A different kind of Christmas for family of deployed RCAF plumber

News Article / December 21, 2021

Holly Bridges

Christmas is going to look a lot different this year for Ashley Greer and her two boys aged five and three. Her husband, Corporal Aaron Valenta, a plumber with 81 Construction Engineering Flight at 8 Wing Trenton, is deployed on Operation Impact in Kuwait, and he will miss the usual fanfare and chaos of Christmas Day with his small children.

It will be especially difficult for the boys, who took their father’s departure especially hard and leaned on their mom to help them settle and adjust in the early days. Ashely’s background in early childhood psychology has helped her help the boys understand where Daddy is and why he had to go away.

As for dad being away during Christmas, Ashley, who quit her job to stay home with the boys during the deployment, is preparing ahead of time with strategies for helping their children deal with their “big feelings” around the intensity of their emotions – feelings of sadness, confusion, anxiety and bouts of crying before bed. “I had to hold them in my arms for hours and let them sleep with me just to get them to settle,” says Ashley.

Just after her husband left, Ashley says, both boys started regressing in their behaviours, including daytime and nighttime incontinence in the youngest, after having been fully potty trained. Ashley is teaching the boys to express their emotions as a way of coping and lessening their anxiety, and it appears to be working. The regressions have stopped and the lines of communication are wide open.

As for Christmas, Ashley has managed to get the boys somewhat settled, and yet excited for things like video calls with daddy. During one recent call, Cpl Valenta told his sons that Santa had just delivered their gifts to him at work; moments later during the same call, there was a knock at Ashley’s door and there was Santa for a surprise visit. “The timing was perfect,” recalls Ashley.

With these kinds of reassurances and strategies in place, Ashley is confident she can get her boys through the holidays and make it a happy occasion for them. She plans to spend Christmas Day with a few other military families who plan an easy-going Christmas dinner without a turkey, just appetizers, and lots of playtime for the kids.

“It will be better for the boys not to have a big fanfare so they can enjoy the day without a lot of anxiety around daddy not being there to enjoy any big festivities,” she said.

Operation Impact is part of Canada’s whole-of-government approach to the Middle East. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) mission to build the military capabilities of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, and set the conditions for their long-term success. Op Impact complements the work of other Canadian government agencies such as Global Affairs Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

On March 30, 2021, the Government of Canada announced the extension of Op Impact until March 31, 2022. Under the renewal, the CAF is maintaining its presence in the Middle East to continue enhancing security and stability in the region.

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