MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Last September, 700 members of the Minnesota National Guard Red Bulls were given a send-off for a 10-month deployment to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

WCCO’s Reg Chapman and Photojournalist Tom Aviles traveled to the Middle East to report on their work there. This Fourth of July, they share how one White Bear Lake family deals with life until their citizen soldier returns home.

Elizabeth and Piper Bradshaw keep the blues away by “shaking it off” to their favorite music as they wait for husband and father Justin Bradshaw to return home from serving in Kuwait.

“We’ve found ourselves in a really good routine now. I think we are doing pretty well, but there are moments where it feels really long,” Elizabeth said.

For the past eight months, the pair has managed to keep the house together, tackle preschool and work full-time.

“As a parent, you can’t stop. You just keep moving forward, and we know that we will get through it, so its a matter of getting to the finish line,” Elizabeth said.

WCCO met the Bradshaws last September, when Serving our Troops fed the soldiers and families of those being deployed. The Bradshaws were there to soak it all in.

“To have the support of the community, that tells us at least while we’re away we can focus on the mission, knowing the community is going to support our families back home,” Cpt. Justin Bradshaw said.

(credit: CBS)

During the show of community support, Elizabeth says Piper was still a bit confused about where her father was going and why.

“We just let her know that daddy is going on a long trip and she will be able to speak to him, FaceTime with him, and Mom and her will do a lot of fun things when he is away,” Elizabeth said.

Months later, Piper knows where her father is and a “daddy doll” helps her handle the separation. While unicorns and rainbows help calm Piper, nothing replaces Justin’s presence at home for Elizabeth.

“Mostly at nighttime, that’s when she tends to get the saddest or miss her daddy, so we do try to cuddle with the daddy doll,” Elizabeth said. “Being without him and just not having my partner to bounce ideas off of, or is this the right decision — and of course drop-off and pick up at day care — it’s a lot to manage when I’m still working full-time. But I think the hardest part is just missing my parenting partner.”

In Kuwait, Cpt. Justin Bradsahw is happy technology allows him to see some of what he’s missing.

“Thank goodness we are able to connect, whether it’s an instant text sort of thing FaceTime,” he said. “And of course there is cell service as well, so we’ve been able to keep in touch. And I’ve been able to at least watch my daughter grow.”

Photojournalist Tom Aviles showed Justin video of his daughter and wife dancing in their White Bear Lake Home. Seeing both of the loves of his life, he said, was the highlight of his day, and he was overcome with joy when he heard the message she sent from White Bear Lake to Kuwait just for him.

“I miss him because I love him,” Piper said, and when asked what the first thing she was going to do when he got home, she replied, “I’m going to give him a hug.”

“I cant wait to give you a big hug,” her father said. “I’m gonna see you in two months so get ready, because I’m gonna squeeze you. I love you, little girl.”

For this family, service and sacrifice go hand in hand. Now they are counting the day until they are in each other’s arms again.

The 700 members of the 34th Red Bull division serving in Kuwait will start moving back to Minnesota and civilian life in the next few weeks.

Reg Chapman

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