NORMAN — He left for training in February, then for Afghanistan a couple months later.
But Sgt. Jeffery Argyle, 32, of the Oklahoma National Guard, is not completely gone.
Haley Argyle, 31, knows her husband, J.J., will call most mornings at 8:30 and again when he goes to bed, 2 p.m. her time.
The family photographs on the walls help keep him present. So does the book he recorded of himself reading for the girls.
On a sunny June afternoon, Argyle and her three daughters squeeze onto the sofa in their Norman home and open the book, slowly leafing through pages.
His voice fills the living room. They listen.
The book is a balm for the days stretching between “I'll miss you” and “Girls, I'm home!”
But there are other gaps the soldier left unfilled, like the green grass growing tall from all the rain.
The quiet kitchen at dinnertime, empty when the chef is overseas.
And then there are their girls — coordinating music classes, gymnastics meets and Vacation Bible Schools.
Oklahoma National Guardsmen deployed to Afghanistan number more than 300, with 250 more being deployed in the next year, spokesman Col. Max Moss said.
When guardsmen face active duty, families work to reorder responsibilities, redefine “normal” and figure out ways to manage the duties troops leave at home.
It's more than military wives like Argyle can do alone.
That's where relatives, church friends and National Guard family programs step in.
“Any kind of support during this time means the world. If it weren't for loved ones supporting me, I really don't know what I would do,” Argyle said.
Filling the void
For Argyle, life these days is a blur of living room dancing, diapers and sentences stopped short by three girls all wanting Mom's attention and lacking Dad to divert them.
But Argyle has been through this before. This is her husband's second deployment during their eight-year marriage. The last one sent him to Iraq in 2007, when their oldest daughter, Riley, was 17 months old.
Now, Riley, 6, Sadie, 3, and Tinley, 1, fill her day with a steady click-clack of activity, especially now that school is over.
“I keep telling myself, if I can get through the summer, I'll have it made,” Argyle said.
Born and raised in Norman, Argyle is thankful to have her family nearby.
Her mom and dad offer rides, baby-sitting and company to help her get through the long days. Aunts and uncles are quick to provide relief from the kids if she needs an hour to herself.
They also cook meals for Argyle when spaghetti gets old.
“He's the cook, not me,” Argyle said. “I cook a little, mostly things like pasta that I can't mess up.”
Members of the church she's been attending for 20 years also provide help.
“They're a great support system and are like my family,” Argyle said. “There are also a lot of military families in that church, so we all understand and kind of help each other out when necessary.”
They often go out to eat together after services, to talk and unwind.
Argyle can't imagine her life raising three young girls without the support.
“It's very overwhelming,” she said. “I have a newfound respect for single moms that do this all the time.”
Like clockwork, the Oklahoma National Guard also calls once a month to check in.
They ask how she's doing, about the girls and if she needs anything.
“It's nice receiving a call from the Guard just to know they're always there,” she said.
A monthly call to families of deployed troops is part of the Guard's Yellow Ribbon Program. It educates families on resources and services available before, during and after deployment.
Through its family programs, the Guard also offers legal referrals, advice on finances and health care changes and practical assistance for those lacking the close family support Argyle enjoys.
“We're here to act as a conduit,” said Lori Gill, family assistance coordinator for the Oklahoma National Guard. “We work to take care of problems at home so guardsmen don't have to worry about them while they're gone.”
Margie Solis, 33, accompanied her husband, Staff Sgt. Chris Solis, to her first Yellow Ribbon meeting June 1 in Norman.
They have been married for seven months. Her husband, 30, leaves for Afghanistan at the end of the summer.
Solis said the presence of the Guard is comforting as she navigates her first year without her husband.
“Chris' mom and dad live by us, but they stay busy, and my mom is older, so it's nice to know that the Guard support is there if you need them to talk to or ask questions,” she said.
The couple left their five children in Mangum, a city almost three hours southwest of Oklahoma City, for the weekend. They enjoyed one of the last opportunities they have as newlyweds, alone together on the same continent, before he deploys.
During the sessions, they heard about where to buy medicines, how much lower health care will be and what income changes to anticipate.
So many things to remember.
But the Solises aren't worried about any of them. They just think of the children.
“The hardest thing for me is not having him as the extra support with the kids and all their activities,” she said. “I'm one person trying to get four and sometimes five kids all to the right place.”
She also will miss having her husband to call when the kids are driving her crazy.
“Since I won't be there to vent, maybe she'll call them and vent on the Yellow Ribbon personnel,” the soldier said, laughing.
They admit they're worried about the transition but know the Guard offers free counseling and advice for spouses and children throughout the process — and even after the soldier gets home.
“They are always in contact with the families at home and will send resources out there to the house if needed,” Chris Solis said. “They'll even repair a fence if a tornado blows it down.”
Finding a new normal
Family and friends make Argyle's days easier, less lonely.
Evenings are the hardest. Nights can be long.
After she puts the girls to bed, sometimes they read the book Dad recorded. Riley's favorite page is the last one. She knows it by heart.
I will miss you every day that I'm gone, but read this book often. Also, tell mom how much I love her and that I will miss her.
In the dark, quiet moments, Argyle enjoys sitting down to watch this season's “The Bachelorette” as the girls read their book.
At night Argyle thinks of her husband — and of the people that have helped pull her through the days he's been away.
“A lot of soldiers' wives don't have the support that I do, so I'm very fortunate that I have it,” she said. “It definitely helps.”