Despite the growing number of women in the military, the Pentagon does not track how many deployed women are also mothers. It also doesn’t count the number of deployed fathers.
But being a parent and simultaneously serving your country can create challenges especially when deployed.
On Mother’s Day 2016, Nicol Roldan was 7,700 miles away from her two children. She was in Afghanistan on her first deployment
“You’re just like, you miss your home, you miss your kids and you know I cried, of course,” Roldan said. “I have feelings, and emotions are going to come out. But you realize, okay, this is a decision that was made, you have no regrets, let your feelings out, cry and tomorrow is another day.”
Her days in Afghanistan added up to seven months. Air Force Master Sergeant Roldan, 42, is with the 6th Medical Group at MacDill Air Force Base.
Previously, she has been stationed in Japan, Germany, Turkey and several bases stateside. But she had never been deployed in over 20 years. So, when she found out she was going to Afghanistan, it shocked her, at first. She missed birthdays, the end of the school year, the start of next school year as well as small family rituals.
“What my kids look forward to, and they would never admit to any of their friends, the fact that I tuck them in at night.”
Her son, J.C. is 13 and her daughter, Alissa, is 12. Roldan is a single mother. When she deployed last April, Roldan’s mother retired and moved into their house to care for the kids. Roldan would call home almost daily to hear their voices just before their bedtime.
She kept herself busy working as an x-ray technician, and overseeing the pharmacy, laboratory and nutrition sections.
“I had to get myself on a routine to make sure that I wouldn’t - what’s the word? I wouldn’t get myself depressed or worry so much of what’s going on at home because I knew they were in good hands,” Roldan said. “She did great while I was gone.”
Roldan returned in late October 2016. But the experience of her deployment is still fresh like her return at Tampa International Airport. She has a photo of that moment and still tears up when she looks at it.
“The minute I saw my kids, honestly, everybody else was a blur,” she said. “They had grown so much since I was gone and even though I’d seen pictures, even though I talked to them on the phone, seeing them in person, it was very much an emotional time.”
And since returning, she spends a lot more time with her daughter and son going to the trampoline park and to the movies. She said she still feels as if she has to make up for the months she missed with her kids.
After missing Mother’s Day last year, Roldan doesn’t know what her children have planned this year. But her ideal is to stay home and grab a two-hour nap.