War Dads

Active Duty - 06/21/2010

By Jackelyn Severin

Many dads celebrated Father’s Day, Sunday, for the first time as a new parent. Some new dads, though, had to spend this special day far away from their newborns. Today’s Dakota Digest profiles two families where the new dads serve in the 211th Engineer Company stationed in Afghanistan.

Kelly and Todd Irvin have two beautiful twin girls who are about nine months old now.

“Lilly is a bouncer,” says Todd, “Ariel she just likes to hang out; roll around on the floor.”

It’s April and Todd is home on leave from Afghanistan. This is the first time he has seen his baby girls in over seven months.

“The little one is no longer the little one,” says Todd.

Todd and Kelly Irvin adopted Lilly and Ariel about a week before Todd was deployed. Adoption was something they knew they wanted to do but they did not plan on it happening so fast. 

“We weren’t expecting nothing until he came home,” says Kelly, “Maybe get a call here and there asking why he was gone but nothing before he left. And it just, I mean everything just went bam, bam, bam and we’re parents!”

Kelly says they thought it would be a year before they were even considered as parents especially given Todd’s deployment to Afghanistan. But the birth mother of Lilly and Ariel had a different view.

“That was actually something that brought her to us was her dad was a vet.”

Kelly says when they received the call that they were chosen they panicked.

“But at the same time we were very excited but then it was we had to look at the whole picture here too with him deploying and everything. I mean he’s missing out on a lot the first year,” says Kelly, “But it was just something, like I said we sat and we prayed and we talked.”

“It probably took us a week, under a week or less to make up our minds that this is what we wanted,” says Todd.

Another South Dakota dad celebrating Father’s Day away is Mike Bierle. He and his wife Billi were not planning to have a baby while Mike was in Afghanistan. They found out about a month before he left that Billi was pregnant. Mike planned his leave to be home for the birth.

“So I got home March second and from there she actually took me from the airport to the hospital,” says Mike, “We had a checkup and then that next morning, so which would have been March third she was induced. Then the next day, March fourth, she had Charlie Jo Bierle.”

Both military dads agree their situation is not ideal but they would rather be away from their children now, when they are too young to remember their dad’s being gone.

Mike says, “I’ll share with her whatever she wants to know and just let her know how much I do love her and that it wasn’t, I didn’t want to be with her by any means.”

The moms also agree that it would be much harder on their children if they were older. But Billi Bierle admits that although it is better for their little girls right now it does not mean it’s easier on the parents.

“Like now she smiles and coos at you and you just get so excited when I go to pick her up from daycare," says Billi, "she gets really excited when she hears my voice and I mean its pretty heart warming but it is a little, like you feel, I feel almost guilty that I get too, umm, he doesn’t get to hear those things yet."

“You know, I realize it’s really hard for Billi,” says Mike, “You know now she has a baby to take care of let alone the bills and just the day to day things. Whether it’s mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow or whatever it is. And you know she’s already set in her routine and she doesn’t know mine over here she doesn’t know umm you know granted its dangerous but in her head its probably even more dangerous than it is. So I understand that from her perspective it’s probably a lot harder.”

Its debatable on who it is worse for the wives or the husbands. They each admit they just cope with it the best they can. Billi and Kelly say they try not to watch the news and really they don’t have time to worry too much because they are busy with work and taking care of their babies.

“And I know that Mike’s a well-trained soldier and you know that part of it you just have to go they’re doing the right thing and just pray that they have patience and God is with them and that’s all that you can really do,” says Billi, “You know I try not to worry too much that’s for sure.”

Billie says she and Mike talk a lot on the phone. While, Todd and Kelly use video chat whenever possible.

Kelly says “So that part has been nice and yet it’s still not the same because they’re physically not here. I mean you see them and that and you only wish that they were here. But you do with what you can do with for the year.”

For the military dads they cope by focusing on their mission but their family does fill their thoughts during their free-time.

Todd says, “All you want to do is see them and hold them and talk to them.”

Both Mike and Todd say they cannot wait to get be back to be fathers.

“It’s exciting, I’m ready to be home to play with them,” says Todd, “Only four months to go so."

Both the Irvins and Bierles say they are blessed and look forward to celebrating Father’s Day when they can all be together next year.


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