Families of deployed troops talk about battling worry at home

Blue Star mother Cindy Hood said she sleeps with one eye open and her cellphone while her son is deployed. The death of eight Oklahoma soldiers has concerns stirred.
BY ANN KELLEY akelley@opubco.com Modified: August 21, 2011 at 12:35 am •  Published: August 21, 2011

It's the knock at the door that no service member's family wants to get.

It's bad news — the worst imaginable. They're not coming home from war alive. Those visits have been unusually frequent in the past three weeks in Oklahoma. Eight Oklahomans have lost their lives serving in Afghanistan, heightening worries back home that more families will get that dreadful knock.

Cindy Hood, of Choctaw, has two sons in the military. Tyler Hood, 24, is a U.S. Marine stationed in Quantico, W.V., and 1st Lt. Zachery Hood, is stationed in Kuwait with the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Blue Star Mothers

Cindy Hood said she's been through her share of deployments and the stress never eases for military moms like her.

“We sleep with one eye open and take our cellphones to bed with us,” Hood said. “When one is lost, we all hurt. We're all very emotional.”

Hood is president of the Oklahoma Department of Blue Star Mothers, a nonprofit group that provides support to military troops and, in the process, each other.

Their most hated mission is to present banners with gold stars to the mothers who have lost children in war.

“We understand what each other goes through and we band together,” Hood said. “When your kids are gone, you can't hug them every day. There's no worse heartbreak.”

Audrey Leehan, 29, of Moore, was fortunate to have family visiting Sunday when the news arrived that her husband, 1st Lt. Damon T. Leehan, with the 45th was killed in Afghanistan.

Tiffany Nance, of Pryor, said her sister knew this deployment would be dangerous.

“Her biggest fear this whole deployment has been that she would be home alone with babies and get a knock on the door and there stands the military to tell her about Damon's death,” Nance said. “She couldn't stand that thought. It drove her crazy.”

The family dog, Nero, recently had died and Audrey Leehan wasn't coping well with the loss. After talking it over with her husband, she decided to adopt a puppy for their children, Emma, 4, and Ethan, 1. The new puppy became a source of comfort later.

Several family members were at the house Sunday meeting the new pup.

“She had her whole family at the house, miraculously, when she got that doorbell ring,” Nance said, choking back the tears. “And we are so thankful for that. You have to be thankful for God's ... hand in things.”

Lloyd Parks, 46, of Seminole, said he tries not to think about the worst-case scenario when his son is in a war zone, and admits he tried to convince him to seek a less-dangerous assignment.

Pfc. Justin Parks, 22, is with the 45th, based out of Stillwater. He's home on leave from Afghanistan until Aug. 25 and surprised his father at work.

Parks said it was a relief to put his arms around his son, and they spent hours talking of his adventures on foreign soil. He's filled his father's ears with stories of the weapons he carried, the high-tech equipment he's learning to use and friends he made.

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