ARLINGTON, Va. --
His routine sets in like clockwork when his alarm sounds at 5 a.m. With an hour and forty-five minutes to get to work, he showers, gets his daughter ready for daycare, drops her off and heads to base.
Cpl. Angelo Velez, an aircraft communications and navigation systems technician with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., is single-handedly raising his nine-month-old daughter, Jolisa, while upholding his responsibilities as a Marine. His wife, a specialist in the Army, has been deployed for the past three months.
“I realize how unique my situation is since I’m fulfilling the roles of a mother while still handling my duties as a father,” said the Brooklyn, N.Y., native. “The toughest part about being a single parent is doing everything on your own.
“It’s stressful having to make sure my daughter's fed, bathed, gets to daycare, goes to her doctors appointments and is entertained.”
Managing parental and military responsibilities can be overwhelming for an entire family. These obligations are multiplied for single parents, said Velez.
“Marines have a hard enough time taking care of themselves, and those that do have children, (usually) have a wife to take care of them,” said Sgt. Bradley French, a motor vehicle operator at Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., who, like Velez, is a single dad, raising 21-month-old Austin on his own. Austin’s mother, also a Marine, is currently in training and is scheduled for deployment in July.
Getting the chain of command to understand the balancing act can be a tough thing to accomplish for a single parent, said the Clarksville, Tenn., native.
“I have to take into consideration feeding someone else, bathing someone else, getting two people ready in the morning, taking care of my health and his; dropping him off and picking him up from daycare, and paying late fees for not being there on time,” he said. “My son is my first responsibility and everything else comes after.”
Both fathers said their off-duty hours are dedicated to their children.
“When I am not a work, (Austin and I) are always together, doing everyday things like grocery shopping and getting haircuts every Sunday,” said French. “We go to the park or the beach so he can get out of the house and play.”
Velez said he spends the weekends with his daughter, playing with her and making up for the time he doesn’t have during the week.
French said he is often asked what junior Marines will think if he isn’t present for unit functions such as early-morning physical training or field days that can run well into the evening hours.
“They are going to think ‘now there is a (man) that juggles being a Marine and a parent, who takes care of his child, who PTs at chow and remains deployable,’” he said.
French said he manages to find a balance between the daily stresses of the Corps and caring for his son by separating the two.
“I do what I have to do to be a good Marine, but when I leave (the base) I don’t think about anything that has to do with work so my attitude doesn’t effect my son,” he said. “(Austin) doesn’t need to see that his daddy is stressed because people at work think I’d be a better Marine without him, he just needs to be happy and do what a 21-month-old child does.”
Velez said he is fortunate that his command understands his situation. They have been extremely helpful and supportive, he said.
“In the event there is an emergency I have many of my fellow Marines willing to help me, especially (my daughter’s) godfather, Staff Sgt. Hector Lozada,” he added.
Although French and Velez work in different environments, the Marines agree that their children have taught them to put aside their personal feelings for the sake of another, building their characters as men and as leaders.
“My experience as a single father has taught me to be more caring and helpful to my Marines, but (it also encourages) me to be firm on them and teach them, like a big brother figure,” said Velez.
French said his experiences have made him more understanding of others although their circumstances may be different from his own.
“My situation has enabled me to apply personal experiences to help other Marines understand some of life’s harder times, and to give them sound advice,” he said.
Velez said he will not be deploying, at least until his wife returns. Meanwhile, French is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan next spring when his son’s mother returns from her deployment.
In the event that he needs to deploy before her return, French said he will follow his family care plan and take Austin to his mother in Kentucky.
Velez said he has established a new sense of empathy for single mothers, particularly fellow service members.
“(I) respect what all these single mothers do out here, because I’ve walked in their shoes,” he said. “It’s very, very tough, especially when you’re in the military, (even more so) when you’re in the Marine Corps.”
In 2002, Candace Zumalt, Children, Youth and Teen Program assistant, Marine and Family Services, Marine Corps Community Services, Headquarters Marine Corps, decided to pursue a career outside of the Corps, after four years on active duty.
“(My husband) and I had multiple friends that were dual active and had to send their children off to relatives while both of them were gone,” she said. “Even though we did not have children, I did not like the idea of our potential children being without either parent.”
Today, Zumalt continues to serve the Corps by offering her first hand knowledge and experience to Marines such as Velez and French.
Marine and Family Services have a plethora of helpful programs and services to better the individual as a Marine and as a parent, said Zumalt.
The CYTP is flexible in serving Marine parents with their childcare needs and cost, and dual-active and single parents are the highest priority categories for those services. The program also provides emergency childcare for times of duty, doctor appointments, as well as other stressful or emergency situations.
Deployment support for families is available through Marine Corps Family Team Building, and the Exceptional Family Member Program is helpful to families with special needs children. The New Parent Support Program offers home visitors who can help parents adjust to life with a new baby. Marine and Family Services also offers services such as relocation assistance and financial advice to help Marines ensure they have a sound home over their heads.
“The services offered today are a reflection of the changing need of the Marine Corps’ mission, Marines and families,” said Zumalt. “The Corps continues to respond to the needs of the Marines, which in turn strengthens their ability to successfully accomplish the mission at hand.”