Columnists

Noblesville Native Spends Mother’s Day Deployed in Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (May 08, 2022) U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 1st Class Kelly Gaines, a Navy Reserve Sailor, from Noblesville, Ind., attached to Naval Security Forces Crane, Ind., and currently deployed to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, holds a keepsake from her son for a Mother’s Day photograph. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class jonathan Word)

Being in the U.S. Navy can be challenging. Spending time away from family during deployments while adhering to a rigorous work schedule and training plan takes discipline from even the most stalwart Sailor.

However, there is an occupation that some believe is one of the toughest in the world, and that is being a mother. Being both a mother and a Sailor takes a level of sacrifice, courage and commitment not found in just anyone. Every year, many people honor their mothers on Mother’s Day. The holiday can be a little different for mothers deployed thousands of miles away from their families.

“I have probably spent more Mother’s Days away than I have at home,” says Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Jacqueline Rummel, a Sailor from Brick, New Jersey, attached to Electronic Attack Squadron 135 (VAQ-135) and currently deployed to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), where she is assigned to the camp’s safety department. “I think by default, it has become just another day. We are really good at celebrating holidays and events on off-days so that we still have those memories. We are going to have a massive all-holiday celebration when I get home.”

For any parent, being able to maintain home life and career life is not simple. The U.S. Navy continues to shape its policies toward giving everyone an equal chance of success. In 2022, the Navy launched the Maternity Uniform Pilot Program giving pregnant Sailors access to free maternity uniforms to wear while on duty. On April 7, 2022, the Department of Defense enacted a policy which allows new mothers in the military or DoD civilian workforce to be reimbursed for the cost of shipping breast milk when they are on official travel for more than three days. The administrative ability for a mother to continue her military service is there, and the Navy is committed to making sure her command is equipped to offer her their support.

“I was fortunate to have a super supportive chain of command,” says Rummel, who has served 15 years of active duty and has been a mother for 12 years. “Having all of them behind me, there was not much of a stopgap. It is one thousand percent do-able.”

Even with all the measures taken to ensure that becoming pregnant during your service does not hinder your career in the Navy, some women may still have concerns that it might have detrimental effects. As of 2020, women accounted for only 20% of the total Navy force. With any predominantly male work environment, there can still be some lessons to learn when it comes to fully welcoming its female teammates.

“You get judged for having a baby,” says Engineering Aide 1st Class Jessica Couvillier, a Sailor attached to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202 Det. Jacksonville, Florida, and currently deployed to CLDJ where she is assigned to the public works department. “No matter what time you plan on having a child, in the military, someone is going to judge you for it. Someone might think that just because you have a baby, you can’t fulfill your obligations to the Navy.”

The times that a military parent is away from their child can be difficult, but they are not away all of the time. A military family can have many unique and positive experiences together.

“Being a mom in the military is hard, but I do love my job,” says Couvillier, who has served nine years in the Navy and been a mother for four years. “I do believe it’s good for my daughter too, because she gets to travel a lot. She gets to go to a lot of new places, and she gets to do lots of new things that she might not get to otherwise.”

Traveling to new places and living in new homes every few years can be an exciting adventure for a military family, but some parents might feel that is not the best option for their children. There is an alternative. A Sailor can continue to serve their country and still come home to their family nearly every day as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve.

“It was a big decision for me to change from active duty to the Reserves,” says Logistics Specialist 1st Class Vicky Cruz, a U.S. Navy Reserve Sailor, from San Antonio, attached to Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Sigonella, Italy and currently deployed to CLDJ where she is assigned to the camp’s U.S. Postal Service office. “As a parent, you have an attachment to you permanently and that makes it harder to go away. I knew I did not want to get out completely. I love the Navy. I thought the Navy Reserve was that happy medium where I could still stay home, build a life with my family, see the kids growing up and still be a part of the world’s greatest Navy.”

U.S. Navy Reservists do go on deployments. Every Reservist is required to be mission-ready physically and administratively. However, a Reservist does have the ability to spend much more time at home than their active duty counterparts. If someone is already a mom or dad, choosing to serve in the Reserves may be an excellent opportunity.

“I chose the Reserve because I had a five year old at the time,” says Master-at-Arms 1st Class Kelly Gaines, a U.S. Navy Reserve Sailor, from Noblesville, Indiana, attached to Naval Security Forces Crane, Indiana, and currently deployed to CLDJ where she is assigned to the N34 security department. “I am a mom. I love being a mom, but I also love being in the military. I thought as a Reservist I would have to leave my son behind a lot less, or move him around, but I still wanted to be in the military. I love it.”

Parents play a significant role in many people’s lives. Many Sailors will spend Mother’s Day away from their moms, and many Sailors are moms who may spend this and several more Mother’s Days away from their children. If a Sailor’s mother is an important relationship in their life, they will hopefully be able to reach out and say ‘thanks.’

“My mother is super proud of me,” says Gaines, who has served in the Reserves for 12 years and been a mother for 17 years. “She brags and tells everyone how happy she is and proud that I am in the military. I’m proud of the mother I am. She is such a great mother, I feel that helps me be a great mother.”

Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti serves as an expeditionary base for U.S. military forces providing support to ships, aircraft and personnel that ensure security throughout Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia. The base enables maritime and combat operations in the Horn of Africa while fostering positive U.S.-Africa relations.

With more than 90 percent of all trade traveling by sea, and 95 percent of the world’s international phone and internet traffic carried through fiber optic cables lying on the ocean floor, Navy officials continue to emphasize that the prosperity and security of the United States is directly linked to a strong and ready Navy.