Hometown hero leaves homePublished 2:14pm Thursday, September 6, 2012
The 1-167th Infantry Battalion of the Army National Guard shipped out for Afghanistan in early August. Among the soldiers was Dadeville native Sgt. First Class Allan Shawn Childers.
“He loves it, because it gives him a lot of purpose,” said Shawn’s wife, Jill Childers. “He’s proud of what he does, and he’s proud to serve the country. I think it’s really rewarding for him.”
Jill said Shawn joined the military soon after high school. He was influenced by his high school football coach and friends who had joined.
“I felt like it was probably the best thing for him to do at that point in his life,” Jill said. “Shawn, I think, needed somebody to lay a path out for him to take. The military has a good way of doing that for you.”
This nine-month deployment to Afghanistan isn’t Shawn’s first. He served with homeland defense during the 9/11 crisis, spending a year at Fort Rucker while he and Jill were dating.
“Nobody knew what to expect at that time,” said Jill’s mother, Pam Patterson. “Everybody was pretty scared.”
Shawn left home again for an 18-month deployment in 2004 – this time, for an 18-month trip to Iraq. By then, he and Jill and gotten married and had their first son, who was just turning 2.
“That was super hard,” Jill said. “Cooper probably didn’t know why he was mad or sad, but he went through a lot of stress at that age.”
Jill said in the following years, after Shawn’s return, he would have to go to drill each month, and Cooper would always ask whether Daddy was going to drill or “somewhere else.”
“He would have a lot of confusion at drill time once a month,” Jill said.
Now, the Childers have three children: Cooper is 10, Levi is 5 and Lillie is 3. Jill said it’s “the little things” with the children that are hardest with him gone.
“He missed the first day of school,” Jill said. Levi started kindergarten this year. “He won’t ever see it … That moment’s gone.”
But modern technology has made it easier to keep the family together as much as possible – Skype allows for relatively easy communication.
“It is huge,” Jill said. “We did the Yahoo webcam the last time, and it was really delayed … With Skype, it’s right on. There’s hardly any delay … He can see the kids. Cooper talked football … Levi was able to tell him about kindergarten.”
It can be hard to arrange father-son heart-to-hearts with an approximately nine hour time difference, but Jill and Patterson said it’s very special, for Shawn and the children.
“The first time we talked, (Lillie) just kept saying, ‘I love you Daddy. I love you Daddy,’ and laughing,” Jill said. “Then the next time she would tell me and her Aunt Joy, ‘I just want to get in there with him. Can I just get in there with him?’”
Jill said she doesn’t think people really understand what a military family goes through, and people forget that soldiers are still out there working to protect the country.
“I just don’t feel like people remember or think that people are still leaving their families to serve,” Jill said, choking up. “They’re not appreciated. It’s kind of an after-thought for people. I know they know it’s happening, but they kind of forget it … I don’t think they get what a soldier gives up and what their wives and families give up.”
Jill said it seems like there’s an appreciation age gap – when they are out and about, Shawn will sometimes get thank-yous, but only from older people and more often when they are near a base.
“I think most people just say they care, but I don’t know if they do,” Jill said. “I think because maybe it’s gone on for so long, they just don’t think it’s a big deal. But it is a big deal.”
Jill said there just seems to be a lack of appreciation.
“Thank a soldier when you see one, even if they’re here,” Jill said. “Just because they’re here doesn’t mean they haven’t been there.”
But come what may, Jill and her family will still appreciate both Shawn’s service and the service of others in the military.
“He’s a good soldier,” Patterson said. “(He and Jill) went to their first military ball in Anniston, and all the officers there … told Jill what a good soldier he was … To hear it from them was just so much more meaningful for her and her family.”
Jill said she is proud of him and supports him 110 percent.
“We just want him to hurry up and get home,” Jill said.