Valcartier military wives count each day as their husbands fight on the war front

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Photo: Courtesy of the Champagne Family

Vanessa Champagne with husband Captain Jean Pascal Champagne and daughters Annabelle, 4, Chloé, 2, and son Jacques, 7 months.

With each day that passes, Gemma Verret and her three-year-old son Ronan place an "X" on a big calendar they made together.

"He knows that at the bottom of the calendar he gets to see Daddy again," said Verret.

Verret, the wife of Major Marc Verret, is one of hundreds of military wives throughout the Quebec City region marking time while their husbands are deployed from the Valcartier Garrison to Kandahar City in Afghanistan.

Like many others among the 1640 military personnel from the garrison on the six-month rotation that began in March, Verret's husband will spend his time in Afghanistan working to help train and mentor members of the Afghan National Army in an initiative to provide the country with long-term security and other reconstruction and development efforts.

"I take it day by day - it is not easy," Vanessa Champagne, whose husband, Captain Jean Pascal Champagne, is also on the Afghan mission, said in an interview.

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Both women are going through their own spouses' military rotation for the first time.

And both acknowledge that their children are still too young to understand why their fathers have left for such a long time or the danger they face.

"I miss papa," Annabelle, the Champagnes' four year-old daughter, can be heard saying in the background during the interview.

"I miss him most when the kids are in bed and I'm left picking up around the house," said Champagne.

Contact with their husbands is limited, both women agreed. Military personnel are granted a 35-minute calling card every week to call home.

Capt. Champagne must call from a satellite phone from where he is based in Sanjeray, near Kandahar City.

"The connection can vary with the weather," Champagne's wife said.

Verret, meanwhile, said contact with her husband has surprisingly become more regular since he moved from the international military coalition's base at Kandahar Airfield to Kandahar City, where he is stationed with a Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team.

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Spouses do not discuss the mission during phone calls.

"He usually calls twice a week and we talk about the kids, what I'm up to and how the Montreal Canadiens are doing," said Verret.

Despite the separation, Verret said she is managing quite well.

"Initially, I was quite worried about being alone with three kids, but it's going okay," she said.

"The reason we are doing okay is because we have an activity every day."

Nursery school for Ronan, the eldest child, and play groups she can bring her one year-old twin boys Darragh and Girvan to, help keep her distracted and make the time go by faster, she explained.

Both Verret and Champagne can also compare notes during the Get Together Club, a weekly play group for the children of English-speaking military spouses.

The group currently counts eight women as regular members.

"It's just nice to get together to speak your own language," said Verret, who met Champagne through the club. "And it's nice to get together with other anglophone wives."

Originally from Galway, Ireland, Verret said she only speaks enough French to get by so the language barrier can be a considerable challenge.

"Almost five per cent of the families on and around the base are English-speaking and about 90 per cent of the spouses who use our services are women," said Danny St. Laurent, an information agent at the Valcartier Family Centre.

 

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The Valcartier Family Centre offers military families social, medical and support services ranging from a drop-off day care for parents to a drop-in centre for teens.

It also helps families during the deployment period by offering counseling sessions with social workers for family members finding it difficult to cope with the mission, St. Laurent said.

In the meantime, wives continue to count the days until the mid-point of the mission.

That is when all soldiers on a six-month rotation in Afghanistan receive two weeks of home leave, usually around the middle of the mission, said Alex Maillé, a spokesperson at the Valcartier Garrison.

Military personnel from the Valcartier Garrison on the latest six-month rotation could return home as early as September, although there is always the possibility that the rotation could be extended by Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance, the Commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan, said Maillé.