Family Forces

With both the Naval Station Great Lakes and Fort Sheridan roughly 15 minutes away from Libertyville, some LHS students have parents who serve and work for the United States Armed Forces. Whether these parents are active soldiers, recruiters or doctors, many of these families have been separated at one point due to deployment; these deployments can sometimes take a tremendous toll on military families.

Students’ Stories

Junior James Schmidt has first-hand experience with the deployment of both parents. They have been deployed or stationed three times since he was born. His father, Capt. Kyle Schmidt, a member of the Navy, was stationed at a base in South Carolina when Schmidt was in seventh grade, as well as in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when he was in second grade. His mom, Cmdr. Karen Kato, was deployed to Kuwait before Schmidt was in kindergarten, with the Navy as well.
“I came home from kindergarten one day, and it was around Mother’s Day,” Schmidt said. “My mom was gone and unknowingly, I asked my grandma, ‘Can you be my mom for Mother’s Day?’”
Schmidt said it was very difficult for him to comprehend the deployments to Kuwait and Cuba since he was so young when his parents were gone.
Senior Lillian McGowen’s parents are also in the military. Her mom, Cpt. Jennifer Banek, is a nurse anesthetist in the Army; her dad, Sgt. 1st class Duane McGowen, works in the Army; and her step-dad, Cmdr. Rafal Banek, is in the Navy.
Like Schmidt’s mom, Sgt. 1st class McGowen was deployed when McGowen was very young. She explained how it was hard to remember because she was so young, but she knew that her dad had and still struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, since war can be very traumatic.
On the other hand, McGowen recalled in a phone interview a positive experience that the deployment brought: “My mom, sister and I were able to meet up with my dad in Austria and Germany during his deployment,” because of the opportunity to take government-funded trips for deployed members of the military to meet up with their family.
The deployment of her father also helped McGowen receive the Presidential Nomination for West Point, another name for the United States Military Academy. A requirement to get into West Point is to either be nominated by a Congressional member or by the vice president of the United States, and McGowen has earned the vice presidential nomination and is currently in the interview process to get the congressional nomination.
McGowen’s parents being in the military has influenced her college choices: “I will probably go into the Reserves Officer Training Corps if I can’t get into West Point. That way, I get the best of both worlds: you get to train for the military and get a typical college experience,” she said.
Sophomore Rania Bahrani is also possibly interested in the military because of the influence from her dad, Cmdr. Hayder Bahrani, who is in the Navy. Over the phone, she explained how having a parent in the Navy has given her the opportunity to learn and tell exciting stories.
Bahrani also spoke about the difficulties of her father leaving for long periods of time: “It can be hard because my siblings and I do sports, so he misses out, and when he is gone, my mom takes on a bigger responsibility.”

Parents’ Perspectives

Many military members give up celebrating birthdays, weddings, holidays and more to serve their country. Missing out on these occasions can impact their lives significantly.
Cmdr. Bahrani has been in the Navy for 10 years as a Great Lakes recruit training commander of the oral surgery department, but beforehand, he worked in private practice and for the state. His desire to be in the Navy stemmed from being an immigrant from Iraq.
“I always wanted to do something good for the country that has brought me and my family freedom and democracy,” Cmdr. Bahrani stated during a phone interview.
Cmdr. Bahraini frequently goes on trips to help underprivileged people from the United States get dental care. His last trip was to Kentucky in July. He explained how the trips feel very rewarding because he feels that he is giving back to the United States in a way he couldn’t have otherwise, but he dislikes that he’s not able to see his kids’ activities.
Schmidt’s parents, Capt. Schmidt and Cmdr. Kato, have served in the Navy for a combined 50 years. Cmdr. Kato was the head of the optometry clinic boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes until her retirement in 2009, and Capt. Schmidt continues to be the head of the dental clinic boot camp until he is required to retire after 30 years next summer.
While Schmidt’s dad was never actively deployed during his lifetime, his mom was deployed to Kuwait in 2007. She left on Schmidt’s birthday and returned his first day of kindergarten. Cmdr. Kato fought during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Capt. Schmidt, via-email, stated that they were “fortunate that James’ grandparents were able to move to Libertyville for those seven months to help watch James while his dad was at work.” Email and calling were available to them as well, and they talked on the phone about once per week.
Similar to Cmdr. Kato, McGowen’s mom might end up being deployed to Kuwait. Cpt. Banek is currently preparing to leave for Texas with an uncertainty of her deployment to either Afghanistan, Honduras or Kuwait. Her training has consisted of monthly weekend drills as well as two-to three-week trips that simulate conditions that could occur.
“Training helped the unit understand what would be required … in the field as medical professionals and as soldiers,” Cpt. Banek explained over email. “Putting people to sleep [for medical procedures] and caring for soldiers in the field is different than in a civilian setting.”
McGowen’s father, Sgt. 1st class McGowen, was deployed in 2004 to Iraq. Cpt. Banek explained how the extended period of time can be very hard for a family. “Families need to re-acclimate to each other once they are reunited,” she said. “In addition, it is possible your deployed spouse was exposed to some difficult circumstances while being away.”