By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, June 15, 2007 -
Nearly three years ago during his first tour to Iraq, things were a little different for Army Sgt. Chester Temple, a supply specialist for Battery A, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment.
He had a wife and premature twin babies to worry about -- a boy, Trey, and girl, Abbey, who weighed just a little less than three pounds each and could fit in the palms of his hands.
Shortly after their birth, he had flown home to Fort Hood, Texas, on emergency leave to see them for the first time but then had to return to Iraq. Later, when his tour was over in early 2005, his wife moved far away, leaving him custody of the ailing twins. Eventually, a painful divorce left him a single father raising his children.
For his second deployment to Iraq, Temple had to leave his son and daughter in the care of his parents, who live in Killeen, Texas.
"The kids are doing really well now. They're nearly three years old and healthy," said Temple, who calls Fort Hood his home. "I had no worries leaving them with my parents. I'm glad to know that my babies are being taken care of."
He said he worried more when his children were younger and dealing with health issues. It's easier now.
"My son has become a chunk, getting big," Temple said. "His sister was always bigger than he was, but now he's outgrown her. But they're both healthy and happy."
Temple's father is a retired soldier, and his mother now works at home with her own business, processing physicians' orders for nursing homes via computer. They are able to easily watch Abbey and Trey and take turns doing so, Temple said.
"My parents are great people. I was raised by the best," he said. "I really appreciate what they're doing for me and the sacrifices they're making at home. I've got pretty good kids, and they're not that hard to manage," Temple added. "They're communicating well now and can tell you when they're hungry and thirsty."
Along with Abbey and Trey, who are from his second marriage, Temple has an 8-year-old son, Austin, from his first marriage. Austin lives with his mother in Alabama.
"Whenever I go on leave, I go see him. I really miss him a lot, and I know he misses me, too," said Temple, who said he has a good relationship with his first wife.
Temple said he keeps in touch with his children as often as he can.
"I e-mail Austin a lot, and he has a good understanding of what I'm doing out here," Temple said. "The twins don't really understand; they just think that daddy's at work.
"I also call them on the phone," he added. "They tell me they love me and miss me. Trey will usually tell me what he's watching on TV, and Abbey will look at the phone trying to figure out how I got in there."
To stave off depression and keep his mind off his family, Temple said, he often keeps himself busy so the time goes by quicker.
"The best thing to do is for me to engulf myself in my work," Temple said. "When I can't contain thinking about them, a telephone call always softens things up and makes it easier to cope. It can be lonely (without your family), but I joined the military for a sense of pride, my family heritage."
Temple noted that not only did his father retire from the Army, but both of his grandfathers, most of his uncles, and three brothers have all served in the military.
Temple said he has a lot of things he wants to do with his kids when he gets back home from this deployment. Most of the things the family likes to do together involve being outdoors, but there is one special place he likes to take the kids. "They love to look at the animals at the zoo in Waco," he said. "I plan on taking them first to the zoo and then out to eat."
For Father's Day this year, Temple said, he hopes to convey a simple message to people who ask him why he's in Iraq when he could instead have chosen another career path that would have allowed him to have been home with his kids.
"I love this," he said. "Too often the American people as a whole forget the price that's been paid for freedom. They'll take the freedoms they have for granted and lay them by the wayside.
"People in Iraq have never had true freedom before, but you can see they love the taste of it," Temple said. "We're helping them to get those freedoms. Everybody needs to think about that, especially when so many people have laid their lives on the line for it."
(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp is assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.)