Navy veteran Chuck Shrump, 63, and his wife Debby Shrump, 53, live in Washington, Pennsylvania. Their daughter Alyssa, 21, is a third-class petty officer stationed at the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, and his eldest son Andrew, 26, is a second-class petty officer stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, Washington.
This time of year is very stressful for military families—not knowing for sure if your child is going to be able to come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas until the paperwork for requesting leave is done. Sometimes you don’t know until a few days before the holidays, and you feel so helpless because there’s nothing you can do as a parent. We’ve opened presents over Facetime and Skype, that’s a nice way to do it. At least you share the experience of them opening gifts.
I served in the Navy, so I know it’s a dangerous job. And I worry about my kids. When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, Andrew was stationed in Okinawa, working with the reconnaissance planes mapping the debris field and looking for survivors. These planes were flying through the radiation coming from the nuclear plant that was in trouble, and because he was ground crew, he was handling the computer systems of those planes. I knew Andrew would be exposed to some radiation. And Alyssa, who has always been my little daddy’s girl, now loads missiles, rockets, bombs, and ammunition for the guns onboard the fighter jets. The first time she was on the USS Ronald Reagan, exhaust from a jet revving up its engine blew her off her feet, leaving her with minor burns.
These are the kinds of things I’ve learned to cope with as a Navy dad, and one thing that’s really helped me do that is the “Navy Dads” Facebook group, which started about the same time Andrew went into the Navy. [According to Facebook, 12.5 million U.S. users say they are family members of a veteran or an active duty member.] It’s a big help to talk to people on the same kind of journey, especially when our kids were overseas and we’d go days without hearing from them—and even when we did get them on the phone, the connection would be so bad we couldn’t have a conversation.
Last year, when we got everyone together for Thanksgiving—and did Christmas Day the Monday after—it was the first time since 2007 that we sat down at the same table on a holiday. I felt complete.
—as told to Olivia B. Waxman