11 Things This Military Mom Has Learned (After 11 Deployments!)


I thought I knew it all.

I grew up in the military and married the military. But fifteen years ago when my eldest son took his oath to defend and protect on Induction Day at the US Naval Academy, I was ambushed by my feelings. Fear, worry and pride washed over me like a flood. His three siblings soon followed him into military service.

I am a proud mom of four military members, each serving in a different branch, who collectively have been deployed 11 times– with number 12 starting soon. I have learned a lot as I hold down the homefront time after time again.

Deployment lessons from a mom who has experienced 11 of them! Saving this advice for later!

Here are some words of wisdom that I use to hold myself together:

1. It does not get easier.

People think because I have experienced my children’s deployment so many times it must not be so hard. Sending someone you love into harm’s way is never easy. It is like labor pains. No matter how many babies I had, those pains hurt! The difference is that after the first birth, I knew what to expect. The same is true with deployments: Once you survive the first one, you at least have an idea of what it will be like.

2. Have a deployment plan.

Everything feels different when they are gone so you might as well do something different to help the time pass. I know I will feel like huge weight is on my back until they return.  Each time they leave, I have a project or goal I use to distract myself from the worry that creeps in. One deployment, I walked the distance to Afghanistan. I have run –okay, in full disclosure, walked– marathons. I planted a blue and gold garden when my Navy son deployed.

3. Cry.

Go ahead and just let it flow. Science has proven that tears have a purpose to help us release negative energy. I call it a preemptive strike. If I have a good cry every now and then I may not melt down at the grocery store, or like I did the other day walking across a parking lot because I saw a truck that looked like my son’s.

4. Get a battle buddy.

Find someone–another military mom is usually good–who gets it. They need to be able to talk you off the ledge at 2 AM when the bad dreams overtake your sleep. They won’t tell you things like, “ I can’t believe you let her go,” or “At least they are not in ______.”

5. Expect no news.

Repeat after me: “No news is good news.”

I spent 2010/11 teaching in Kabul, Afghanistan. Yes, I know-it is a crazy idea to think of someone like me in a place like that. I learned that the stress on my family was much greater than mine. I knew I was okay, but with every bombing in the city, they were wondering about me. Our wild imaginings can conjure up all kinds of scenarios.

6. There will never be enough letters, phone calls , or texts from them.

This is really hard for a mom who used to know everything about her children. It is amplified by the worry. But the reality is that maintaining long distance relationships is tough AND if they are married, spouses come first. I know it is hard for moms to hear, but the in-laws should be first on the communication list. Help your children by supporting their marriage.

7. Remove stress.

You have enough to deal with already. You have permission to cut out toxic influences in your life as best you can. Annoying FB friends? Let them go. Too many commitments? Just say no. You have a good excuse.

8. Limit the news.

Just the facts are all you need. Avoid those sources that have a lot of “discussion.” You need to protect your mind from needless worry. You have enough to think about.

9. Move your body.

I am not an athlete. It is a struggle to get myself out of my chair and exercising. I would rather be knitting or writing. But whenever my child deploys I know I need to get moving. I walk and pray to ease my mind. It also helps compensate for the extra chocolate I eat!

10. Pray.

Prayer and meditation do wonders to calm my soul. I love to knit and pray–every stitch is a prayer. My Marine commented on his last deployment, “You know when mom has someone deployed–production goes way up. “ I have to depend on my faith to keep myself focused and not frantic.

11. Don’t make them worry about you.

My job as a mom is to protect my children. The last thing they need to worry about during a deployment is me. I hide my fears and send them off with a smile. I keep the care packages and positive energy flowing. They need me to be brave and strong, so I step up and do my duty to support them. It is how I can take care of them like I did when they were young.

I just said goodbye again. As I struggle to get my deployment game plan in place once more I fight my fears with pride. My children have answered the call to serve. It is an honorable thing that makes this momma’s heart swell. I know what they do matters, and that is the greatest lesson of all.

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Elaine Lowry Brye, an avid supporter of and advocate for military families, served as a longtime moderator for the USNA-Parents listserv and was one of the founding organizers of its parent community website and Facebook page. She became a national figure when she introduced Michelle Obama at the 2012 Democratic Convention. She lives with her husband in western Montana. In Be Safe, Love Mom: A Military Mom’s Stories of Courage, Comfort, and Surviving Life on the Home Front, Elaine weaves stories from her own life as a military mom and those of other parents with advice, anecdotes, and wisdom to help guide other moms and dads on the long and bumpy road of having a child in uniform.  

92 Comments

  1. Loved your book. Invaluable to all new military moms. I have survived only 2 deployments so far.

  2. This is good advice whether your child is across the world or, as with my son, across the country for the first time! It is an odd mixture of pride and dread – one I’m still trying to understand.

  3. I loved (and needed) this post. I do not have kids yet, but my husband serves. I have survived one deployment, and they are preparing to go for number two this fall.

  4. Great post, wish I had this 8 yrs ago! Despite my son completing his service, deployed twice and experiencing the worst engagement the summer of 2008 with significant loss and wounded, I am very supportive of all those Blue and Gold Star mothers. My heart is with them everyday. Thank you….

  5. Thank you for your service. Would you do it over? God bless you and your family.

  6. You are an amazing mother. 50 years ago,1966, my mother, wife of career USN man, sat my very young wife down and versed her on surviving a military marriage. Shortly thereafter I left for Vietnam Nam. Many of these 11 things were said by my mother. In 1990 I retired from USMC and this past March we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. It takes love, courage and fortitude to maintain family in military life. SEMPER FI

  7. My mom had “battle buddies” they would take turns hosting informal dinners , they would kick us kids out , I later learned they would talk over their concerns with each other but didn’t want to upset us kids . She said it would really help her feel better about my dad being away .

  8. First of all, GOD bless you and yours. Thank you for my freedoms. Would you encourage your grandchildren to follow in the same footsteps?

    1. Thank you so much. I never encouraged my kids to join the military-I think it is just too much sacrifice to push someone into it. They need to feel the call. But I would support my grands wholeheartedly what ever they chose to do.

  9. How did you stay that strong even though you had said you stayed busy had a battle buddy and all. There had to be a point where you just broke down especially with all your children gone?

    1. Oh Christopher I certainly have my meltdown moments. It can be very lonely and scary. But that’s when I did deep and just put one foot in front of another-it beats curling up in a ball on the floor 🙂

  10. I think it takes special people to do what you do. I keep saying we do what we have to, but even as a civilian wife and mother there are times I want a month ALONE someplace where I can pretend the world and all its drama, doesn’t exist. You give me hope for me. Hugest of hugs for you and ultimate respect!

  11. I am thoroughly amazed at your strength and admire your courage. My son has recently been thinking about joining the service and support him wholly and do encourage him to do it if that’s the career path he wants, but my question for you is do you ever wish your children would’ve chosen a different profession? I’m thinking if my son joins I will be so scared for him that I think that’s how I would feel?

    1. Well as a mom we all want our children to be their best-its what we raised them for. I can’t let my worries or fears hold them back. So we work on managing our fears so we can support them-its what moms do. Even if you were afraid of the dark you still made the monsters go away for your kids. 🙂 You will step up and do what you need to no matter what he chooses. Good luck to him.

  12. My kids watched me during my 9 year military career. My daughter, at least, wants to follow in my footsteps. She’s only 10, but has big ambitions. My question is, what should you say to someone that young about future military plans if that’s the route she chooses? Did your kids have an interest that young?

    1. My oldest said at age 4 he wanted to be Top Gun. Now he is a Marine FA/18 pilot. We visited air shows and made model airplanes but we also went to science museums and talked about it is a big world with lots of choices. Keep their dreams alive whatever they might be. It may not be where they end up but the dream propels them to great things.

  13. Just curious if you yourself enlisted at anytime? You’re a strong woman and would have done well in the service, if you weren’t.

    1. I actually was in Air Force ROTC in 1977-79. One month before my commissioning I was medically separated. It was devastating at the time but God led me in a different direction. Thank you for your confidence in me.

    1. Definitely. She was an amazingly strong person. 7 children, 18 moves, multiple deployments..she is the person who taught me the phrase “suck it up.”

  14. How did you keep the tears back when they left? My mom cried every time I left. Even when I wasn’t deploying.

  15. I’m retired navy and I know how hard it is on family especially since I did a tour in vietnam. We didn’t have email, text, and cell phones to stay in contact with family, just good old u.s.mail. I really don’t have a question but would like to say that it must be so difficult with 4 in the service. Good advice keep it up

    1. Thank you. I kind of wish we had more good old fashioned mail-despite the technology it does not always work! There is a special sadness that comes with a phone call that cannot be heard 🙁 Thank you!

  16. This was awesome. I’m currently reading your book and enjoying it. I am the mother of an only child who decided to serve in the Navy. You can imagine how my heart filled with pride and then sadness as my only child fulfilled his dream. Thank you for tthe great advice and wisdom!

  17. Such great advice and said beautifully! I’m an army vet, husband Air Force vet, older son and daughter Marines and now my youngest is in basic at Benning. I’ve given out advice almost exactly like yours to many other moms over the years. When I read your statement that it doesn’t get easier just because we’ve gone through it before, I said ‘Exactly!’, lol. I get the comment of ‘oh, you’ve done this before, what are you worried about?’. How about evetything….always! I often say I know the process, the stages, but that doesn’t mean my emotions stop driving me crazy! The worry, fear, stress, pride, joy, sadness at times, are so overwhelming at times. I have to remind myself to breathe, just breathe. I have no control over any of what may, may not, might, might not, happen to them. I also turn them over to Him, let his plan for them reveal itself in His time. Please thank your family from me and mine! And thank you so much for sharing your journey with all of us. It is a Godsend for other moms to know they are not alone, everything is exactly as it should be, and it will be okay.

    1. Brenda, your words echo mine or mine yours. My wife and I are Army vets while three of our children are in the Army, one who is in Basic at Sill. Though I know the process and each stage well, it just doesn’t get easy for me. It’s all just hard and lonely at times. I, too, have allowed myself to let God do what it is that He is downing in each of their lives. I know that they are following His scheduled plan for their lives and destiny, but it’s still hard. To toughens matters, I have another daughter going through the process of joining in a few months, with another son following close behind. To know that I have at least two more times to go thru this is a bit much when I think about it, all who were homeschooled by us their entire school ages. And like you, I say that everything regarding them is exactly as it is supposed to be at this point in their lives.

  18. Excellent article. I am going to look for the book. I too am a 4-star mom, my boys are all National Guard. Currently on deployment #3 with #4 in the wings.

  19. I listened to your book on audio and absolutely loved it! This is all new for me as my son just graduated Marine bootcamp. Your story brought out so many emotions!

  20. Hi Elaine, thanks for being Sean’s Blue and Gold Officer! You prepared us well for the 4 years at the Naval Academy and we thank you! Sean will be deploying again later this year and all your lessons will come in handy.

  21. Thank you so much for this article. I’m a Navy mom (was a Navy wife – I know the ropes, but it doesn’t make it easier). We are just a few weeks into the 2nd deployment, the first one with my son’s new bride (my heart hurts for her), and you are correct – they do not get easier. This is a great list, and I appreciate you putting it on “paper” for us.

  22. I NEED to get your book! My first born son is in the Army and is coming up on a year in. He is currently stationed in Germany. I can not help but let the tears flow when I talk about him to others. Each tear is for my pride in him, missing him, praying for him, and happy for him being able to see the world. I loved your 11 things learned. I often wonder how I will survive his first deployment to Afghanistan , which may be soon.

  23. I can only hope and pray I’m as strong as you are when my son deploys the first time. He’s fresh out of basic. Right now he’s stationed at Ft.Hood which is only about an hr and half from home. He’s infantry. He’s already told me he will be deploying I’m 9 months and so far looks like Korea will be his first deployment. I’m dreading the day he leaves. I’m so glad I ran across this article. I think it will help but I also know when the time comes and it being his first deployment I will probably loose it. I am a mother of 6 boys and he’s much only one in the military. I also have had all the same feelings, fear, worry, proud of him, happy for him to be able to explore the world especially bc my boys were raised in the very small town of Hubbard Tx. Thank you for writing this article. #proudarmymom.

  24. This post couldn’t have come at a better time. My daughter’s first duty station is Ft. Hood which she arrived at beginning of December fresh out of Basic and AIT. This Tuesday I received the call telling me of her first deployment was going to be soon! Thankfully she arrived in Kuwait safe and sound this morning! I needed to hear these things today! Thank you so much and I Thank you and your family for your service!!

  25. Amazing!! I am in awe of you! Thank you so much for these tips. I’m a newbie but I have a feeling all these tips are going to be life savers! Thank you and Thank you to all your children for their service…you must be so proud! I pray God will keep them safe and you sane!😉

  26. Beautifully said! We had 2 boys join in 2015 and now our daughter is planning on joining this summer. It’s such a culture shock going from a household of 5 to just 3 with an empty nest on the horizon. When I have a little break down I allow my self a few minutes for that pity party then I suck it up because I’ve helped raise a Marine, Sailor, and soon to be Marine. They get some of that grit from mom too, not only dad. This article is great and I’m going to be find your book. Thank you!

  27. Your book is wonderful –will read it each time my soldier is deployed.

    Thank You for sharing your stories and helping us get through ours.

  28. Wow! you spoke so much of what I am feeling right now and have felt thru the years. Have two sons one a veteran one currently deployed and grandson in law serving. And no, it doesn’t get easier. We are just a bit seasoned to the procedure. There is a comfort in knowing my feelings and fears are understood. Thanks for your post!

  29. Thank you… I’m going try some of your ideas… My son is on his deployment with the Nsvy and I had no ide how hard this would be so thank you again… Mary from NJ… NMH

  30. I received your book as a gift from my sister at Christmas time shortly after my firstborn deployed for his first deployment. I read it in no time and found myself nodding my head and feeling so understood. It’s often difficult to relate how you feel to those not in your shoes and so it feels isolating and like you’re a crazy person, at times! This military mom thanks you from the bottom of my heart for writing this book. Thank you for your families service. God bless!

  31. Elaine,
    Thank you so much for your words of Wisdom. I turned to your book when my first son deployed. I have three sons who serve, a son in law, a daughter in law and my husband is a Vietnam Combat Veteran. When my second son deployed, I was better prepared. So please thank your wonderful children for their selfless service! Thank you for yours and for your support for military moms and families! God Bless you all! The branches we represent is Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines!

  32. Gee would really like to read book . Where can I get one ,as I’m getting ready for my sons second deployment? Thank you and God bless.

  33. God bless your kids and you family I have my two and only boys serving in the marines one in japan and one in florida prod mom but is really hard not miss my kids…Semper Fi and prayers for all military moms whogo thru this ❤️

  34. Thank you. Not quite there yet as my oldest child is just now at MCRD SD. Saving this article for future reference!

  35. God bless you! Thank you for your sacrifices in raising such wonderful children and in supporting their choices to serve.

  36. When our youngest made the decision to go into the Marines a lot of our so called friends, asked us HOW could we let him. Uuummm he’s 19 years old, we can’t stop him. I thought basic was tough until he had his first deployment. At least I knew he wasn’t getting bombed in basic. He is almost done with training again for his deployment again. I use most of your tips, before I even read this. But thank you for them, I did get a few more ideas.

  37. I loved reading your 11 things learned! My husband and brother both are retired Army and were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Our youngest son is currently in Afghanistan and I certainly agree it doesn’t get any easier! Our oldest son will graduate and be commissioned in May so it won’t be long and we will have both of them deploying. I think about it and feel like I might go out of my mind some days but I snap out of it because I know I need to be strong for them. My deployment plan, along with mailing packages and having my cell phone with me everywhere I go 😁, is training for my first marathon. Thank you for the 11 things learned and thank you to you and your family for their service and sacrifice for our country!🇺🇸

  38. I guess I need to be thinking of plans myself as a new Army mom, he has not deployed yet but they are eligible this year so we still don’t know, but should that time come I’m definitely going to need something . Your story and advice is good and I’ll try my best to stay positive through it all. Maybe i could get your book.

  39. Thank you for this. I Need to buy 2 books, one for me and another Navy mom that has been here for me. 💕⚓️🇺🇸 Where can I buy them?? I have 2 sailors, my oldest son 23 year old, and my only daughter 21 yrs old. It’s this worry, Pride and joy that I can relate too. #ProudNavyMom ⚓️🇺🇸💕

  40. Thanks for the tips, I’m a proud USAF mom, and my baby girl has not been deployed but stationed in Ohio for little over a year, and I’m still struggling with her being gone. Thanks for the support and hope to read your book soon.

  41. Everything you wrote goes for grandparents too! Our grandson is still in the training phase and we know he will be stationed somewhere after that. We miss him so much…but we are also so proud!!!!

  42. I’m a mother of two Army soldiers. I’ve been through 8 deployments, actually 7 because both sons were in Iraq at same time. I’ve been doing this for 13 years now. One son left the military last month after 13 years. My youngest son is still in with 12 years and will be deployed again next month.
    I get asked all the time how I do it. I just tell them I have my faith and know my Lord will do his best for my boys. I do a lot of praying and like you, I stay busy.
    May God bless you and yours. You will be in my prayers.

  43. Thank you for this article. I will be looking for your book. My only son is a CAV Scout in the Army and returned from his first deployment in October. I too feel pride that my child chose this path and journey for his life and have to rely on my faith in God to keep him surrounded in a crown of thorns and keep the enemy away. This is my prayer for all our fine men and women who serve and I pray for the families that are left at home until each of their soldiers safely return. Thank you again for your words of wisdom from one soldiers mom to another. God Bless.

  44. I am smack in the middle of our first deployment. My son is my oldest and only boy. I pray, I worry, I wait. I cry a lot. I am proud but I miss my son. I just want him back on US soil!

  45. My son went to Navy BC 12/6/16. I was given your book by his GF for Christmas, WOW! What a gift!!!
    Reading this book made me feel l like we were connected and you were writing through my sadness, pride and loneliness! Some days the emotion was so raw, I had to put it down until I had enough strength. I wasn’t ready to hear I may. It hear from him for months, and how hard the training was and how BC was. What helped me was the WHY! That’s what I needed to hear. Now I get it! I want my Sailor to be the best and know how to rely on his training. I get it now!!!! It’s been a long 8 weeks but today, I’m packed and ready for PIR 2/3/17. I received my official call! HOORAH! Off to Great Lakes we go….Bootcamp sucks, but I’m glad “WE” made it!!!
    I have my Mom armor on and I’m going to embrace every short moment I will be given with my new Sailor. I’m going to be brave and encouraging, the way us Moms are supposed to be!
    Thanks for the support, and encouragement Elaine. It’s great to know I have Moms like you to lean on all over the world! I just. We’d to find and be the support I need!
    God Bless your Family and keep them
    Safe! Thank you for sharing your experience, strength and hope and further more, thank you and every family member who has chosen to so honorably serve this great country we live in! I appreciate the commitment and sacrifice given for my freedom!
    With love
    Cindy.

  46. Wow…I am overwhelmed at the families who have more than one child in the military and I salute you! My one son in the Marines is more than I can handle. 🙂 May God bless every family who supports their loved one through these hard times. Be proud of yourselves as you have made great sacrifices! Must get this book!

  47. How perfect that I found this when I did!!! Thank you for this!!! Thank you for your service and that of your beautiful family. My next to eldest son is currently on his first deployment. Although he is married and has a family and they reside in another state, I feel such a sadness, yet pride for this chapter in his (our) journey. This is a family journey in all reality, although he is the one making this sacrifice…. it’s something we all feel and it makes a tremendous impact on each of our lives.
    Three years ago we were celebrating his PIR and now we’re anxiously awaiting that priceless text from him during deployment. It’s nice to have the reassurance that your post brings. It’s difficult to explain the impact felt by deployment to someone who doesn’t have someone serving that they love .
    Our hearts beat to the Red, White, and Blue.
    Thanks again!

  48. Thank you. I have a son who is a Marine and should he be deployed this gives me some help. Thank you brave mom. What Amazing Family.

  49. As the wife of a “past service ” Marine, mother of a Marine, 2 AF— grandmother of a Soldier and now an airman—and also a granddaughter-in-law. You are right, like labor it never gets easier. The phone is my friend and enemy. God keep us all safe.

  50. I have three serving our country at this time and another that just signed to leave after high school. I have two Navy a daughter and son, and a son in the Marines and a daughter soon to be Air Force thank you for all you wrote. May God Bless you and your children in the service.

  51. While I am a newer military mom, I have been wanting to get your book. My son graduates from basic training next week and while I couldn’t be more proud, of course worry comes into play with the happenings in the world. I would never let him see that in me because he knows I’m his biggest fan! Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom and can’t wait to order your book! ❤️

  52. My youngest joined the army after high school. Never ever did I think that I would have a soldier in my family. I support all my children in what they want to do with their lives, this was the hardest, especially since no one in extended family has ever served. This past November he was deployed to Afghanistan, I stood strong as he left and then fell apart. I can feel the tears wanting to run down my face as I write this. I thank God for technology where as I can text back and forth with him almost everyday. However when he goes on missions, I hear nothing, or I get quick message saying, ‘I’m still safe’. Your book was wonderful and helped me through his leaving for basic, and for his deployment. Also joining the military mom prayer group has helped. I am very happy that you wrote #3, I try to do this alone, because most of the time that’s how I feel. Thanks for letting me speak, may God bless all serving here and abroad, as well as their families.

  53. I am
    A soon-2-be Army MP mom. He leaves in july for Ft. Leonard Wood for 19 weeks. I allowed him to sign at 17 and am so proud of his recognized calling. He’s talked military since he was 9 and now its here. He has shoes to fill in the family: his great uncle (still alive, served 2 tours in Vietnam with 4 Purple Hearts and one star), great-grandfather served in WWII, grandfather had DOD clearance and I served in VA for a while. Knowing the family lineage and focusing on what’s right and protection of family is deep for him.
    However, we are very tight knit and the constant communication is going to be mine and my daughters challenge, but we know it’s his choice and his calling, not ours.
    I look forward to reading your book and am looking to start a “New to the Military” moms group and network the “seasoned” moms for support, encouragement, understanding and love, but do not know how to start this in our area. There used to be groups, but most have disbanded.
    Can you, or anyone, help with suggestions, ideas, contacts…..pleas elect me know!!
    The saying is “Army Strong, Army Mom”, but I’m formulating a new tattoo design that says “Army Mom, Army a strong!”

  54. I am
    A soon-2-be Army MP mom. He leaves inJjuly for Ft. Leonard Wood for 19 weeks. I allowed him to sign at 17 and am so proud of his recognized calling. He’s talked military since he was 9 and now its here. He has shoes to fill in the family: his great uncle (still alive, served 2 tours in Vietnam with 4 Purple Hearts and one star), great-grandfather served in WWII, grandfather had DOD clearance and I served in VA for a while. Knowing the family lineage and focusing on what’s right and protection of family is deep for him.
    However, we are very tight knit and the constant communication is going to be mine and my daughters challenge, but we know it’s his choice and his calling, not ours.
    I look forward to reading your book and am looking to start a “New to the Military” moms group and network the “seasoned” moms for support, encouragement, understanding and love, but do not know how to start this in our area. There used to be groups, but most have disbanded.
    Can you, or anyone, help with suggestions, ideas, contacts…..please let me know!!
    The saying is “Army Strong, Army Mom”, but I’m formulating a new tattoo design that says “Army Mom, Army a strong!”

  55. Thank you for your story! I am not from a military family. My husband was in the Navy during the first 4 years of our marriage. He went out to sea often but for only for a month at a time. He did his longer deployments before we met. 24 years later, our oldest daughter is now in the military. She is station overseas. She left right after high school. Wow! What an adjustment that was for all of us. I have never cried so much in my life. She has been in for 1.5 years. I barely hear from her and we used to FaceTime all the time. I will text her and I will not get a response for a few days. She is on a base that she cannot leave. So I know she is safe but with this world you never know. I worry because I am her mom. But she does not understand. She says to me that she is fine and not to worry. She also says she is trying to find her way and figure out who she is. She says that she is a different person, etc. I totally get all what she is saying. I was her age once but it kills me not to be in contact with her or to even know who my daughter is becoming. I did not have kids for them to leave me and not to get to be part of their lives…if that makes sense. I want to watch her evolve into the person she wants to be. How do you let them go yet keep them somewhat close with getting your heart broken into pieces. Thank you in advance for any words of encouragement

  56. My son just left on his 1st deployment tonite. The world has gotten so crazy. I told him i was excited for him to experience the world, but i broke down a little in saying goodbye and that i hope he stays safe. I’m worried he will be ….oh heck… I’m just worried. He’s a Cpl in USMC. Osprey crew chief. After 2 1/2 yrs training I know he’s prepared. Lord please keep him safe and bring him home when the mission is accomplished

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