One goal of the Army's Operation Tribute to Freedom program is to share the individual and family stories of soldiers who have or are currently serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. This week, I'm featuring the story of Col. Mann and his wife, Connie, and their sons Franklyne, 14 and Rizane 17. The boys are originally from Namibia, and arrived in the US in May 2009 and April 2010. The family lives in Arlington, Virginia and is currently working to receive naturalization and citizenship for both the boys. Col. Mann and his wife answered some questions about the emotional process of adoption, keeping faith when it seemed like things wouldn't work out, and balancing that with the intensity of deployment and military life.
Meredith: What do most people not realize about members of the military adopting? Are there misconceptions you've had to overcome-both in the ranks and in the neighborhood?
COL MANN: As an officer in the Army Reserves, there is always a possibility of a deployment that will take us away from home for a year or more. Of course it is more of a challenge to raise a family when one of the parents is away, which might discourage some couples from adopting. At the same time, the military lifestyle may encourage adoption because our Soldiers are sometimes exposed to children in faraway places who are orphans facing dire situations, with little hope for the future. These deployments give you a great appreciation for our freedom, prosperity and way of life in the United States, and make you to think about adopting as a way to give hope and opportunity to these children.
Our neighbors, other friends, and family were supportive while I was away. The regularly contacted my wife as did personnel from the Army's Family support program. I was able to focus on my mission because I knew that my wife was receiving good support back home. My mission was to help lead the headquarters that was responsible for sustaining US forces in Afghanistan with food, water, fuel, ammunition, building supplies, repair parts, and many other provisions.
Meredith: How long did the process to adopt take? How did you come to learn about your children? Why Namibia?
COL MANN: We began the adoption process in 2005. The children were our nephews, one of whom was an orphan, the other's parents were unable to support and care for him. My wife is from Namibia.
CONNIE MANN: The process was long and frustrating because of the uncertainty involved. There were times when I felt like giving up but the thought of my nephews growing up without proper guidance and care, spurred me on.
Meredith: When we adopted our daughters I recall the intense emotion at every bit of news, at every plan that was made. What was that like for you—being in Afghanistan where many things are intensely unpredictable? Was it different when you were home?
COL MANN: The adoption process through the Namibian adoption agency proceeded smoothly. In contrast, we struggled with the US immigration system to bring the boys to the United States. We had to prove that my wife had physical custody of the boys for two years before she left Africa to join me in the United States in 2001, and we to prove that we had legal custody of the boys for two years. Twice we received devastating letters that the US immigration authorities had denied our applications. We were left to file appeals. These denials were particularly emotionally trying for my wife, who was very close to these boys having raised them for several years before she joined me in the United States. Moreover, we both knew that the boys had little hope for the future unless we could get them to the United States.
While I was in Afghanistan my wife called to say that she had received a letter from the immigration authorities about the status of our older son - the younger had been admitted to the U.S. a few months prior. She was afraid to open it. She told me that her heart was beating so hard that she could hear it. When she finally worked up the nerve to open it, she screamed with joy - our application was accepted! My older son came running out of the bathroom thinking something was wrong, only to find my wife dancing and yelling "he's coming, he's coming." They both danced, yelled, and cried.
CONNIE MANN: The deployment of my husband was tough in itself, but having to deal with the adoption process just added to the stress levels. Thankfully, everything worked out well. My husband came home safely and our boys made it to the US.
Meredith: How do you think the lessons learned as an Army leader have prepared you well for parenthood? As a parent myself, I'd have to say nothing could have prepared me for parenthood in real life-though I wouldn't trade it for anything! So, can you explain what you mean?
COL MANN: The Army has taught me how to lead, inspire,motivate, teach, and strive to ensure the welfare and professional development of my Soldiers. All these qualities translate well to parenting. I am always conscious of being a good role model for my Soldiers, and to live by the Army values - loyalty, duty,
respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. I try to instill these values in Soldiers and my sons.
CONNIE MANN: I have a beautiful 27 year old daughter of my own; therefore, I am no stranger to parenthood. Moreover, I had lived with my nephews for at least five years before I came to the US. But like every parent knows, raising children is a challenge and as you rightly say, I would not trade it for anything.
Meredith: How did Connie cope with the emotion of the process when you were not around? Were you able to email, call, text?
COL MANN: I believe it was difficult for her. She had to take on all the responsibilities that I had around the house, and she had to take on raising children. Plus she was lonely, especially for the first few months until the first son was admitted to the U.S.
CONNIE MANN: I spoke to my husband almost every day, which eased the burden of having to make decisions on my own. I consulted with him on everything. I felt his absence, but not as much as if we did not have regular contact. For that I applaud the military for availing that kind of communication to soldiers.
Meredith: What else would you like readers to know about your military service?
COL MANN: Your readers should be very proud of our Soldiers. Our deployed Soldiers typically work long hours each day, seven days a week under austere and sometimes hostile conditions. The US military is an all volunteer force. Although occasionally there are tough days, we love what we do. I recommend military service to all your readers' sons and daughters. The military profession teaches good values, and how to lead and succeed in life. It offers a life filled with adventure, and the bonds of a brotherhood that is perhaps stronger than in any other profession. Most important, our military personnel proudly protect our freedom, and ensure that our families, friends, and fellow citizens can enjoy a way of life that far surpasses that available to most of the rest of the world.