Army Aviation

The Miracle of Grandchildren

Family Forum / By Judy Konitzer: Tom and I have had an amazing journey as grandparents for twenty-one years. Our 9 grands (and soon to add twins in March) range in age from 1 to 21 and live in 4 different states as well as Australia.

COL Charles Heckel, a retired Aviator, was always there for his friend’s grandchildren, pictured with Kimberly and Rob Ewing.

Nevertheless, thanks to daily phone calls, FaceTime, frequent visits, the ever-popular “Camp Nana,” and most holidays, we do stay close to them and in turn they stay close to each other.

In many ways being a grandparent is similar to being a parent. Love is there. Tenderness is there. The thrill of every new milestone and celebration is there. As grandparents we observe our children as they transform into parents, and if we are blessed, the children we raised are just the sort of parents we would choose for our precious grandchildren. Now parents themselves, they have come to understand something we might never have fully explained to them; i.e., how deeply we love them, how vulnerable we have felt, wanting to protect and guard them, but not always being able to.

Challenges and Rewards
Frequent moves, sometimes out of school year sequences, and the repeated deployments, are just a few of the challenges that we military families encounter. And if we have been successful in dealing with these, we will have passed on that coping ability to our children and in turn to our grandchildren.

We can learn patience with our grandchildren by retracing our steps and changing our ways because there is no need to hurry them on to the next phase. We are reminded of how quickly the years passed, and we surely do not want to rush them now. If we are blessed with leisure time, we can bask in their presence and allow our senses and theirs to notice our surroundings. Simple things like marveling in a sunset, watching baby birds take their first flight from a birdhouse painted by one of them, enjoying “papa’s” pancakes, reading their college essays when not long ago we played dress up with them, or watching them interact with each other, even though sometimes cringing as they text back and forth.

As we become more keenly aware of our own mortality, we realize how madly in love we are with our grandchildren even though their entire future is one we will not live to see. These precious beings will inherit the world as we leave it. The wars we start today may still be theirs to fight. And whatever we’ve done to hurt or help the economy affects their well-being. Public education, healthcare, infrastructure, National parks and anything else created and maintained for our benefit needs our attention because the future is our legacy.

We are responsible for not only our own children and grandchildren but also in a dream for a better world. Yet in the microcosm of our family, we are provided a model for love, for life, and for good stewardship. As we have been blessed, we now share our blessings with others.

Surrogate Parenting
Enter now a new dynamic that involves becoming “surrogate” parents for grandchildren when their military children deploy. They are deeply impacted because they have to endure the anxiety of coping with the safety and well-being of two generations of family members. There are few statistics for the numbers, but suffice it to say that countless service members could not fulfill their orders without this help.However, some challenges facing these grandparents are: this is a time in their lives when they possibly lack stamina or patience or are struggling with financial issues, where do they choose to reside during the deployment, how do they develop normal routines, how do they sustain social and community networks, and how do they negotiate for their own physical or pre-existing health problems?

Even with sometimes formidable challenges, it can be a most rewarding time. Some avenues to help are the required “Military Family Care Plan” before deployment which is extremely important, and having “full custody” insures having legal authority for schooling, medical, dental, social services, day care, and sports activities no matter where the home base becomes during the deployment.

The Family & Medical Leave Act assures grandparents, with legal custody, time off work when needed to take care of their new charges. And there are multiple resources… Military OneSource at or 24×7 hotline 1-800-342-9647 is a good site for reliable advice and referrals; AARP at 1-800-566-0292 also has websites and links that are helpful; and offers personal and useful information as well as blogs.
And for those readers who have taken on this role, we invite you to share your experiences to help pave the way for those who are undertaking it in the future.

Judy Konitzer is the family forum editor for ARMY AVIATION; questions and suggestions can be directed to her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..”>This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..