BY KATE CROWLEY ROSENBERG
Cameron Ricard, 31, of Truman isn’t here to celebrate this 4th of July. He is deployed with the Minnesota National Guard 851st Vertical Engineers Company. Like thousands of soldiers from the US, he will miss the holidays everyone else, including his children, enjoys.
Cameron is the son of Jody Ricard of Fairmont. He was born and raised here until the age of 7 when they moved to Ohio. That was where he met his wife, Megan (Stegner) Ricard. By 2012, they were married and living here in Truman.
The US currently has 1.3 million active duty troops, more than 450,000 of whom are overseas. That leaves a lot of families at home on their own, “solo parenting.”
That’s what Megan calls it. Solo parenting.
“I get really frustrated when people ask me about being a single parent... I’m not a single parent. I’m just a solo parent right now. There’s just one missing. He’s there for us. He’s providing for his family.”
There are many reasons she misses her husband, but the daily little things are among the most obvious. “I hate filling up the gas tank on the mower,” she said, a simple task he used to do for her. “To be a solo parent... I never thought I could do it on my own. I feel I’m doing ok. It’s stressful at times but we're getting through it.”
They had plenty of notice and time to plan on how to manage their family through his deployment. The reality has a bit of a bite, though. Everything from finances to medical emergencies fall on just one person.
“Me, I just take it on. Right now, my washer broke. I’m YouTubing trying to fix my washer, but it looks like I’ll probably be calling a repairman soon,” she said. “I’m learning. I feel like days go by so fast I don’t have time for myself.”
As Megan talks, her two young children sit quietly at a small table playing on learning tablets. Bladen, their six-year-old son, has had two medical crises while his father was away.
Bladen was diagnosed with epilepsy this Spring when his father was in training. There had been many signs and he was undergoing medical testing at Mayo in Rochester when he had a seizure on the table. He was four when he was diagnosed with Turrets Syndrome; Cameron was in Croatia at that time. Fortunately, the military health insurance has been able to cover their medical expenses.
“That’s the main reason he sticks in there,” said Megan of Cameron’s military career, “because health insurance is so expensive.”
Camlyn, now four, was diagnosed with an immune deficiency disorder at age one. Megan said she has outgrown the disorder and is doing well now.
The financial cost of the separation has been severe. While Cameron’s job with the Blue Earth wind turbine company Siemens Gamesa is secure, it does not pay while he is on military duty. Right now, the family is living on 50% of their former income, Megan said, though she hopes that will change. She has left her bank teller career to open a newly licensed daycare which she named Little Jaguars. She is looking for clients and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-848-3022.
“I enjoy being home now with my children being able to support them,” Megan said. But the tight finances have caused her to eliminate many frills, including camping trips and the pool.
“How do you tell them we don’t have the money to go to the pool?” she asked as she watched her children. Fortunately, a friend of hers put out the word and a pool pass was donated to the family. “That was amazing,” she said. One less loss. Bladen also plays baseball on the Kiwanis free summer league, for which Megan is grateful. She also traveled to Hastings to pick up sports equipment for him donated by the United Heroes League.
Support also comes from the Family Readiness Support Group at Camp Ripley and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, a military support group in Fairmont. Family Readiness often supplies free children’s admission to events and organizes family get-togethers. The Beyond group has provided Thanksgiving dinner, and signed them up for Operation Christmas so there were Christmas presents to open when Camlyn was hospitalized.
The support network also includes family. Megan’s mother-in-law is a regular visitor and often takes the children for one day on her weekends off. “So they get to have Grandma time, which is really important,” Megan said. And her mother is a phone call away in Ohio.
Still others find ways to help out. When her husband came home for a couple of days prior to leaving in early June, a friend came by and decorated the house for them.
Communication with Cameron is the highlight of most days. His calls usually come in early afternoon when he has down time many time zones away. Bladen looks forward to playing games with his dad over the app WhatsApp; a secure, scrambled messaging app that allows them to share texts and photos. Another app called CloudPets allows Cameron to record messages on Megan’s phone which she downloads onto the children’s CloudPets compatible teddy bears. They can hear daddy’s message anytime they want by squeezing a button on the paw.
What message would they send back?
Bladen said, “I love you Daddy.”
Camlyn said, “Happy Birthday! Tomorrow (Sunday, June 24) is daddy’s birthday.”
And so on this celebrated birthday of our nation, Megan, Bladen and Camlyn will sit with Cameron’s family at the parade in Swea City and huddle together in the dark to watch the fireworks in Fairmont.
What Cameron and his company will be doing is keeping this country safe so its citizens may enjoy those holidays and precious family moments.
While Cameron’s access to the internet is limited, he can be reached by mail at: Sgt. Ricard Cameron, 851st VEC, APO-AE9330.
Also serving in the 851st Vertical Engineers Company, from Truman, is Sgt. Kasey Adams, wife of Ethan Urban.