Richmond County Daily Journal
For military families, Christmas takes on a whole new meaning — especially when their loved ones are thousands of miles away.
This is the second Christmas Ronda Jones has had to spend without her husband, Sgt. First Class Jason Jones, but it’s their first Christmas apart since they had their daughter Rileigh who will be 3 in January.
This is the first Christmas Valeria Lunceford has had to spend without her son, 28-year-old Sgt. William Lunceford.
Jones and Lunceford are both members of the N.C. National Guard’s Company E, Hamlet, 1/120th Combined Armed Battalion and have been stationed in Iraq for about eight months.
Both men joined the Guard following the Sept. 11th attacks.
Lunceford had gone to college and then signed up to serve, where as Jones had been an active duty soldier with the 82nd Airborne and had been out for about several years before signing up with the National Guard.
This is Jones’ third deployment, and Lunceford’s second.
Their unit is scheduled to arrive back home sometime in mid-February, so Valeria and her family are planning on leaving their Christmas tree up until he gets home so they can celebrate again, together.
“It’s important for the holidays to continue for the children,” Lunceford said. “He has a son and two nieces that adore him, so Christmas will go on as usual and we’ll do it again when he comes home because they all have presents for him.”
Though the unit didn’t deploy to Iraq until early this year, they’ve been gone for training and other operations since December 2008.
“With a soldier being deployed you can’t just start back when they get home, you can’t make up for the time lost,” Ronda said. “We’ll have Christmas for the children and use Skype if we can so he can see her open her presents, but we’ll also do Christmas when he gets home. Some people say she’s lucky she gets two Christmases but she’s endured a lot of hardships that two Christmases don’t make up for.”
Valeria said the hard thing was getting used to changes in tradition.
“It’s hard when they’re not here,” she said. “William used to cook breakfast Christmas morning and we’d sleep in, and he’d help with Christmas lunch.
“It’s really hard on his cousins because he’s the oldest and always helped and played with the kids. It’s just hard on all of them.”
Ronda said the thing she misses most at Christmas is her husband’s presence.
“It brings happiness and peace being able to share Christmas with him,” she said.
Ronda and Valeria are both a part of the Family Readiness Group (FRG) for the unit and try and band together and get through the holiday season. Because the unit is made up of families from all over North Carolina and as far as Colorado and New York, the FRG does a lot of mailings to families to make sure everyone is up to date.
Earlier this month, the American AmVets chapter in Hamlet held a Christmas party for the families of the deployed unit.
“It took a lot of the stress off of us because they took care of all the small details,” Ronda said.
She said she’s been amazed at the community support during the last year. With help from the American AmVets, Hamlet Fire Department, local churches and individuals, the families of deployed soldiers have been well cared for.
Ronda said she mailed a package a few weeks ago of boxed Christmas cards donated from churches so the soldiers could send Christmas cards to their friends and family back home.
She said she’s also had complete strangers come up to her offering to send care packages to the unit.
Tuesday, during an interview with the Daily Journal, Ronda got a call from her husband who filled her in on what the guys were doing to get in the Christmas spirit.
Jones said the dining hall was decked out with decorations, Christmas music was always playing down the hall and tons of care packages were being received by the troops. He said those who were receiving packages were sharing with those who weren’t, making sure everyone had something.
He also said they were going to have a big cookout, like they did at Thanksgiving.
This year, because the guys are getting ready to come home soon after the holidays, Ronda and Valeria said they sent food in their care packages instead of Christmas decorations like they’ve done in the past.
Both Ronda and Valeria said it’s been hard to get into the spirit of Christmas this year.
“As it gets closer to Christmas I have had a hard time shopping and getting in the spirit because it’s a combination of Jason not being home so I don’t have the help, and I don’t want another holiday to come and go without him here,” Ronda said. “I’m also in school full time but I finally got out and did my shopping last Saturday and now I have to try and enjoy the holidays and look into my soul to find things to be thankful for.”
Ronda said she and Rileigh put up their Christmas tree, decorated the yard with lights to make it easier for Santa to find and Jason has been doing the 12 Days of Christmas for Rileigh and sent gifts so she’d get one in the mail every day.
Valeria said it’s been hard for her to get in the spirit, too, and hasn’t decorated her yard this year or sent Christmas cards.
“I just couldn’t do it,” she said.
“It’s hard to know what to wish for everyone else when you just want them home,” Ronda added.
Valeria did say she and her grandson put up the Christmas tree last week.
Though it’s hard to have them away from home, both women said they talk to their soldiers regularly.
Valeria usually gets an e-mail from William every day and schedules phone calls for when she knows she and the family will be home.
Ronda talks to Jason every day on the phone, and is able to use Skype so Rileigh can talk to her dad, ask him questions, and have him be a part of the household decisions, even though he’s thousands of miles away.
“It just keeps him incorporated in her daily life and keeps her used to him being able to make the decisions,” Ronda said.
William sent cards to his church as well as to his friends and family, but also keeps up with his friends via Facebook, Valeria said.
Both women are just grateful their guys will soon be home.
“Jason and I were friends for seven years before we got married and we talked about things and so we knew this was something we’d have to face and that just made the moments I lived in more precious because we knew he’d be gone,” Ronda said about preparing for his deployments. “I’m so glad we’re at the close of this year. We knew it was coming and we dreaded it but we survived it and are glad it’s over.”
Ronda said National Guard units are called upon typically every five years for deployment, if they’re needed.
“I’ll be glad when they come home so Tobey can stay with his daddy and do the boy things I can’t do with him,” Valeria said.
“It will be good in that respect, for bonding,” Ronda said. “But it will be a new beginning because with a homecoming it’s a huge relief. Words can’t describe when you see your soldier walk in. But it’s a long journey to get back to “normal” for the family because they’ve got many scars we won’t see.”
They said for those who want to help a military family through the holidays, the best thing they can do is just be thankful for the sacrifice of the soldiers and their families.
“A simple thank-you goes a long way,” Ronda said.