MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The holiday season is a time when many families come together. But this year, thousands of families will have to celebrate a world apart.
There are more than 13,000 soldiers and airmen in the Minnesota National Guard. About 450 of them are currently deployed.READ MORE: Snow Plow Struck By Gunfire After Collision In Minneapolis
Guy Antoine is currently on double duty, being both mom and dad to his 1-year-old son Victor. Last year, as he and his wife, Captain Kelly Francis, were telling friends she was pregnant, they were told her unit was deploying.
The Minnesota National Guard gave her the choice to get out of her deployment, but Francis knew what she wanted to do.
“We talked it over for a few months, but ultimately decided that Kelly wanted to serve her country,” said Antoine.
Antoine understood that tough decision, he served 18 months in Iraq a decade ago with the New Jersey National Guard.
With pride-filled tears, Kelly kissed her husband and new baby and went to Kuwait.
“Because I have such a good support system, it hasn’t been as hard as I think it could have been,” Antoine said.
Francis’ mom is proud of her daughter, but misses her, too. She choked up while explaining she didn’t want her daughter to deploy, but acknowledged Francis has never been happier.READ MORE: Mark Bell Charged With Fatally Shooting Girlfriend In St. Paul
Grandparents and friends make juggling work and a baby easier. Though their family is apart, Francis is still a part of their lives. Technology lets her be a soldier and mom while she’s 6,000 miles away.
The family is able to video-chat several times a week. Victor loves it — his grasp on the tablet is proof he knows the lady on the screen is special.
“That was one of our biggest concerns before she left was that he wouldn’t know who she was when she came back,” Antoine said.
Francis said since her son is younger, it has made deployment easier for her knowing he’s too young to remember she’s gone and won’t be back for several months.
The timing of Kelly’s deployment is difficult but do-able, milestones have come and gone like their first anniversary, Victor’s first birthday and now their first Christmas. But the family knows Francis will be home from Kuwait next year and they can make up for lost time.
“This has been difficult. Deployment is difficult,” Francis said. “But when you walk out on the street and people walk up and shake your hand, and they say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ this is why, this right here.”
“My husband is a wonderful father and every time I call and I see what a great job he’s doing with Victor, I feel better about everything,” Francis said.
Francis’ unit is scheduled to return from overseas next spring.MORE NEWS: Minnesota Groups Unite To Oppose Recreational Marijuana Legalization
One way to say thank you to local service members is to support the Minnesota Military Family Foundation. It provides financial assistance to families serving our country. You’ll find ways to help at WCCO.com/AccomplishMN.