By Spc. Stanford Toran
“He has his days where he is mad at us for leaving and other days, he cannot stop telling me how much he misses us,” said Cpl. Ashley Hibbler, of her three-year-old son Landon.
Hibbler and her husband, Spc. Kyle Hibbler, are deployed to the Middle East with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade and have been away from their son since July 2020.
“At first, he did not understand what was going on,” said Ashley. “But he has grown a lot since we left and has become more understanding of the situation.”
At the beginning of the deployment, the Hibblers’ challenges included learning how to work with each other as fellow Soldiers, instead of a married couple. Being separated from their son, they also worked to gain support from their command concerning their unique situation.
“When we first arrived at Fort Hood and met our unit, Sgt. 1st Class [Melanie] McCracken talked to me about how she had been deployed with her husband before and she made us feel very comfortable coming to her with related issues,” said Kyle. “She and the command team were very accommodating.”
One such accommodation was arranging for them to be assigned to the same duty location and, recently, to live together on base. Despite their different duties, Ashley as a logistics specialist and Kyle repairing helicopters, they work similar schedules so they can video chat Landon at the same time daily.
Living together has helped establish a sense of normalcy, even while deployed.
“She still makes me take out the trash,” says Kyle.
However, though many say that they are lucky to deploy together, it comes with its own sets of struggles. They had to get creative at times but having a solid foundation of communication and understanding has helped them overcome obstacles.
“Not having a private area for the first six months of deployment and having to spend time together outdoors was just one of our struggles. We spent many cold, rainy nights outside but we did not care because we were together,” they said. “Adjusting to the stress of the environment and being away from home can really strain a relationship. Instead of hurting our relationship, this deployment has strengthened it and made us realize we can truly tackle anything together.”
While they are away, their extended family has taken care of Landon. They have also played an important role in helping him handle his parents’ absence. Another thing that has helped is the ability for him to talk to his parents regularly.
“There are some days he is upset and does not want to talk. We count down the days together and although he does not fully understand the concept of time, he gets excited when I say we have ‘this many days left,’” said Ashley. “He just knows Momma and Kyle will be home soon.”
Kyle is actually not Landon’s biological father, but has been very much involved for the majority of his life.
“The first thing he says almost every time when Ashley calls him is ‘I want to talk to Kyle, Momma,’” said Kyle. “Although he is not biologically my own, I love him so much and share a bond with him that is the same as if he were.”
While Kyle and Ashley are grateful to be together, they admit that it has been harder for Ashley to be away from her son than it would have been to be away from her husband.
“Being our age, we have a better understanding of being away from each other, than my three-year-old has with being away from his mom,” said Ashley. “It’s harder for him to understand because he is so young. He knows Mom is gone and he feels emotions he doesn’t know how to process. That makes it more difficult for him and for me.”
On whether or not this experience has been worth the separation, Ashley expresses mixed feelings. COVID-19 presented many challenges and changes to the expected mission and experience for the brigade. She has endured the psychological impact of being separated from her son while deployed to the Middle East while her family struggles with a pandemic at home.
“It took me six years to finally be able to deploy and I was excited for it because I love my country and this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “However, being away from my son has made it very difficult and I have had to really push through most days.”
Even though she has doubts, she is still happy to serve and share moments with her husband.
With their deployment winding down, Kyle and Ashley have contributed to their unit’s mission here and achieved professional accomplishments. Recently, Ashley was laterally promoted to corporal, with Kyle pinning her new rank during the ceremony. For Ashley she was happy to share that milestone with him and described it as a “sentimental moment.”
“It felt good seeing her recognized for her hard work and perseverance,” said Kyle. “Being a mother away from her child for the first time has been the greatest challenge, but she was able to put her mind to the task at hand and accomplish something that I always knew she could do.”
The Hibblers are deployed with Delta Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, 28th ECAB in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against Daesh, and Operation Spartan Shield.
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