Nadine Decker’s life revolves around the 24/7 news cycle.
When she wakes up in the morning, she turns on the TV. When she’s driving around town, she’s listening to the news on the radio.
Decker said she’s always paid close attention to what’s going on, but now she follows it even more closely because of her son.
That would be Dylon Lara, who is on active duty in the U.S. Army and was deployed in September to the Middle East.
Decker said whenever she sees news about events that happen over there, she worries.
“Those things make me nervous, like, was my son in that? Was he not in that? Is he OK?” she said. “It gets overwhelming at times. I know I shouldn’t do that, but I want to know what’s going on because he can’t tell me.”
Mindy Hamilton is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Her son, Devon Belt, had only been stationed in Kansas for three weeks when he was deployed to Poland and Germany.
Unlike Decker, Hamilton said she avoids watching or reading the news as much as possible.
“I don’t pay any attention to any of it because I do not want to know,” she said.
In many cases, behind each soldier is a family at home, waiting for them to return with pride and worry.
Lara joined the Army in March 2018. Decker said that before he made that decision, Lara hadn’t been going down the best path.
“I think he realized he needed to do something with his life,” she said.
Hamilton said she was very surprised when Belt told her he wanted to join the Army because he’d never shown an interest in military service.
“He took me out to lunch one day, said, ‘Hey Mom, I’m joining the Army,’ I cried,” she said.
Decker knew Lara was leaving sometime this summer, but she didn’t know the exact date. So in September, she visited him when he was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. Three days after the family visit, Lara was deployed.
“He was pretty excited about going,” she said. “Me, it wasn’t that easy for me to let him go.”
Lara stays in touch with them almost every day, Decker said.
“When he doesn’t call, I know something’s going on,” she said. “Then, I get really nervous.”
Hamilton said she gets nervous when there are extended periods of silence. There were times when three or four weeks would go by without Hamilton hearing from Belt. When that happened, she would keep her mind occupied with her other kids at home.
While she expected this, she “didn’t think it would be that long in between” talking to her son.
“It was scary, because we didn’t know what was going on,” Hamilton said. “And they can’t tell you.”
Both Hamilton and Decker said one of the hardest things for them is not being able to just pick up the phone and call their sons whenever they want.
The holidays can be especially hard for military families, Nadine said.
“I don’t even want to take family pictures because he’s not here, and he’s part of the family, and that really bothers me,” she said.
But they’ve noticed that their sons have changed for the better.
Hamilton said Belt has matured and become a more caring person.
“I think that he has learned not to take things for granted,” she said. “And he appreciates mom and his brother and sisters more.”
“We were always close, but I think it’s brought everybody closer,” said Decker’s husband, Damon Decker. “Everybody realizes how much they miss him because he’s not here.”