for Fort Riley, Kan., in September, and his military transition team was deployed to Iraq in January, where they advise Iraqi police. His wife, Ann Reiter, and their children, Jarrod and Kirra, 9, who is autistic, are on their own until his return in January.
Many other Lacey mothers face the same challenge.
About 6,100 Fort Lewis soldiers are deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. Another 4,900 will deploy in the next three months.
As of Oct 1, 2006, at least 694 North Thurston Public Schools students had a parent or guardian in the military.
Deployment can be especially hard on children, who can regress in skills, act out or become lethargic, said Dr. David Callies, a pediatric psychologist at Madigan Army Medical Center who leads counseling sessions in North Thurston Public Schools.
"The hardest thing is really having their parent be away," he said.
And no one can fully prepare for suddenly becoming a single parent, Ann Reiter said from the family's home off of College Street last week.
There are times when she thinks, "there's no way I'm going to survive another day of this. But I think about Troy and what he's enduring, and I think, it's not so bad here."
Troy Reiter stayed home the month before his deployment to spend time with his kids and be "Mr. Mom."
"He is an amazing father, very hands-on, very active. He was a T-ball coach," Ann Reiter said. "It's very hard for him to be away, because he's very family-oriented."
She went back to work as an underwriter at State Farm Insurance, her first full-time job in nine years.
Ann Reiter said she worried she'd get stir crazy staying at home and worrying about her husband while her children were in school.
Troy was honest with his children about where he was going and why.
"He explained why he was leaving, what he was going to be doing. He didn't sugar-coat anything," Ann Reiter said.
But that didn't make his departure in September any easier.
"The day we took him to the airport, (Jerrod) was a wreck," she said.
Keeping in touch
Even though he's across the world, Troy Reiter tries to say good night to his family as often as he can via Web cam. Jarrod practices his spelling with his dad over an online instant messenger program. The family e-mails photographs back and forth between the two countries, and Ann Reiter calls or e-mails her husband daily.
"He disciplines over the Web cam when we have issues that arise," Anne said. "He's still very active in our lives, even though he's not here to be with us."
The absence can be hardest on Kirra, who doesn't fully understand why her Dad is gone.
"Almost daily she asks, 'when's Daddy coming home?' " Ann said. "She can go through phases of not wanting to eat, crying, anger. It's hard for her to really understand her emotions," so it comes out in various ways, she said.
But Jerrod understands the severity of what's going on, she said.
He'll ask his dad questions about what the children are like in Iraq and what he did that day, she said.
In turn, Troy Reiter "tells them exactly what's going on, what type of day he had," she said.
Ann keeps the television news off, preferring to get news from her husband.
"For one, I don't need for my kids to get more anxiety. ... It's just really hard to watch, to see what the conditions are, to see what he's going through," she said.
She tries to keep the family busy on weekends. They went sledding in the winter, and frequently get together with other military moms for play dates and dinner parties.
She signed her kids up for a counseling session at Meadows Elementary with Dr. Callies and reworked her work schedule to be able to attend every session.
There, she learned to recognize signs of anxiety in her children and tools she could use to help.
Jerrod, for example, "gets really angry at times and can have outbursts," she said. "He gets really calm before the storm hits."
If she gets to him then, they can talk about how he's feeling and do an activity to distract him.
Sometimes Ann Reiter needs a break herself - a 20-minute breather to ready herself for dealing with the children and the household responsibilities.
But for her, the nights are also the hardest. "After you finally sit down and relax," she said, "it gets lonely."
Resources for Military families
n The Center of Excellence for Soldiers and Families: information on family activities, support groups, day care and more. www.lewis.army.mil/Ctr%5FOf%5FExcellence/sites/local/
n Family Resource Center: Information on family readiness groups. http://www.lewisfamilyfocus.com/FamilyResourceCenter.htm
n Moms Club of Lacey offers play groups, baby-sitting, moms' night out and a military moms' night out. Call 360-455-5014 or see www.geocities.com/laceymomsclub.
n Beneficiaries of the military health system can make an appointment with Dr. David Callies, a Madigan Army Medical Center psychologist, at 253-968-6559.
Other online resources
n Military Onesource: www.militaryonesource.com
n Tricare Military Health System: www.tricare.mil/
n Triwest Healthcare Alliance: www.triwest.com/triwest/