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May 5, 2010
By Spc. Jessica Rohr, 135th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq -- When Soldiers are deployed, their spouses can be challenged to face new tasks they haven't handled in the past, such as taking care of children and the household alone.

Since President Ronald Reagan designated the Friday before Mother's Day as Military Spouse Appreciation Day in 1984, the nation has acknowledged the value of what often can seem to be a thankless role.

The importance of her husband's support isn't lost on Sgt. 1st Class Helen Foster, human resources noncommissioned officer in charge for the 3rd Infantry Division's Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, out of Fort Stewart, Ga.

Now deployed here, Foster reflected on her family back home in Apple Valley, Minn., as this year's May 7 observance of Military Spouse Appreciation Day approaches.

Her husband of 20 years, David Foster, has taken on many new responsibilities, Foster said, and she makes a conscious effort to communicate with him whenever possible to thank him for his hard work.

"He always wants me to call, e-mail or Skype with him," she said. "At the beginning part of the deployment, I was having a hard time doing that, only because I was wrapped up in work. I am getting a little bit better at [communicating], and I always thank him for what a great job he has been doing. I talk to him about three times a week on the phone, [on] Skype two times a week, and I am trying to e-mail him every day [to show my appreciation]."

Showing appreciation almost certainly helps spouses as they take on all the daily household tasks on their own.

David Foster is keeping things in order back home with the couple's daughters - Kayla, 11, and Elisabeth, 18 - while his wife is deployed to Iraq. This is the first time she has been away from her family for an extended period of time, the sergeant said, and her husband has had to learn some new techniques to manage the increased responsibility.

David Foster described the key to success in one word: "Priorities."

"I have to manage it all alone," he said, and I keep it all smooth [by] setting priorities."

Neighbors Becky and Marty Bonnell have helped to alleviate some of the stress of dealing with the responsibilities alone, he added, by occasionally taking the girls to the movies or doing "mother-daughter" types of activities with them in Sgt. 1st Class Foster's absence.

Balancing children, maintaining a full-time job as a warehouse supervisor, cooking dinner, and making time for his wife already consumed him on a normal day, David Foster said. Now, he must accomplish all his wife's duties, as well.

"There are a lot of role reversals after having been married for almost 20 years," Sgt. 1st Class Foster noted. "He's relied on me to do a lot of this stuff. He's always let me handle the grocery shopping, or he does the outside housework while I did the inside housework."

In preparation for her deployment, Sgt. 1st Class Foster taught her husband the basic skills needed to do her share of the chores. Online bill paying was one of a few important tasks transferred between the two of them. She said the experience has given her a new appreciation for her husband's support and willingness to care for their family.

"I would like to let my husband know that he is doing a terrific job taking care of everything," she said.

He returned the compliment. "I appreciate her support," he said. "I do everything I can to keep things running smooth so she can focus on her mission."

Sgt. 1st Class Foster said she believes all spouses of deployed servicemembers are doing an "amazing job" in their partners' absence by taking care of children, pets, bills and keeping up with the house.

"They are just doing a terrific job taking on all of this - the extra stuff that their spouses normally handle when they are there," she said.