WHEN MOM GOES TO WAR
Family reunites after woman's military stint
By LEE J. KAHRS
St. Albans Messenger Staff Writer
(This article appeared in the Tuesday, January 13, 2004 issue of The St. Albans Messenger)
Staff Sgt. Maureen Houston with a large cache of explosives discovered during her tour of duty in Afghanistan. The above photo was provided to the St. Albans Messenger courtesy of Maureen Houston.
St. Albans - Maureen (Lemnah) Houston was in Afghanistan for six months and didn't shed a tear over her own situation.
It was only when she found out that yet another concerned family friend or neighbor had done something nice for her two sons that she cried.
Then the tears would flow freely. They still do. "Whenever I got news that someone did something for my kids
.," Houston said, unable to finish her sentence as her eyes moistened.
A Vermont National Guard staff sergeant, Houston was deployed to Afghanistan on June 1 and returned on December 15. She has been with the Guard since 1999 and was on active duty in the U. S. Army from 1985 to 1991.
She is a divorced, single mother to her sons Brion, 13 and Caleb, 11. She also has a daughter, Ashley, 16, who lives with her father in Maine.
When not on duty, Houston is a window clerk at the St. Albans Post Office, where she has worked since 1994.
She said she is thankful to be home safe and unharmed, but is most grateful to the community of St. Albans and Franklin County at large.
"It's why I wouldn't want to live in any bigger city," Houston said proudly. "The thing is, this community is just the perfect size because I know everybody."
Houston had a great deal of support from her family and the community during her deployment, particularly from her parents. Claire and Ralph Lemnah, of Fairfax, took care of Brion and Caleb while Houston was in Afghanistan.
The arrangement was part of the Family Care Plan, a military requirement for families dealing with long-term deployment. Discussed well ahead of time, Houston said she knew her boys would be in good hands with her parents during a deployment that could have lasted as long as a year.
The community was tremendous in helping Houston and the Lemnah's execute the plan. The family had decided that, although the boys would be moving temporarily to Fairfax, they would continue to attend St. Albans City Elementary School.
"The changes (with deployment) are drastic enough," Ralph said. "There is one less change by keeping them in their school."
The family said friends and neighbors pitched in and helped with transportation, driving the boys between Fairfax and St. Albans to school every day.
Houston made a point of thanking the post office staff for sending the boys' birthday cards and for sending her a care package every two weeks while she was in Afghanistan.
Houston also said family friend Dan Gleason, whose own son is still deployed in Iraq, went "above and beyond," taking Brion to a hockey game for his thirteenth birthday.
"He still owes me," Caleb joked.
She said St. Albans City Fire Lieutenant Joe Beaudry and the rest of the department helped the family tremendously, taking the boys to baseball games and plowing and shoveling snow around Houston's house on Elm Street.
Houston pulled out a greeting card decorated with an American Flag that she received from the St. Albans Veterans of Foreign Wars post. The front of the card read "To a woman who has given so much to her country."
"And look," Houston said, her eyes moist with tears. She silently opened the card to show it had been signed by the entire VFW membership.
Houston said being deployed was easier than adjusting afterward.
"The deployment was easy for me," she said, "There were no decisions to make, everything was taken care of."
She said adjusting to civilian life has been difficult because she is more emotional.
"I cry on a daily basis," she said. "You have to be so tough over there, nothing bothers you. Then you come home and
" Her voice trailed off as she gestured for understanding.
The boys both admit that having their mom away for so long dur8ing war time was difficult, but Brion said it has made him a better person in the long run.
"I feel stronger emotionally, inside," he said. And what if mom had to deploy again?
"I'd handle it better," Brion said confidently, "Because I know more now."
Caleb didn't seem as sure.
"I'd go with her," he said immediately.
Claire Lemnah said the boy's adjustment to her daughter's absence took a while, but it did come with time.
"The first couple of weeks there was a lot of sadness for mom leaving;" she said, "Then we got into a routine."
At school, Brion said there were a lot of kids who said his mom "went to shoot people," which bothered him.
Of her time in Afghanistan, Houston describes her experience with a degree of awe for the county and admiration for its people.
Henry A. Raymond
January 14, 2004