By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 19, 2009 – President Barack Obama recognized in his Father’s Day proclamation the sacrifices military fathers make every day, and hosted the Military Father of the Year today at the White House for a town hall session on fatherhood.
Navy Chief Petty Officer John Lehnen, the father of four children with special needs and recipient of the 2009 National Fatherhood Initiative-Lockheed Martin Military Fatherhood Award, was among five fathers invited to participate in the forum slated to coincide with the national Father’s Day observance.
Lehnen, a quartermaster, shared his story about the challenges he and other military fathers face, and how he stays connected to his children’s lives during deployments and reconnects with them after he returns home.
Obama recognized in his Father’s Day proclamation issued today the strength military fathers like Lehnen bring, not just to their families, but to their country as well.
“We … express special gratitude to fathers who serve in the United States armed forces for the sacrifices they and their families make every day,” the president said. “All of these individuals are making great contributions, and children across the country are better off for their care.”
While most Americans are planning backyard barbecues and family outings to celebrate Father’s Day, many military families with deployed husbands and fathers will be settling for more subdued observances.
At Camp Lejeune, N.C., for example, three 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit families whose babies were born after the MEU deployed in May will get treated tomorrow to an interactive video with their loved ones.
Frank Smith, the unit’s family readiness group officer, said it will be the first time most of the Marines have seen their newborn children in anything but e-mailed photos.
“It will be an opportunity for them to see and hear them face to face,” said Smith, a retired Marine master sergeant. “And it’s also a way to let them know that while they are out there in the face of danger, those of us in the rear appreciate what they are doing and are looking our for their families.”
Meanwhile, other families of deployed servicemembers – an estimated 150,000 of them fathers -- and their families are expected to observe Father’s Day in quieter ways.
Many already have made their treks to the post office to ship off Father’s Day cards and care packages of snack foods, batteries and other coveted goodies.
Air Force Lt. Col. James “Andy” Leinart, an operations analyst deployed to Baghdad, knows a care package is en route from his wife and three daughters in Annandale, Va.
While he’s not expecting a repeat of last year’s breakfast in bed and carefully crafted gifts from his little girls, Leinart is keeping a stiff upper lip about missing his special day with his family.
“I miss my wife and children every day, whether it’s Father’s Day or not,” he said. “I guess the only real difference is that Father’s Day will give me a pause to reflect more on it.” Quickly brushing any hint of melanchony aside, Leinart said he’ll be happy with a call home or a Skype session on the Internet.
And he’ll make a point to call his own father in Waco, Texas. “There’s probably no better day than Father’s Day to do that,” he said.