Effort to bring daughter home sparks idea

Posted: Sunday, February 29, 2004

With a daughter in the Air Force, the Peters of Soldotna have a lot in common with other families of enlisted personnel throughout Alaska and the rest the United States like the pride they feel in having a loved one serve their country.

Not all the common bonds are positive, however. The Peters, like many others, know what it feels like to have a loved one deployed to a dangerous part of the world and fear they may never see them again. They also know how difficult it can be to arrange to see their family member before deployment to help quell those fears.

Donita and Samuel Peters' daughter, Sr. Airman Sarah Goodman, was notified in early February that she would be sent to Iraq on Feb. 23.

Once they got the news, the family started planning a way to get Goodman back to Alaska to visit her parents, since her father can't travel, and extended family before she was deployed.

It was a difficult task to accomplish in three weeks.

First, there were scheduling problems to overcome. Once she got her orders, Goodman had a full lineup of training sessions to attend.

Then, there was the money.

Goodman was stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, a continent away from her family on the Kenai Peninsula. Donita Peter figured it would take between $4,000 and $6,000 to fly her daughter to Alaska and back on such short notice. The family did not have that kind of cash available. Many military families don't.

"A lot of families are left in the same situation," Peter said. "People assume that the military takes care of them and pays for everything for them, but unless you're a general, you don't really make a lot of money in the military. People don't really realize that, for the most part, it's not because they don't want to come home, it's because they can't come home."

Peter sent an e-mail to her family and friends saying she was trying to raise enough money to get Goodman home for a visit and set up an account the Bring Sarah Home Fund for that purpose. Fund-raising efforts were made by her family throughout the peninsula. A bake sale was held in Tyonek, where Peter originally is from, the Chickaloon village had a fry bread sale and set up a donation can, and members of the Kenaitze tribe have donated, as well.

"I have a big huge family, so there's just little fund-raisers happening here and there," Peter said.

All along, Peter recognized that her family is but one of many who face the same financial restraints to arranging visits with military relatives facing imminent deployments. Her goal with the fund was to get Goodman home, then use any remaining money to help other families in Alaska do the same with their military loved ones. Ultimate-ly, she said she hopes the effort will spread to other states.

"Other families from Seattle, Oregon, California (have family members) also stationed in Virginia," Peter said. "Unless they save up the money, they can't go home. It's a common problem for all of our military families."

Even a visit as short as a day or two can have a huge impact.

"I think it's especially important, not only emotionally, but they have certain aspects of their lives that they have to prepare for," Peter said.

Despite their efforts, Goodman did not make it back to the peninsula before heading to Iraq. The lack of funds and Goodman's desire to not miss any time she could spend with her husband, Joseph Neil Goodman, and daughters, SaraLi Goodman, 2, and Tallie, 1, kept her in Virginia until she left for Iraq.

Since Goodman couldn't come to her family, Peter's sister donated some air miles and Peter took her youngest son and daughter to Goodman for a visit.

"It was wonderful," she said. "We haven't been able to see her and her family much since they're so far away."

Peter had much to discuss with her daughter before she left. She held a traditional Athabascan ceremony to prepare Goodman spiritually for her journey, and they squared away legal paperwork, like copying bank account records and filling out a living will and life insurance documents. Those discussions are not something a parent ever wants to have with a child, but Peter and Goodman realized they had to.

"Those types of details can get lost in the shuffle," Peter said. "In those types of circumstances, you have to talk to your child about, 'OK, where do you want to be buried and what do you want to do with your children if you don't come back?'

"It's very difficult, but it's a necessity. It's a reality for them. It made her feel better to know everything's all set."

Throughout the visit, Goodman kept her military bearing and didn't let her emotions break her preparedness for her deployment, Peter said.

"She said, 'Mom, don't worry and tell everyone not to worry. I'll make them proud.' She's got that courage. She's confident in her fellow military buddies that they're going to keep each other safe and protect each other and really work together well and watch out of each other."

This is Goodman's first deployment, so it's quite a change for her and her family. Goodman has been in the Air Force for five years, joining when she graduated from Kenai Alternative High School. She is in Baghdad working as a computer specialist and LAN (local area network) technician with special forces. With her computer access, she's been able to stay in touch with her family.

So far, Goodman has sounded upbeat, saying the weather hasn't been too awful, though the food could stand some improvement, Peter said. Soon Goodman will be sent into the field, and Peter likely won't have much contact with her.

"I have a lot of people praying for her," she said. "I'm going to probably be pacing quite a bit."

Goodman is deployed for a minimum of 92 days, though it could stretch as long as a year, Peter said.

When she's back in the states, Peter wants to use the money from the fund to do what she couldn't do before Goodman left bring her back to Alaska. She plans to keep fund-raising to pay for that trip and to help other military families with a similar need.

"It was more appropriate to get the family involved than to borrow money so (Goodman) will know her family and friends are all standing behind her," Peter said. "It was good for her to have that feeling. If other communities do it for other military, they'll feel the same way, and that's what I want to happen."

Anyone interested in donating to the Bring Sarah Home Fund can do so at First National Bank of Alaska, account No. 30332837.

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