Sunday, October 21, 2012

Soldiery and fatherhood: Can we become the best in both worlds?

I have the all-out support from my family in my military profession. Without their cooperation, I couldn't probably succeed in my undertakings. (Photo by Carlo Carpio-Claudio)

Is it possible to be successful as a parent and as a military man? Having been in the active military service for more than 18 years, I had proven that it is possible.
Maintaining a robust family relationship while serving in distant posts all over the archipelago is indeed a real challenge.
There are quite a number of issues that must be ironed out by the soldier and his partner in life that are supposed to be discussed thoroughly prior to marriage.

Before we solemnized our union, I  told my wife the following facts:
  • I am a professional soldier and a warrior who is always assigned to far away combat assignments;
  • My life is always in danger especially that I am a Scout Ranger warrior;
  • I am receiving a small salary;
  • I have no car but a 'kadilak' (kadilakad);
  • A soldier's wife is also the 'father' to the children;
  • Most of the time, she will be alone with our children;
  • There are times that I could not be reached by phone;
  • I can only spend at least two (2) 15-day R&R (rest and recreation) annually;
  • She might give birth to our child alone;

I also offered practical solutions to some of the 'problems' that I presented:

  • I will always find time to call using all the available communication means available;
  • She will maintain her career as an Accountant to keep herself busy and augment my small income;
  • We will always pray for our safety;
  • We will ride public utility vehicles together;
  • We will find ways that our children will recognize me as their father;
  • We will spend quality time to compensate for the long absences.

Then, I asked the most interesting question: Will you marry a Scout Ranger like me? 

 I heard a big "Yes!"

In 1997, we got married knowing that broken homes and failed marriages are becoming common among families separated by distance. We knew that it is  a sad reality among OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) and soldiers.

In my own research, I have not seen any document showing the statistics of troubled marriages among military couples. There are no also records about military dependents who became drug addicts or juvenile delinquents, though, problems like these are circulating inside military circles.

Accepting these as a real-life challenges, we both agreed to face them squarely and wisely.

Soldier’s morale

It is common occurrence that military spouses and children are left behind as soldiers are deployed to far away places. In my own case, I was deployed to Basilan about 13 days from the day I exchanged vows with my wife. 

While on duty assignment to remote military outposts, some soldiers become so focused with their military duties that they sometimes forget to discharge their responsibilities as husband or fathers.

The soldiers’ inability to maintain the lines of communication result to failed marriages and ill-supervised children some of whom have become drug dependents.
I have known about successful military men who rose to become star-rank officers but failed miserably at the home front. I don't want to be like them.

In my own experience as a combat leader, I realized that a soldier’s morale is directly affected by the condition in his home. You could not expect a soldier to focus on his job if he is burdened by  family-related woes.
As a leader, I am also affected by my soldiers' personal problems. In one solid example, I sent home one soldier when his Team Leader told me that the former was found staring at a ‘blank wall’. I traced his troubles back to his tumultuous family situation.

Aware of these, it became part of my personal commitment to look into the status of the families of my men. During Commander’s time, I never failed to remind them about their important role both as a father and as a husband, on top of their basic responsibilities as warriors. In addition, I also wrote letters to their family members, thanking them for 'lending' me their loved ones.

To ensure that I would not commit the same mistakes, I tried my best to address the same problem in my own backyard. When my son, Harvey, was born thirteen years ago, I realized that I could not perform all the ‘jobs’ of a father.

He was born during the time that I was about to become a Commanding Officer of the 10th Scout Ranger Company. As a rapid deployment force, I knew that the unit could be sent anywhere in the Philippine archipelago.

I therefore expected that I would not always be there to teach him how to walk, or how to ride a bike, or how to fly a kite. I would not be there to help him in his school assignments or teach him how to cook.

Establishing the ‘connection’

Being new parents, I and Bia relied heavily on folk wisdom or the ‘sabi-sabi’ as regards to the correct ways of maintaining the bond between me and our son, Harvey.

“Maglagay kayo ng di nalabhang damit sa tabi ng bata,” was the advice from our baby-sitter.

“I read that a baby ‘connects’ through scent and not through vision,” my wife added, quoting some ideas she scanned from a book on responsible parenting. I readily agreed, hoping that it would really work.

So there I was, bundling my unwashed shirt beside him when I departed for Sulu during the Sipadan hostage rescue operations in September 2000. My son was about eight months old during that time.

Pinagtitiisan nya ang aking amoy dahil nakasabit sa kanyang crib ang aking damit na di nilabhan. The unwashed shirt that I leave every time would become his comfort blanket and his guardian.

While serving in the frontlines of the Army’s counter-terrorism campaign in southern Mindanao, I was quite thankful to the guys in Finland who invented the cellular phone. I also bought a cellphone for my unit.

I was also very happy that cellphone signal was very good in downtown Jolo where at least two thousand soldiers were deployed to simultaneously attack the terrorist lairs located in the hinterlands.

As such, I always made it a point to make a phone call to hear my beloved wife, but also to our son during resupply operations.

In one of our conversations, I can vividly recall when my wife said, “Tumatawa sya nang marinig ang boses mo, Dear.” I was happy that our techniques seemed to work perfectly.

When he was one year old, I was in Sulu island, hunting some terrorists there during the Sipadan hostage-taking incident. All that he can utter was the word "Papa", but, I was always happy to hear him for several minutes of our chat time.

Hearing my loved ones motivated me to climb high grounds for ‘observation post’ (OP) operations because these hills offer good phone coverage as an incentive.

Bud Tumatangis in Indanan town and the surrounding hills of Kagay and Tanum in Patikul are among the best places for making phone calls. Unfortunately, the bandits were aware of this too and some of our fierce clashes happened in these areas.

‘Tactical’ communications

I maintained the open line of communication with my family when my unit was transferred to Basilan during the Lamitan siege in June 2001. For the same reason, I found out that there were strong phone signals on top of Hill 800 and Hill 898 (Punoh Mohadji).

When security situations permitted, I made it a personal routine to send my family text messages or phone calls when extremely necessary. I did not want my wife to be stressed, thinking about my situation. Hearing the voice of my son was also a morale booster during times when I was too tired and battle-weary.

As a policy, I would not tell my wife about the details of our military operations as this would make her worry some more. More often, I would tell her that we were ‘resting’ for a while and that my unit was doing fine. 

In one occasion, I told her we were all ‘okay’ though I was still shaking after incurring numerous casualties (wounded) in a brutal encounter with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Balatanay village, Isabela City.

My wife learned to adjust to the situation that I needed to talk in whispers every time I would make a call from a ‘hot’ area.

 “Tactical considerations, let’s talk within 3-5 minutes,” I would tell her.

Since clashes always grabbed the headlines during those times, I always made it a point to relay a message to my wife through military communication lines when phone signal was nil.

“Tell her that I am alive and kicking the butts of the terrorists here,” I would instruct my radio operator in jest. He would relay the same message to my wife through our unit’s cellphone.

During lull of the military operations, I would find time to fly to Manila for a 3-day family visit. That was my way of sustaining my family relationship.

 Harvey proudly wears his baby White Duck uniform during the wedding ceremony of then Cpt Samuel Yunque and MM Cabrera.

Consistency is the key

When I was transferred to Bulacan province for my staff duty assignment in May 2002, my son was already talkative and playful. He was barely three years old when I regularly travelled for 2 hours from Manila to our headquarters in San Miguel town.

As a routine, I talked to him everyday. Our phone conversations became part of my ‘duty’ that I religiously performed. 

“Papa, san ka? Bakit ka nandyan?” was his repeated dialogue. Parang sirang plaka sa mga tanong pero aking pinagtitiyagaang sagutin kahit paulit-ulit.

I had the opportunity to be with my family regularly when I was posted as a Liaison Officer in Fort Bonifacio in that same year. Unlike in the field, soldiers who are posted in garrisons have the chance to spend the weekends with their family. I became a 'weekend warrior' like the others. 

As part of our bonding time, we regularly had swimming trips. I was his first swimming instructor. Our 'habulan' games were unforgettable.

Where is Papa?

When my son was five years old, saying goodbye became much more difficult. 

When I was detailed as an instructor in the Scout Ranger School in 2004, departing in the wee hours of the morning was my routine.

One morning, my wife called me to tell me that Harvey was crying because I did not seek his permission to leave the house. 

He was crying like hell when he spoke to me. “I will wake you up next time that I am leaving son,” I promised.

He took my word like a covenant. Since then, I always made it a point to get his nod every time I departed for duty. Most of the time, he was still too groggy to rise and send me off. 

I agree with Naomi Drew, author of Hope and Healing: Raising Peaceful Children in an Uncertain World when she said that children are usually terrified by the prospect of war and that this fear is magnified for those with family members in the armed forces.

I also agree when she declared that, “Children live by routines, such as eating dinner at a certain time or having a bedtime story read to them every night. These routines make them feel safe and in control. When a routine is broken—in this case, the absence of a parent for an unspecified period of time—a child may begin to feel helpless and adrift.”

I believe that it was the reason why he complained about my inability to ask for his permission everytime I would leave from home. He disliked the idea that I would not be there to play with him the whole day.

Creating memories

Regardless of the constant phone calls from hundreds of miles away, I still felt that my son is becoming aloof to me as time went by.

 Definitely, there is no replacement for actual presence. As they say, ‘iba ang may pinagsamahan’. There are things that cannot be compensated by long distance conversations.

Every time I had the chance to go home, I always made it a point to spend quality time with my son by pursuing similar interests such as having Thai massage during weekends.

Family coffee time became part of our weekend routine during which we talked and shared funny stories about our own lives. He liked my ‘kwentong mess kit’, which is about humor in uniform. 

For his part, I required him to share his daily experiences as a child, about his crushes (which he reluctantly shares) and about his close friends.

We taught him the importance of honesty and the proper use of “All Right” challenge, which I learned in the PMA.  He values word of honor because he has grown to be a man of integrity. Lagi nya akong nasisingil kapag nakakalimutan ko ang sarili kong promises.

Lately, my son and I are into pistol shooting. Somehow, I influenced him after several shooting competitions during which I tagged him along as my cheerer. He is becoming a very good shooter now. Malapit nang mabaligtad ang mundo at ako ang ma-demote bilang cheerer.

It started out when I told him that I won many friends through shooting competitions. I challenged him to do something for the country such as bring national honor through sports. “Gusto ko po,” came his reply.

Harvey shoots an air rifle during one of our routine practices at the Philippine National Shooting Association's indoor firing range. We have the full support of our only girl in the house.

Since then, I shared my shooting skills to him. Aware that shooting is quite expensive, he urged me at one point to concentrate on coaching job. 

Naturally, shooting became our passion. Discussing his shooting ‘dry practices’ became part of our small talks every night.

I told him to minimize playing computer games as this might adversely affect his vision. I also told him to undergo swimming and aerobic exercise, which he readily obliged. Dahil sa shooting, meron na kaming karagdagang pinag-uusapan.

I also noticed that our communication lines have become more open and less informal as it should be. He shares to me his feelings such as his ‘nerbiyos’ prior to an actual match; and I always ensured that I taught him the techniques to overcome them.

“Just concentrate on the shooting basics. Don’t think about the people watching you but think on how to shoot straight consistently all the time,” I reminded him.

When he won his first official shooting match in February 2011, he was very proud. He called me and asked me to take a photo of his trophy for his Facebook account.

I got a simple reward for my coaching job when I heard him say, “I am proud of my Coach Papa.”

Technological advancements

During my younger years as a Platoon Leader in mid 90’s, our soldiers were contented with the use of the URC 187 HF radio to talk with their loved ones.

I can vividly recall soldiers saying, “I love you too, over!” to their wives who chatted with them through the military communication lines of another military camp near their homes.

When I was a Company Commander, majority of my soldiers had their own cellphones though I also maintained a company-owned cellphone that was monitored by our support personnel. I encouraged them to regularly contact their family members when situation permits.

With the advent of 3G video calls, Skype and Yahoo Messenger, maintaining the lines of communication is becoming much easier. It seems that there are no more valid alibis left for soldiers not to maintain a robust relationship with their loved ones.

I can confidently say that we can be the best soldier and a responsible family man if we want to do it. Failure is not an option in both worlds.

I had received many combat medals and citations in the past. Indeed, I am very proud for them. But I was prouder during my Basilan tour in 1998, when I received my first “Best Husband” certificate from my wife.

I am still waiting for my “Best Father” award from my son. I am still working hard for it. It will make me the proudest soldier of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

***(This article is dedicated to all soldiers who have offered their lives in the service of the motherland)


  1. "Aware of these, it became part of my personal commitment to look into the status of the families of my men. "
    WOW! Kudos Sir, Kudos! I don't know how much excitement I felt upon reading this...

    "On the other hand, I also wrote letters to their family members, thanking them for 'lending' me their loved ones."
    Snail mail? AWE-NESS!

    "Consistency is the key"
    I highly agree sir...

    "I am still waiting for my “Best Father” award from my son. I am still working hard for it. It will make me the proudest soldier."
    YOU WILL SIR. And by the chance this is going to make you smile, I am awarding this personally as my best military blog. Bookmarked, subscribed like HUA.

    Best Regards,
    Drey Roque (

    PS. Sir, can I ask for a wishlist? Can you share about why you wanted to become a soldier? Normally in the media, soldier vs. police. The movies, especially 80's movies are biased with the police being the good guys. I don't know since I am guessing. But since you entered PMA during the 90's, who inspired you? Did you have trouble asking for your parents' permission?

  2. ...i could almost relate to your son haha, sans the phone calls and text messages, of course (since cell phone wasn't invented at the time yet).

    i also grew up without seeing my dad that often, and i had actually gotten used to his absence. it was really difficult, 'cause there were times then when i felt envious with classmates whose fathers were always there to send them off to school during college.

    there came a point in time when i disliked soldiery that much, thinking this profession has taken my dad away from us.

    but two years ago, i met someone in the SR who changed everything around...;)


  3. Maricris,

    Maintaining a close relationship with loved ones is a daunting challenge that soldiers have to face and hurdle.

    One of my fave sayings clearly explains that we can do something about it:

    "Kapag gusto, maraming paraan. Kapag ayaw, maraming dahilan."

    Yes, we can succeed in both worlds. :-)