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April 12, 2012
By Andrea Sutherland (Fort Carson)

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Ava Petro has missed her father.

For the past year, Sgt. Anthony Petro participated in security missions and helped train Afghan Security Forces in Afghanistan with the 127th Military Police Company, 759th MP Battalion.

"It's so sad when daddy leaves," said Ava, 4. "I cried."

Just 3 years old when her dad left, Ava struggled with his absence.

"Ava's attitude definitely changed when he left," said Dawn Petro, Ava's mother. "She kind of rebelled. She used to say, 'I want my daddy,' all the time, but she's grown out of that now."

Ava didn't understand why her father had to leave. She only knew the fun, loving man who played such an important role in her life wasn't there to play, tuck her in at night and celebrate birthdays and Christmas. For Ava and her younger sister, Ally, 2, the only reminders of their father were the pictures hanging on the wall in the living room.

"He calls us princesses," she said. "We played tag and wrestling. He reads us bedtime stories." The struggles of having a loved one deployed is not unique to the Petro Family, and Army officials are shedding light on the hardships families endure, specifically children.

In 1986, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger designated April Month of the Military Child with hopes of highlighting the role military children play in communities. Throughout the past 10 years more attention has been paid to the issues children face with parents facing multiple deployments and constant moving.

Fort Carson hosts several events for military children and parents not just in the month of April, but throughout the year.

Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, garrison commander, said Fort Carson is dedicated to building resilient children and parents.

"(With younger children) it's really about the parents and developing their resiliency skills," he said.

Although the attention and special events help military children, nothing quite compares to having their Soldiers home.

On Sunday, Ava received a belated birthday present: her dad.

"He made it home one day after her birthday," Dawn Petro said. "It was a great present."

After the welcome home ceremony for the 127th MP, Anthony Petro ran to greet his wife, and daughters, Ava and Ally.

"I can't explain the feeling," he said as Ava clung to his leg. "I haven't seen these girls since July and it has been driving me insane.

"I took for granted spending time with my daughters before the deployment. I'm looking forward to spending time with them. I love the Army, but I love spending time with my girls," he said.

Ava showered her father with kisses, refusing to let go of his hand as they left the Special Events Center.

"I'm excited to play," she said.