Military Dads

Serving Together

Lt. Col. Douglas Oldmixon and his wife, Jo-Dee, talk about the life of a military family. They are shown with their daughter, Magdeline, and son, Benson, who is a sophomore at the U.S. Air Force Academy.


For faith, family and freedom

by Gerald Korson

Serving in the United States Armed Forces can be extremely stressful for soldiers and their families, especially when they are separated by long deployments.

Even when the family is able to stay together at a domestic or foreign base, the demands of military service often include long hours, travel, and frequent moves as assignments change.

How well can a man remain a good father to his children under such trying circumstances? Can he be a good soldier and a good family man at the same time? For U.S. Army officer Matthew Savoie, balancing military life and family reminds him of a line from a movie.

“I hate to use it, but the line Mel Gibson uttered in ‘We Were Soldiers’ describes how I feel about service as an Army officer and a father: ‘I hope that the one makes me better as the other,’” said Savoie, whose 22 years of military service has included active duty in Desert Storm and two tours in the present war in Iraq.

Now an ROTC instructor at the University of Central Arkansas, Savoie sees clearly the parallels between military service and raising a family.

“As a soldier, you subordinate your personal interests to the needs of the mission and your fellow soldiers. The team is more important than the individual,” he said. “As a father, you subordinate your personal needs and wants to provide for your family, especially your children.”

Savoie and his wife, Christine, have three children: Courtney, 19; Jacob, 2, and 1-year-old Nicholas.

Fathers for Good recently interviewed several military dads — active duty, reservist, and retired — about the circumstances of military service and how they hope it made them better fathers to their children.

Here are some of their responses:

Bill Bruno

U.S. Army Mental Health Counselor, 1984-2004 Mental Health Counselor, Washington State Department of Corrections, at present
Married to Beth 24 years; children Maria, 19, and Michael, 16

Biggest challenge: “Separations demanded by military life from my immediate family and our families of origin.”


Bill Bruno and son, Michael 

On balancing family with military service: “We were very fortunate that, aside from Desert Storm, we did not have too many long deployments. The things that made it work, though, included strong ties to a support network of friends who visited my family or offered my wife substitute teaching jobs to help get her out of the house. I made phone calls when I could, but when I was free in the mid-afternoon local time, it was about 3 a.m. in Tacoma. We were allotted about 15-20 minutes, but about half that was spent getting Beth to wake up! I did a lot of graveyard shift work. To make that work, I made sure to be up to eat dinner with the family, and on my days off I took care of the commissary shopping or other household needs. No doubt, that was actually the most stressful time in my career.”

God, country and family: “It means knowing my personal values and gut checking them to make sure I am doing the right thing. It means taking care of the things that are truly important in life and trusting in Jesus that the rest will take care of itself.”

What I learned in the military that I hope to pass on to my children: “Service to others is important, but so is taking care of your relationships with yourself and God.”

Douglas W. Turrell

11-year veteran, U.S. Army, retired; West Point graduate
College Instructor
Married to Lisa 26 years; children Zandy, 23; Kaitlyn, 22; Doug, 15, and Mike, 14

Why I entered the military: “I was drawn to the military due to the teamwork, the camaraderie it fosters, and to give some of my time to my country. I always wanted to be a soldier, and only deviated from it a bit when I did well with football in high school and colleges were recruiting me. Understandably, the opportunity to go to West Point allowed me to pursue the best of both worlds.”


The Turrell children: Mike, Zandy, Kaitlyn, and Doug 

Biggest challenge: “Separation from family, [although] the separations I had while I was in a peacetime Army pale in comparison to the multiple combat deployments the troops are going thru today, and have been since 1991.”

On balancing family with military service: “Lisa and I talked a lot about what I would be doing, and what she needed to do at home . . . My deployed days were prior to cell phones and e-mail, so we had to rely on letters. . . . There were times it was hard — missing loved ones, and not seeing your babies grow, or yours kids’ Halloween parade, or to miss Santa that year — so it made even more special those precious and valuable times together.”


Douglas Turrell

What I learned in the military that I hope to pass on to my children: “I tell my kids why it is important to understand and honor what grandpa did in Germany, in Korea, and in Vietnam; what their dad did in Korea, Central America, and the Sinai; and, more importantly, what the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are doing today in the Middle East. There comes a time when we all must give something back to this great country of ours, either as a volunteer to some VA hospital, or by taking the oath to defend America.”

Lt. Col. Douglas E. Oldmixon

Wisconsin Air National Guard, 25-year veteran
Deployed to Iraq, 2006 and 2008
Married to Jo-Dee 25 years; children Magdeline, 22, and Benson, 20

Why I entered the military: “I enlisted in the Air National Guard to do my part in service to my country. I was not certain at that time that I would make a career of it, but I knew I needed to contribute… I have never regretted that decision.”

Biggest challenge: “In the early 1990s, when we had two small children at home, we had relocated our family from Wisconsin to Texas. We were each starting with new businesses when Desert Shield and Storm kicked off... Jo-Dee was amazingly strong through all of these challenges, and that made it work for us. Plus, we had a great network of support from our extended family on both sides, our parish and our community.”


Magdeline and Benson Oldmixon, a sophomore cadet at the US Air Force Academy, and Jo- Dee and Douglas Oldmixon

God, country and family: “Start with a strong faith that God loves each of us with an intimate care beyond our full comprehension; add to that a profound belief that the United States has been called to a special mission among nations — to continue to be a force for good, and an example of what is achievable when a responsible freedom is supported and encouraged; and finally, acknowledge that I have been called to live out my mission in a loving married relationship with a responsibility to assist and guide our children to find their missions. As parents, we do that primarily as exemplars, counselors and guides. The first role, as exemplars, is the most powerful influence Catholic patriot parents can have.”

What I learned in the military that I hope to pass on to my children: “I hope and trust that my service to a cause greater than myself, as a faithful Catholic patriot, will be an example to my children, and inspire them to similarly commit themselves to a worthy ideal they hold dear.”

Maj. Jeffrey O’Donnell

7th Army, Signal Officer, 13 years active duty
Deployed twice to Bosnia-Herzegovina; eight years in Germany
Married to Johanna nine years; children Nore, 7, and Nicholas, 5

Why I entered the military: “To serve my country and to work in a profession where I felt that I was doing something important, where I had an opportunity to truly make a difference in the world.”

Biggest challenge: “Dealing with problem soldiers. While they constitute only a small percentage, they can take up an inordinate amount of time. It is not easy to administer or pursue military justice, but that is one of the responsibilities of leadership.”


Jeffrey O'Donnell with children Nore and Nicholas

On balancing family with military service: “The key for me has been to constantly remind myself that the Army is an outstanding and rewarding career but that my family is forever… I did not want to discover one day that my children had grown up and that I had missed their childhood. This is not easy to do during times of deployment or extended missions, but retaining this focus has helped me achieve balance in my life.”

God, country and family: “These represent the three pillars of my life. Maintaining my Catholic faith and passing this on to my children has been extremely important to me. Serving in the military has allowed me to feel that I am contributing something to my country. My family is the core of my life, the entity that provides all of my other actions with meaning and purpose.”

What I learned in the military that I hope to pass on to my children: “My military service has caused me to focus on what is truly important in my life, which is my family and my relationship with God. . . Being away from your family forces you to realize that they are what make life special, not consumerism or most of the other daily clutter of life. The military has confirmed my belief that values are important and that there are many intrinsic values that transcend our average existence. Consumerism and what is shown by the entertainment industry are not values or worthy of emulation, but serving your country, working hard and sharing your faith in God are what really matters.”

Lt. Col. Jack Haefner
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington, D.C.
Married to Toni 14 years; children Cora, 8, and Lucas, 5

Why I entered the military: “I wanted to serve — it was in my blood. I think every man has that: Sacrifice is arguably part of the natural moral law. It is something I was able to put into practice. The key is to take that servant leadership into every aspect of your life — it doesn’t start and end on the job.”


Jack and Toni Haefner with their son Lucas and daughter Cora.

On balancing family with military service: “Significant in our family is that we place God at the center. This means we make a Morning Offering together, that no one person is the center, and truth is in him. I call home at noon and we pray the Angelus together; we say evening prayer with the Magnificat before dinner. We strive for sacrifice during the lean times and celebration when possible — we fast on fast days and feast on feast days. We make Saturday a day of all-out work, and Sundays begin with first things — the Mass — and then family time only: no chores, no work travel scheduled if possible, perhaps a family pilgrimage or other such outing… It is [God’s] grace that allows these crosses we face every day to transform our lives.”

God, country and family: “Primarily, our actions should all point toward God — the first cause, as all else flows from him… The family must see there is an order — and sacrifice — as part of this loving plan.”

What I learned in the military that I hope to pass on to my children: “A sense of duty and sacrifice… I think this would be lost on my children, however, if it weren’t for our family being grounded in Christ. They are still young, but already understand that we can offer up our sacrifices for the good of others.”

Lt. Col. Gary Kubat

Commander, U.S. Air Force, 15th Operational Weather Squadron
Deployed to Iraq, 2007-2008
Married to Catherine 16 years; children Katrina, 13; Andrew, 10, and Kendall, 6

Why I entered military service: “Military doctors saved my life a couple times (bad appendicitis as a young teen and skull surgery as an infant). I felt I owed something back.”

Biggest challenge: “Frequent moves are probably the biggest challenge... Being in the Pentagon on 9/11 was a tough event to work through in the long run, although as events unfolded we just pressed ahead with what needed to be done. If there’s a single event I never want to experience again, it’s hopping on a plane leaving my family behind after a deployment mid-tour R&R break... seeing all those damp faces waving goodbye is still heart-wrenching to think about. But, we do what we have to do.”


Gary Kubat

On balancing family with military service: “What made it work for me was knowing my wife is probably tougher than I am, and she would do her best to help the kids through it. Even while deployed, I still tried to make time to be a dad, even if it was a remote dad. Sometimes the kids probably didn’t expect a dad lecture about things, but if that’s what they needed, it’s what they got. E-mail and technology to stay connected have been tremendous aids while gone.”

What I learned in the military that I hope to pass on to my children: “It shows them we sometimes must sacrifice for others and not be selfish. It shows that despite our misfortune and challenges, we can stay together as a loving family, in some cases more so than people we meet who live less challenging lives, because we’re willing to work at it and try. Military service has also given me a lot of great men to use as role models, men I’d have never met otherwise, who show me what being a good dad is on a daily basis, and it makes me try harder to also be a good dad.

Capt. James R. Minicozzi

Pennsylvania Army National Guard Signal Corps Commander, 55th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Brigade Combat Team
Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan; 13-year veteran
Married to Christine five years; child Wesley, 2.

Why I entered the military: “What truly motivated me to enter the military was service to our country, since not everyone has it in them to serve one’s country.”

Biggest challenge: “When I see soldiers not wanting to serve and keep the contractual commitment they swore when voluntarily joining the military because of this reason or that reason. Whether the reasons are monetary or deployment related, I try to refocus them back on the true meaning of service above self and the greater meaning of service.”


James Minicozzi and son Wesley 

On balancing family with military service: “I am a firm believer that you do not serve alone, that your spouse is a huge part of your service along with your family… I believe when you understand that you are one and that your service is your family’s service, a lot of the demands and stress go away because the respect and appreciation for one another relieves a lot of the demands and stress.”

God, country and family: “One’s commitment to “God, country, and family” respectively goes with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is simply that God is Life… If you live each day for God, country, and one’s family, you are living a great life!”

What I learned in the military that I hope to pass on to my children: “The pride and respect I have for the military and our country… My military service helps me to be a better dad because I take nothing for granted. I want to do everything with my son and my family because I have experience in my military service that you only have so many tomorrows. Do what you can do today with your child and family because you don’t know what tomorrow has in store for you — only God knows that.”

Gerald Korson, an editor and journalist with more than 24 years' experience, is the editor of The Wonders of Lourdes (Magnificat, 2008) and a contributing writer to Amazing Grace for Fathers (Ascension Press, 2006). He and his wife, Christina, are raising their 11 children in Fort Wayne, Ind.