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Military moms see holiday pass with loved ones on deployment
James “Jay” Mulkey, son - photo by For The Times

FLOWERY BRANCH — Sons and daughters will gather today around their mothers, showering them with gifts and taking them to crowded restaurants.

Not so much for military moms, left to ponder and worry about grown children deployed away from home, perhaps halfway across the world.

Such is the case with Jeri Wallis, who lives off Union Circle in South Hall. She has children of various ages at home, but her eldest, 21-year-old James "Jay" Mulkey, is training in New Jersey for a future Army assignment in Afghanistan.

Adding to her concerns, husband Jimmy Wallis also is being deployed with the same unit, the 310th Psychological Operations Company. Both will be gone a year.

"I’ll be able to talk to them (today), because they’re not actually gone gone just yet," Jeri Wallis said. "But I’ve warned all the (daughters) that I have to have double presents."

Otherwise, as for plans this Mother’s Day, "I’ll probably just stay here and clean a lot ... just keep my mind off it."

For mothers whose husbands are overseas, the day strikes not just an emotional chord, but reminds of practical needs around the house. Two parents caring for a brood is easier than just one handling it alone.

Wallis said to cope with the absence of her loved ones, she plans to stay busy with veterans groups she’s already involved with, including Operation Patriot’s Call, an organization that supports loved ones of those deployed overseas.

"I’ve got a lot of cleaning to do (around the house)," she said. "For a while, I let it go to spend time with (Jimmy and Jay). I’ve got a lot around here to keep me busy."

Dave Dellinger of Patriot’s Call said the group plans to rally around families during difficult months ahead.

The group formed out of the deployment of Gainesville-based Charlie Company, which is part of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment, of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Brigade.

Charlie Company is training at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Mississippi for its second deployment to the Middle East.

The group caters to families outside the company as well, said Dellinger, who also serves as vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America’s Northeast Georgia chapter.

"We’ve collected some money and we’ve gotten names of businesses in town that will help either for free or at a reduced rate with any services needed while the husbands are gone," he said. "... We’ll cover expenses that come up that are not covered by something else."

Wallis knows the military lifestyle all too well. Many family members, including her father and two brothers, served in conflict — from World War II through the First Gulf War.

Her husband served in the military from 1981 to 1987, before they were married, including three years in the Army Reserve.

"He always regretted getting out," she said. "Before he turned 45 last year, he joined back in with the Army Reserve."

Jay Mulkey graduated from high school in 2006 and joined the Army Reserve in July that year.

"They are together. They do different jobs, so they are not together 24/7, but they cross each other’s paths at least two or three times a day."

They are training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, having left from Fort Gillem in Forest Park in mid-April. They leave on July 9, Jimmy Wallis' birthday, for Afghanistan.

"They’re pretty gung-ho about it. They’re ready," Jeri Wallis said. "They may not be so excited when they get there, but right now they are. It’s something different — just adventure."

Another wife and mother enduring while her husband is gone is Lorie Moran, whose husband, Capt. Jeffrey Moran, is Charlie Company commander.

The Morans, who live in Forsyth County, have two children: Emily, 13, and Sean, 16.

Jeffrey Moran joined the military when he was 17 and served with the Army Rangers.

"When we started to have kids, he was gone all the time, so he (decided to) switch over to the National Guard so he could be home more," said his wife. "He did that ... 12 years ago."

Charlie Company was deployed to Iraq in 2005.

"When he got back, he was supposed to be home for five years," she said.

Support from family and friends, and through Charlie Company’s Family Readiness Group, has helped Moran cope with her husband’s absence.

"To be with people who understand what you’re going through helps," she said.

Usually, on Mother’s Day, "we went out as a family," Moran said. "I don’t know what it’ll be like this year. My mom is (on a trip to) Israel, so it’s just going to be me and the kids."

Mother’s Day is just one in a string of holidays where they’ll be an empty chair at the table.

"You try to go on. Every day, you go to work, you go about your business and try to keep everything as normal as possible," Moran said.

"But holidays are especially hard — they’re just a reminder that you’re all alone."

Moran, like Wallis and her family, will get to see their loved ones one last time before they head overseas.

Wallis said her husband and son will have a four-day pass over the Fourth of July weekend. "Provided we have the money and all, we’re heading up," she said.

Jay Mulkey and his fiance, Ashley Witmer of Dahlonega, plan to marry just before he leaves.

"We plan to have a big wedding when he comes home," Witmer said.

Members of Charlie Company will have a four-day pass starting May 17.

"We can go up Saturday and they have four days with us," Moran said. "On the fifth day, they go back to work, but they can come back to us at night. So, we’ll actually have a whole week with them."

At 8 a.m. on May 23, "we have to say goodbye to them and be gone."

Those parting moments will make the deployment "even more real and final," Moran said.

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