There have been three times in Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Basham’s career that have been particularly trying for her and her son, 15-year-old Ahmahd.
And each involved separations.
When Ahmahd was just 2, his mother went to the field for training for a week.
“When I came back, he didn’t want anything to do with me. I was ready to quit. My child didn’t want anything to do with me,” Basham recalled.
But she didn’t quit, determined to make it work just like her mother did when she raised her two children while serving in the Army.
When Basham had to leave her 3-year-old son with his godmother in Virginia for a 15-month deployment to Iraq, she did a few things to help her son remember her. She used little plastic Soldiers to show him what his mommy was going to be doing while she was away. She gave him a bear that, when squeezed, played a recording that said: “Ahmahd, this is your mommy. I love you and I will always be with you.”
And she told him about the moon.
“I said, ‘We see the same moon at night. If you talk to the moon, it is the same moon that I see.’ That helped us stay connected,” Basham said.
Still, upon her return, 5-year-old Ahmahd thought she was a dream.
“When she came home, I was asleep,” Ahmahd remembers of their reunion. “She came in and woke me up. I kept rubbing my eyes. I didn’t know if she was real.”
It was after that first deployment when Basham questioned whether she could continue to be both a single parent and a Soldier.
“For a parent, leaving your child is the hardest thing you ever have to do,” she said. “After I came back from Iraq, we moved to Texas and my new unit was talking about deployment. It was only five months after my deployment. The unit got pulled and we didn’t deploy.”
Things were a bit easier when Ahmahd was 12 and Basham left her son with his other godmother in Texas to deploy for nine months to Kuwait and Afghanistan. She deployed when he was in the sixth-grade, leaving the day after Mother’s Day and coming back on Valentine’s Day.
“I understood everything, and I could talk to her all the time,” he said.
“Before I deployed, we talked about our relationship,” Basham said. “I’m not super strict. Being a single parent, the most important thing was for us to have an open line of communication. I want him to always feel free to talk to me and tell me what’s going on. That was really important when I was deployed and all we had was the ability to talk to each other over the phone.
“If I asked him, ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘Is everything OK?’ I wanted him to tell me the truth. I didn’t want him to be afraid to tell me.”
Now a ninth-grader at East Limestone High School, Ahmahd is a happy, confident teenager. He is athletic, playing football, basketball and soccer. He does well in school and has many friends.
“My mom being a Soldier has made me meet new people and go to different places,” he said. “I’m used to moving and meeting new people, and I don’t mind change. The thing I don’t like is that when you are in a place you like, you can’t choose to stay there.”
For the most part, Ahmahd has enjoyed the places he’s lived. He was born in Georgia, and has lived in Hawaii; at Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; in Texas and twice at Redstone Arsenal.
“He’s always gone to school with a good mix of military kids and non-military kids, except for when I deployed the second time and he lived with his godmother in a small town in Texas,” his mom said. “He was the only military child there, and that was the only time the school had a military child there with a deployed parent.”
But the school administration, teachers and Ahmahd’s friends were supportive, and they all learned from each other.
“When I came back, I snuck in the lunchroom to surprise Ahmahd during lunch. Everyone started clapping,” Basham said.
Both Basham and her son were born into the military, so neither knows a different lifestyle. Both take it as a matter of living, and sometimes Ahmahd is surprised by the reaction of others to his mom’s uniform.
“They’ll see her and they will say, ‘Is that your mom? Your mom’s in the military?’ Then, they want to talk to her and sit by her. It’s sometimes annoying,” Ahmahd said with a smile.
“I try to definitely instill some type of pride in him,” his mother added.
That pride is certainly evident on the face of Ahmahd in the pictures taken at his mom’s promotion ceremonies. At each ceremony, it was Basham’s son who pinned on her new rank.
“In one picture, someone is holding him so he can reach to pin on the rank. In the next picture, he is standing on a chair to reach and then in the others he was old enough to reach,” Basham said.
Basham and her son first lived at Redstone Arsenal in 2007 when she was assigned as the Advanced Individual Training platoon sergeant at the Ordnance Munitions and Electronics Maintenance School.
“Even though I worked long, long hours at the school house, I always had Ahmahd with me,” she said. “To this day, I have Soldiers who knew me then and who are now single parents tell me, ‘Every time I think I can’t do this as a single parent, I think how you had your son with you when I was in AIT and we watched him grow up, and I know I can do this. I saw you do it. I know it’s possible.’”
Their second assignment to Redstone Arsenal came for Basham in 2013 with the Aviation and Missile Command when she applied for a compassionate assignment. Her mother, who had retired from the Army and was living in Birmingham, was dying of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Because of the Army’s family policies, Basham and Ahmahd were able to move to Huntsville, which allowed Basham to move her mother in with them during her last months of life. Basham was able to care for her and her son got to spend precious time with his grandmother in her last days. Basham’s mother died in September 2015.
“Ahmahd was an awesome caregiver. He really helped me take care of his grandmother,” Basham said.
But most of Ahmahd’s time these days is spent at school. Even though he doesn’t go to school with many military kids, it is noticeable to his coaches that they have a Soldier’s son on the team.
“They say they can tell he’s a military child because they can see so much leadership potential in him. They can tell from his mannerisms and the way he is polite and steps up to get the team to work together,” Basham said. “His leadership skills are there and the kids all follow him.”
That’s the kind of thing Basham likes to hear about her son.
“With me in the military, he gets the opportunity to see different cultures,” she said. “He gets to know there are so many things outside of ‘us.’ This kind of life opens your eyes and makes you realize there’s a big world out there. There are so many opportunities.”