It was 2013. Deborah Durant’s mother just died, followed by her cousin a week later and she had moved for the 26th time in 27 years, with her husband and five children – the youngest being a newborn – to Huntsville.
In her words, she was a “hot mess.”
When she and her family arrived at Redstone Arsenal, she was unsure about what to expect, but almost immediately she said she was able to find programs that helped her family adjust to their new home, programs that helped her deal with her recent loss and programs that helped strengthen her marriage.
“Having my kids welcomed in and given those opportunities took their mind off us, took their mind off their pain, and it was such a gift,” Durant said. “The whole Arsenal was there for my children, and they felt immediately a part (of a community), which is something I couldn’t give them.”
Deborah’s husband, Master Sgt. John Durant, has been in the military for over 30 years, and during that time, there have been missed birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones that you can’t do over. John said his family is the most important thing to him. When he’s deployed, he tries to stay in contact as much as he can through daily phone calls and text messages and said that it is probably harder on the family at home than the Soldier who is deployed.
“It has been difficult,” she said. “It’s very difficult, and you don’t ever think about people being left alone with little kids. You assume they have family and family support. And a lot of us don’t.”
Durant said the constant moving affected her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, the most.
“She really had the brunt of it, because changing relationships,” Durant said. “When you have four brothers, they kind of all connect like legos, but when you’re a girl, the formation of relationships early on is very, very, difficult.
“I think just constantly showing her the beauty of what we were receiving…
“It’s kind of like a quilt. All the different people that we’ve met, all the different ways we’ve grown in our relationships is like a fabric. Some people have all the same color, and ours is multi-patched from so many different people.
“I told the kids, sometimes you would’ve never met this person if we would’ve never gone to that place. We would have never changed this situation had we never gone to this place.
“And those changes were necessary to build our life in so many different ways, and that is something to be grateful for.”
Durant doesn’t shy away from the challenges of military life. She doesn’t hide the difficulties, but she doesn’t focus on them either. Instead, she chooses to highlight the positive impact that it’s had on her family.
“I think they are better leaders as a result,” she said. “I think they are more caring and empathetic about other people. I think they are self-starters as a result because they know that time is precious and we might be here for a short time, or we might be here for a little longer time, but you don’t have time to wait to say you’re sorry or you don’t have to say ‘hey, would you like to be my friend?’ I like that. I really like that.
“People are used to having a lot of time to just figure it out, and we’re more kind of seize the day kind of people.”
As for the boys, three of them have decided to follow in their father’s footsteps.
Jacob, the couple’s second child, got a scholarship to Marion Military Academy and is pursuing a career in nursing. He’s in his second semester in UAH’s nursing program and holds the rank of second lieutenant.
The couple’s third child, Dominic, went to basic training after graduating high school and has recently returned from a deployment in Iraq.
Timothy is in the JROTC program at New Century High School.
“My sons have followed in legacy to my husband. One of them wanted to be a doctor, and I said ‘we’ve got five kids, how is that going to happen?’ I’ll be honest with you. I was terrified when my sons went to boot camp. I was sad and scared and nervous. And I had people even say, ‘Oh I’m so sorry,’ instead of ‘Wow, what a great opportunity.’ And truly, it was a great opportunity.
“There were hardships, but they both came back as men with integrity, with the ability to pay for their school, feeling accomplished in themselves.
“They’re proud of their service and their opportunity. Both of them have their college paid for.”
The couple’s youngest son, George, is 7. He hasn’t decided what he’s going to do when he grows up, but he’s proud of his dad because “he serves our country and everything that he does for us.”
Durant said the services and programs they use and love regularly are: home school, pool, bowling, youth retreats, counseling and many more.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about military families during Military Family Month.