Lt. Col. Spyros Spanos heard last month that he might be able to come home for a few weeks in December. Spyros, a member of the Connecticut National Guard who has been stationed in western Afghanistan since July, told his wife, but not their two sons.
Lt. Col. Spyros Spanos heard last month that he might be able to come home for a few weeks in December. Spyros, a member of the Connecticut National Guard who has been stationed in western Afghanistan since July, told his wife, but not their two sons. So his wife, Rita Provatas, told their two sons on Dec. 12 that she had to go to Providence overnight on business. She actually was picking up Spanos from the airport. When Spanos and Provatas returned home at 7:30 a.m. the next day, their two sons were home because of a snow day. So Spanos hid in the closet so his sons wouldn’t see him when they came downstairs, and Provatas dragged them into the living room for what she told them was an “early Christmas present.” “He actually walked into the living room, walked 2 feet away from them and said, ‘Hey, boys, how are you doing?’” Provatas said. Spanos was lucky enough to get to come home for Christmas, his family’s most important holiday. But there are about 100 soldiers from the Connecticut National Guard who are spending the holidays away from their loved ones. Constant communication with each other and the support of loved ones – and sometimes random strangers -- is what gets them through the holidays. The families of deployed soldiers, especially the spouses, have a more difficult job than those who are serving overseas, Spanos said. It gives him “peace of mind” to know that his wife can handle the daily needs of their two sons, 14-year-old Nicholas and 12-year-old Michael, while maintaining a full-time job as a lawyer. “It amazing to me how she’s able to juggle everything,” Spanos said. The family members of deployed soldiers often lean on each other, Provatas said. They get together and e-mail each other during rough days, she said. “No one has even complained about having their husbands away,” Provatas said. “All of us have said, ‘This is something we all have to do, and we’re going to make the best of it.’” One of the wives Provatas talks to regularly is Maria Cormier. Cormier’s husband, Sgt. Maj. Toby Cormier, also is deployed in Afghanistan with the Connecticut National Guard. The Colchester resident uses phone, e-mail and occasionally Webcam -- that’s how they most likely will communicate on Christmas -- to talk to her husband. Her 15-year-old son, Zach, and 12-year-old daughter, Olivia, help her with tasks such as shoveling snow. Olivia and four of her friends also helped her gather a Christmas tree, ornaments and treats to send to her husband. “He’s a kid in a man’s body,” Cormier said. “They all love him, and they wanted to do something for him.” Sometimes support stems from complete strangers, Cormier said. One high school student sent her husband a rock from Connecticut so he could have a piece of home. He, in turn, sent the girl a rock from Afghanistan. “The support from the community means a lot to our family,” Maria Cormier said. “It makes him feel better over there, knowing that people are in touch and caring here.” Supportive Speeches Organizations in eastern Connecticut regularly send packages abroad in support of deployed soldiers. One public speaking class at Three Rivers Community College had a unique idea. Students in Sam Rindell’s class recorded two-minute speeches as part of their final examination. Matt Roland, a Niantic resident, said he wanted to express his gratitude to the troops. Negative coverage in the media of the war often mutes the respect people feel for soldiers’ service, he said. “Our country entered the war against another country for a criminal act that was taken against the American people,” Roland said. “You can never bring back the lives that are lost, but I think the cause they’re fighting for (is worthy).” Alberto Sanchez, a full-time student studying computer science, served in Afghanistan with the Army from April 2006 to June 2007. Being deployed during the holidays was difficult, he said, but support from his family and the community made it easier. In his speech, he told the troops to keep their morale high. “The more important thing is to stay positive, so you can function with the guys and girls you work with,” Sanchez said. “You stay positive, you can come home alive.” Reach Marisa Maldonado at firstname.lastname@example.org.