Staff Sgt. Jonathan W. Whitaker and Sgt. 1st Class Lorena Whitaker, both
assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, pose
with their children at Fort Polk.

Dual military family finds relief through Army services

By Sgt. Ashley M. Morris
3rd BCT, 10th MTN DIV, PA NCO

April 19, 2019

FORT POLK, La. — “June 2016 was when Lorena left to go France. I was left trying to clear Hawaii, for the both of us, by myself. I was taking two college courses, had a kid and three dogs, and I was trying to do everything that goes with clearing an installation. It was stressful. I had to go and get a power attorney, and clear her. She didn’t do any of it. She just showed up and got on the plane,” said Jonathan as he jokingly recalled their move to Fort Polk.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan W. Whitaker, a 35 year-old infantryman from East New Market, Maryland, serves as Fort Polk’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, tasking’s non-commissioned officer. He enlisted in the Army in 2008.

Lorena and Jonathan met in 2013 while working at the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

Sgt. 1st Class Lorena Whitaker, a 37 year-old from Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, who enlisted as a mortuary affairs specialist in 2006, serves as the sexual assault response coordinator for 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div.

The Whitakers completed a permanent change-of-station move to Fort Polk September 2016, with their then one-year-old son, Luke Isaac. They now have two children — Luke and Adalind Auneis — and one on the way.

Like many other dual military couples with children, Lorena and Jonathan face many hurdles when it comes to planning for childcare and spending time together as a family.

“Preparing for missions or even something as simple as staff duty can be difficult,” Lorena said. “Having to decide who gets to go to the field and what we’re going to do with the kids, when you don’t have family nearby, is a challenge. Every time you move it is very difficult to build a new relationship with someone you can trust.”

When planning for field training exercises, the Whitakers said that they have to start planning months in advance to make sure they are financially prepared.

“We have to buy plane tickets so we can take our kids to Maryland,” Jonathan said. “It can get very expensive traveling back and forth. It would be nice if child development centers offered short-term child care, but for right now we’re happy with the daycare.”

The Whitakers like to take advantage of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs offered through Child and Youth Services. Both of their children are currently enrolled at the CDC on post.

The CDC offers something that is valuable to Lorena and Jonathan — flexibility.

“The CDC opens early enough that Jonathan can make it to PT in the morning, and I can make it to my early morning staff meetings,” Lorena said. “They have programs to accommodate Soldiers that have 24-hour duty, or duty outside the normal 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but it has to be requested. Unfortunately many Soldiers do not know about these benefits.”

For Soldiers with children enrolled at the CDC, aftercare can be arranged by submitting a request signed by the Soldier’s company commander, verifying duty. The Whitakers take full advantage of the program, only having issues when last-minute missions occur without any preplanning.

Flexibility is not the only reason Jonathan prefers using the CDC to an off-post daycare.

“I feel comfortable taking my kids to the CDC because they have a very good vetting process,” said Jonathan referring to the staff. “The CDC values the safety of our children and they don’t keep bad caretakers. They are probably the most expensive childcare services in the area, but they really take care of you and your kids.”

To Lorena, the staff at the CDC are more than just caretakers, they are family.

“My kids are in the same daycare and their caretakers are like family,” Lorena said. “They know our kids. They’ve come to their birthday parties. We take the time to know our caregivers and we love having what feels like a close relationship with them. It makes us feel comfortable.”

In addition to serving as the brigade SARC, Lorena was selected to serve as the president of the parent advisory board because of her active involvement with the CDC. She meets monthly with representatives from DFMWR and CYS to discuss upcoming services and activities.

Lorena and Jonathan are advocates for utilizing as many DFMWR and CYS facilities and services as possible. The youth sports program and DFMWR recreation facilities allow them to spend time with their children outside of the home in a safe environment.

Being stationed at Fort Polk presents a challenge for many parents as they try to find ways to keep their children entertained without having to spend a lot of time and money traveling outside of the area.

“When Jonathan was deployed and I had just had Adalind, Luke was able to play sports for free through the youth sports program,” Lorena said. “The prices were waivered because of the deployment. It was a relief that I was able to take my kid somewhere and keep his mind busy during the deployment.”

Although Jonathan and Lorena acknowledge that Fort Polk does not offer as many facilities as larger installations, they are thankful for the covered playground near the library and Catfish Cove.

Despite the services that are available to Soldiers and their families, the Whitakers have noticed that the programs are not fully taken advantage of by their peers. They believe it is because of the high training tempo and the lack of knowledge about the programs.

“We enjoyed the Turkey Bowl and the Easter egg hunt, it was pretty awesome,” Lorena said. “But it would be nice if the brigade did more for families. The brigade events are fun for families and improving morale, but we would like to have something like family time every week. We are constantly stressed from training and preparing for missions. Having that extra hour or two a week to spend with our kids can make all the difference in the world.”

Jonathan agrees that in addition to family time, leaders across the installation could do a better job at disseminating information, as far as things to do on the weekend.

“The post public affairs office does a good job at sending out weekly emails about events taking place on and off post, but most Soldiers on the line don’t have access to work computers to access their government emails,” said Jonathan. “If the commanders aren’t putting the information out at formations, it is up to us as leaders to ensure that our Soldiers are aware of the programs and services that are offered on this installation.”

Despite the challenges that come with being a dual military couple with children, the Whitakers not only take advantage of the programs and services that help keep their family together, they also enjoy sharing information they learn with other Soldiers in hopes that too will make the best out of what can sometimes be a difficult situation.