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Deployment causes family hardship, baby beats clock

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jaimi L. Upthegrove
  • 482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Staff Sgt. Phillip Steffen wanted to attend Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training with his wife prior to a 2014 overseas deployment, but time wouldn't allow it.

"Looking back I know it would have helped prepare me and the kids for what we went through," said Jamie Steffen during post-deployment Yellow Ribbon training Feb. 21 in Miami.

Yellow Ribbon aims to help maintain resiliency during all stages of a deployment for reservists and their loved ones. The program is a series of events designed to provide members and their loved ones with resources prior to departure, a level of stability and support while the reservist is away and successful reintegration techniques after the deployment ends.

Steffen, assistant noncommissioned officer in charge of the structures shop at the 434th Civil Engineering Squadron at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana, found out his wife was pregnant with their fourth child before he was scheduled to deploy.

"We thought it was perfect timing since I would be around 36 weeks when he was supposed to come home," said Jamie. "The baby had other ideas."

The deployment to Southwest Asia was the first for Steffen, who served on active duty prior to becoming a reservist.

"We had great support through our church, my parents, and Phil's parents, but it was just one thing after another until he came home," said Jamie. "The first few days he was gone our house was full of smoke and 54 degrees because we needed to have our chimney cleaned."

While Yellow Ribbon couldn't help with that, it may have shed light on how the children reacted to their father’s absence.

"Our children are normally well behaved, so I never expected them to act out like they did," said Jamie. "They fought a lot and I would wake up to find piles of snack food wrappers all over the floor. One morning I woke up to Ryan standing by my bed saying 'Here, mom' with his hands full of hair... Lizzie decided to cut her own hair. So I walked out of the bedroom and there's clear plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and soap all over the house, and Lizzie standing in the kitchen with chunks of hair missing."

Jamie had a panic attack upon seeing that, went back to her room and called her mother-in-law for help. Jamie said one thing that helped the family cope was focusing on the positives, such as getting to video chat with Steffen almost every day, and encouraging the kids to talk about what they were feeling.

"Ryan always talked about missing daddy, but one day I asked Lizzie, who is normally very reserved, if she missed him and she said 'It's not OK to miss daddy' and we both cried," said Jamie. "I told her it's OK to miss daddy, I miss him. Then we made a 'daddy pillow' which was a body pillow made out of Phillip's T-shirts and we all took turns sleeping with it."

Jamie said they had to schedule time with the pillow because all the children wanted it, but it helped the time pass.

While that was difficult, Jamie said the worst was yet to come. The week before Steffen was scheduled to come home, Jamie and the children went on vacation with his family. That weekend Jamie started having intense cramps.

"The children kept coming up to me and asking 'Mommy, are you OK?' because I was curled up from the pain just crying," said Jamie.

She said she was in and out of the hospital and on several medications for a few days trying to halt the labor.

"I was only (at) 36 weeks and Phil was supposed to come home on Tuesday," said Jamie. "I kept telling all the nurses I can't have this baby now, my husband is on his way home from deployment."

When Steffen's plane left the Middle East, the medications had halted the labor, but by the time he landed in Ireland, Nyla Mae had been born via Caesarean section.

"I was just happy everything was OK,” he said. “I told all the guys and they bought me a beer. I wish I could have been there, but I knew I would be with them soon."

In the meantime Nyla had issues with her blood sugar and breathing.

"I kept thinking my worst nightmare was coming true," said Jamie. "Nyla was born just over 5 pounds and had some complications. When Phil finally got home 25 hours later, she was in the neonatal intensive care unit waiting for her daddy."

Jamie’s mother brought the children to the hospital to meet their new sister having no idea their father was there as well.

"The next few months were an adjustment for everyone," said Steffen. "I came home and Jamie wasn't moving around yet, Nyla didn't come home for another nine days, and daddy brought down the hammer not letting the kids get away with what mommy did."

The Steffens attended their first post-deployment Yellow Ribbon event in December 2014, five months after the sergeant’s return.  The Miami event Feb. 20-22 was their second and final for this deployment.

"I still have to tell the kids I'll be home for supper before I leave for work," said Steffen. “But the event we went to really helped us come together after all we had just been through."

Jamie said anyone scheduled to deploy should take advantage of Yellow Ribbon events to prepare their family for what is going to happen, to know what resources are available during the deployment, and then to heal afterward during the re-integration process.

"Nyla Mae is happy and healthy, which I'm thankful for," said Jamie. "While I would never want to go through all that again, I truly believe our family is stronger because of it."