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.
“I'm very concerned about him, but he loves what he's doing,” Parks said. “He feels like he's making a difference, and just like everyone else who has someone serving I'm incredibly proud of him.”
Day-to-day life goes on for military families, as they combat the absence of their loved one and looming fear for their safety.
Hood said her work with the Blue Star Mothers helps her cope. She said among their missions, they make care packages to send overseas to troops, are constantly fundraising and provide support for families with wounded service members.
“We busy ourselves. We're not sitting at home,” Hood said. “It helps. It really helps a lot to know that you're not just making things better for your kids, but others too. It's like we're mothers to all of them.”
At Tinker Elementary School in Choctaw 60 percent of the students come from military families, and school officials there are faced daily with helping students cope with the loss of a deployed parent.
Principal Sean Trent said the recent deaths in Oklahoma intensify their students fear.
“Any time there is that kind of tragedy, it's going to put in their mind ‘is my parent OK?'” Trent said.
Trent said teachers at Tinker Elementary are in tune to that, and understand if a child is having a bad day. He said there are counselors there to help students, and even computers where they can communicate via email and video conferencing with their parents stationed overseas.
Total faith in God
Stacey Boyer's husband, 1st Sgt. Matt Boyer, has been in Afghanistan since May serving with Oklahoma's 45th.
“I pray for his safety several times a day,” Boyer said. “I put my total faith in God and know it's in His hands. If I didn't, I'd be falling apart all day.”
Boyer said she stays tries her best to hold it all together for her husband and their daughters, Abby, 9, and Emily, 6, but life has definitely changed around their household.
“It's the little routines, like when he'd pick up the girls' from school and take them to Sonic to get a Coke,” Boyer said. “It's those little bitty things you learn to really appreciate.”
Boyer said she's gotten poison ivy doing yard work he used to do. In his absence, she's in charge of picking up dead bugs and killing spiders too. Those same day-to-day tasks, keep her busy and sane, she said.
“I miss him every minute,” Boyer said. “And when I get to talk to him, ‘I love you' never goes unspoken.”