CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Not long after they wed, Alia and Travis Reese found themselves saying goodbye to one another.
“I was a new spouse and had no real idea of how the military worked,” explained Alia, wife of Maj. Travis Reese, the plans officer for 2nd Marine Logistics Group. “We lived off base and while I knew a few other spouses, I was not particularly close to any nor was I familiar with any military resources available to me.”
Travis went afloat in 2000 to test the fire capabilities of a ship off the shores of Puerto Rico. Halfway around the world, the USS Cole was attacked in the Yemeni Port of Aden. The crew suffered 17 causalities and 39 injured service members.
“I had heard the news very early in the morning on my drive from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg,” explained Alia. “By the end of the day, I had received numerous phone calls from family wanting to know what was going on, but since I didn't know myself, it just made things worse.”
Although Travis was aboard a different ship about 8,000 miles away from the bombing, Alia still panicked due to her lack of military knowledge.
“I was scared out of my mind,” Alia said. “It was four or five days until I heard from him. My biggest worries were all ships were being targeted, and [Travis’ unit] would be directed to respond.”
This was the moment Alia knew it was time for things to change.
“I had to know more about the military, and I had to get connected,” she explained. “I didn’t want to feel like that again, and definitely didn’t want my kids to go through it.”
So Alia set out on a journey to learn more about the military and specifically what her husband did in the Marines.
“I started attending Marine Corps Family Team Building events like [Lifestyle, Insights, Networking, Knowledge, and Skills] and pre-deployment classes,” explained Alia.
L.I.N.K.S. and other classes offer military spouses knowledge about the military and give them tools to help cope with deployments and separations.
When it came time for another deployment, Emma, the oldest child in the Reese family, was almost two years old. Alia was equipped with the knowledge to educate herself and her daughter about the job Travis was doing in Afghanistan.
“She was at the age where she knew he was gone, but she didn’t understand how long he would be gone,” explained Alia. “I wanted to keep him involved in her day-to-day life, and Emma loved looking at pictures, so I started a scrapbook for her. Travis would send pictures to us via e-mail, and I’d put them in the book. It showed her what her daddy was doing overseas.”
Alia continued to update the pictures as the years went on for Emma, but she was getting older and a little more curious. The still pictures proved to help her cope and understand why her father was gone.
“I would tell her ‘daddy is helping the Iraqis’ and explain to her how he was working with good guys to fight against bad guys,” Alia said. “He would send us pictures of him by [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles] and in battle gear.”
Alia used those pictures to explain how the gear and trucks were designed to protect service members.
“By using pictures, you can tell stories about what they’re doing or what they’ve done,” Alia said. “The child will feel like their parent is still there.”
Deployments and separations continued for the Reese family, as it did for most military families.
“I wanted to help other families,” said Alia.
She took the tool she used to keep her family connected and published two children’s books called “My Mommy is a Marine” and “My Daddy is a Marine.”
The books feature pictures of Marines and what their jobs are, but the pictures that come with the book are just examples. Parents can replace the generic photos with pictures of their Marine.
“These unique books bridge the gap for younger children,” said Heather Stone, a Marine’s wife who purchased the book. “Kids are visual learners and having the pictures to look at is a vital tool. The book is sturdy, simple and concise. They can read it on their own. It’s their book. It works perfect for my children.”
While this book may not work for all families, there are many other resources available for military families.
“The most important thing is to stay connected,” explained Alia. “It doesn’t matter what tool you use, but you have to do something.”