Christmas celebrations separated by service

Army guardsman in Egypt, wife and daughter in Hudson
Dec. 25, 2013 @ 08:31 AM

The week before Thanksgiving, the Eavenson family gathered to get an early start decorating the Christmas tree. Cheryl Eavenson and her 18-year-old daughter, Sarah, retrieved the ornaments, many handcrafted, and carefully placed them on the delicate branches. They took instructions from a voice coming from a laptop computer on a nearby end table.

The voice was Cheryl's husband, Richard, watching via a camera mounted on the laptop. He directed the decorating from 6,000 miles away in Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula, where he and the rest of the Lenoir-based Army National Guard 630th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion are deployed.

"The tree is a big, important part of our family," Cheryl Eavenson said. "It's more like a scrapbook, a memory tree."

Wrapped gifts are stacked under the base of the tree. One ornament is prominently displayed on the tree: a picture of Richard in his uniform, flanked on either side by Cheryl and Sarah. Richard Eavenson will sit today in front of what he calls his "Charlie Brown tree" in his small office in Egypt. The Eavensons plan to video chat today, but just like decorating the tree, opening the presents just won't be the same.

"Our faith and family is what gets us through this," Cheryl Eavenson said.

Sgt. 1st Class Eavenson is fast approaching 20 years in the armed forces, having entered the Navy in 1986 fresh out of high school, serving until 1994, four of those years active duty. He joined the Army in 2001 after seven years as a civilian working in the banking and furniture industries. He became a member of the Army National Guard after six years of active duty.

Eavenson's unit was sent to Egypt in April as part of a multi-national peacekeeping mission between Egypt and Israel. The unit is due to come home at the end of January

Since the Eavensons married in 1992, Richard Eavenson has served numerous tours of duty, including a one-year stint in Iraq serving alongside the 105th Military Police Battalion out of Asheville, in addition to the National Guard's required two weeks a year and one weekend a month on active duty.

With her husband gone much of the time, Cheryl and Sarah try to keep things as normal as possible. But that's not always easy, especially at Christmas time.

"There's just a piece missing," Cheryl Eavenson says. "We have bad days, some just really bad, but we also have some good days. It's a choice."

The bad days include birthdays and anniversaries.

"Those are the givens," Cheryl Eavenson said."I'm so used to him being here. It's the things decisions I have to make myself, or wait until the next morning for his input. The everyday things are harder."

Then there are the milestones, like Sarah's high school prom, applying to colleges and the acceptance letters.

"It's like I lost a parent for a short period of time each time he's gone," Sarah said. "I cried a lot."

Technology helps close the distance. The Internet is accessible from the barracks where his unit spends much of their down time. Using a free video messaging and chat application called ooVoo, Richard Eavenson is able to see and hear his family.

"Just being able to see the faces of your family and friends has made this deployment a lot easier," he said. "Technology definitely makes the distance seem shorter. At times it is challenging, due to the seven-hour time difference, but we've been able to make it work."

Eavenson did make a surprise visit at Thanksgiving, arranged by Mountain Grove Church on Connelly Springs Road, their church home. While here, he was able to help with the Christmas shopping.

This is his second Christmas away from home. His fellow soldiers are his home away from home. They work together, laugh together and sometimes cry together.

"So we pull together, help each other the best we can, and get the job done," he said. "It also helps knowing that we will be back home in a little over a month."