News

Waiting is Hell too

Samantha Hayward, 5, shows off photos of her dad that he has been sending digitally to her kindergarten class. All of Samantha’s classmates have parents in the military, many also on deployment. - Marcie Miller
Samantha Hayward, 5, shows off photos of her dad that he has been sending digitally to her kindergarten class. All of Samantha’s classmates have parents in the military, many also on deployment.
— image credit: Marcie Miller

By MARCIE MILLER

Staff reporter

Eight Prowler squadrons, two P-3 squadrons, at least 2,000 sailors from Whidbey, 10,000 more deployed from other Pacific Northwest Naval Units, a quarter million troops deployed worldwide, waiting for war.

They are just numbers until you look into the stoic brown eyes of 8-year-old Michael Hayward. His dad, AO1 (EOD) Scott Hayward, an explosive ordnance disposal expert, has been gone since January. The family doesn’t know when he will get to come home.

“I can’t handle him being gone,” Michael says, his bravery threatening to crumble. “I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to him. I can’t let that happen.”

Michael is in the second grade at Crescent Harbor Elementary in Oak Harbor, and he is not alone in his concern for a parent on an uncertain deployment.

The elementary school is on the fringe of Crescent Harbor Capehart Naval housing, and at least 80 percent of the students have Navy parents, the highest percentage in the district.

When Michael’s teacher, Bill Montross, asks his class of 24 for a show of hands of those students with a parent on deployment, a good third raise their hands.

With so much disruption and uncertainty in their lives, it would be surprising if these students didn’t act out, but Montross said they handle it pretty well.

“I see stress at first (when parents deploy), but then they get in the flow and even out.”

Crescent Harbor Principal Craig Dunnam said the district as a whole has met to discuss how to meet the needs of students in this stressful time. He has instructed the school staff to be aware of the stress levels, and be understanding of their behavior. If war comes, they will not turn on TVs in the classrooms.

He has seen a rise in discipline problems and calls to intervention counselors, both for students and their parents.

“We’re ‘people people’ but now we need to use an extra sense of care,” he said.

At Oak Harbor High School, where 48 percent of the students have parents in the military, Principal Dick Devlin said they have noticed a “spike” in discipline problems, including drug use.

Like other schools, Crescent Harbor does not single out the children of deployed sailors for extra TLC, Dunnam said, because the whole school is affected. Staff also have loved ones overseas, or are retired military.

Students and staff have kept up morale with projects focused on the deployed parents. Dunnam said the benefits work both ways.

“We’re trying to let military folks know there are people back home who care about them,” he said.

Michael’s class has been writing to his dad, on board the USS Tarawa, via e-mail. Hayward’s dispatches are comforting in their ordinariness: “Hey Class, Hope everyone is doing good and studying hard. Everything out here is going good.” Hayward included digital images of himself and a crewmate in front of a temple in Singapore during shore leave. “Except for it raining the entire time we were in it was good, it kind of reminded me of back home there in WA. HAHA.”

Down the hall from Michael’s classroom his sister Samantha and her kindergarten classmates make “heart and hand” cards to send Hayward.

Pictures Hayward has sent the class via e-mail hang on the bulletin board, next to a postcard newly received from Hayward’s shore leave in Singapore. Samantha points out a photo of her dad’s bunk on the ship, another of him hanging from a rope out of helicopter, and another posed with a group of crewmates in fatigues.

One hundred percent of Kathy Ridle’s afternoon class have parents in the Navy. Many are deployed.

The class knew Hayward before he shipped out, as he used to come into the class every Friday to help out. Now they look forward to his e-mails and postcards, and they send him cards and crafts.

“I know how to spell my dad’s name,” 5-year-old Samantha announces. “D-a-d-d-y.” She thinks her dad will feel happy when he gets her latest creation, with its message in her best sound-it-out spelling: “Daddy I love you. The class is doing well.”

Samantha says she never gets to write to her dad on the computer, because her big brother is always on it.

Their mother, Karolyn Hayward, later laughed and said that’s not quite accurate. Actually big brother Michael types letters to their dad on the computer while Samantha dictates.

“The kids really support each other,” she said.

Neither child could remember if their dad was home last Christmas, but Hayward said that is understandable. Their dad has been gone two of the last four Christmases. For the record, he was home for this one, deploying in early January.

When he left he gave each child a stuffed dog. He hugged each toy and told the children he had turned it on, and every time they hugged it he would be able to feel it, wherever he was.

Hayward said the dogs are looking pretty tattered. “They really believe he can feel it.”

In Michael’s recollections his dad has grown to Herculean proportions. He remembers playing football with his dad, with Hayward forging ahead to a touchdown while his son’s playmates clung to each leg, trying to stop him.

“We changed the rules to two-hand touch-tackle,” Michael said. “You couldn’t tackle him.”

Like all his classmates and children of military parents in the community, Michael and Samantha eagerly await their father’s return. Until then, they’ll keep writing.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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