1st Marine Division
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, May 23, 2012 – Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Maribel Valdez, the adjutant with the 1st Marine Division (Forward) here, sits quietly at her desk.
She sits straight with dark eyes, her M-9 pistol holstered tight against her uniform, and pictures of her family on the board behind her, showcasing the two different lives she lives.
She’s a mother and a Marine. A balancing act that’s more difficult since she deployed to Afghanistan in January. She’s thousands of miles from her children, having traded the sunny Southern California lifestyle for the heat and dust of Afghanistan.
“It’s very hard, I’m not going to say it’s easy,” Valdez said. “I think it’s harder being a mom, it’s hard to know that a big part of your life is not here with you.”
A large part of her life is at her home in Temecula. Valdez has five children: Breanna, 12; Jose, 10; Issac, 9; Jason, 5; and Jacob, 4. Valdez said it’s hard for her younger children to understand why she can’t be home.
“No matter how you tell them you are working, they don’t understand,” Valdez said. “To them, it’s ‘Mommy’s gone’ or ‘Mommy left me.’”
Valdez prepared her family as best she could before she deployed. She told them why she had to leave and how her job as an adjutant helps Marines.
“I explained to my [children] that my purpose was to make sure that everyone that was doing great things was being recognized for it,” Valdez said.
Mother’s Day on May 13 came and went much like any other day for Valdez, with the exception of a few well wishes via email. She woke up and went to work like she does every Sunday.
“Mother’s Day was just a typical day until night when I got to talk to [the kids],” Valdez said.
Afghanistan is 12 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Temecula, so when Valdez called her family her Mother’s Day here was almost over. It was bittersweet for Valdez. Her children wished her a Happy Mother’s Day, but also expressed how much they missed her and wished she was home.
“It was heartbreaking because it was the first time my [children] said ‘Mom you left me’ or ‘I’m lonely,’” Valdez said. “It’s hard to comfort them over the phone, knowing I can’t hug them to make them feel better.”
The pain of not being able to be there for her children is difficult for Valdez, a proud Marine and even prouder parent.
“When they hurt, you hurt, when they’re happy, you’re happy,” she explained.
When Valdez married her husband Jose, a former Marine, he had three children from a previous marriage, forcing her to learn quickly how to be a mother.
“It was like instant family when I got married -- just add water, and all of a sudden you have children,” Valdez explained.
Valdez said being a mother was difficult and stressful, but it has made her a better person and a better Marine. She wouldn’t change it for the world.
Valdez said she’d balanced being a mother and taking care of her junior Marines by taking the lessons learned from motherhood and applying them to her military career.
“I commonly refer to her as ‘Momma Valdez’ because she’s like the ‘Mom’ of the office,” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Andre Smith, the division’s adjutant chief. “Momma” Valdez earned her nickname, Smith said, by being an understanding and caring staff noncommissioned officer.
She also has the ability to get her Marines’ attention if they mess up, he said.
“Somebody does something wrong and she gives them an eye, like you know you messed up,” Smith explained.
Valdez learned the look from having four boys and one pre-teen daughter in the house. She also learned to be more understanding when people make mistakes, a valuable lesson for any mom.
With Mother’s Day fresh in her mind and a recent package delivered with a DVD, filled with music and photos of her family, Valdez can’t help but think of what it’ll be like when she returns home.
“I want to spend more time with them, do more of that family bonding,” Valdez said. She plans to take her children to amusement parks, Washington D.C., and national parks.
“There are certain things that I think my children need to experience -- like traveling,” she said.
Valdez knows it’s difficult for her family while she’s deployed, and noted she will be happy to return home to them.
“The first thing I’m going to do, is hug them because I miss that feeling,” Valdez said with a grin.