MERIDIAN — With the sun still well below the horizon, Monica Burmeister rolls out of bed, wakes up the kids, pours them cereal and gets them ready for school — all before heading to her freshman classes at Mountain View High School.
Four months ago, Monica’s mother, Spc. Christine Burmeister, headed to Fort Hood, Texas, to train with her fellow Idaho National Guard soldiers for a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. Since then, Monica, 15, has been helping her father, Richard Burmeister, take care of the family’s other three children, ages 4 through 10.
Richard starts his job as a truck driver for Nagel Beverage Co. at 5 a.m. and is out the door well before the children get ready for school. In the past, this was Christine’s time. She didn’t start her workday until the afternoon, and she would round the kids up for school in the morning. Now, for much of the morning it’s just the four Burmeister children — Kylee, 4, Natasha, 9, DeAnna, 10, and Monica.
On a recent morning, Monica was up at 6:45 a.m., gently shaking Kylee and urging her to wake up. When her younger sisters drag their feet, Monica plays task-master, handing clothes to Kylee, who is determined to stay in her pink pajamas.
“I’m not getting dressed!” Kylee yelled before gathering her stuffed animals and running away.
Rolling her eyes, Monica said her sisters listen “about 50 percent of the time.” But despite the frustrations, she doesn’t shy away from her roll as fill-in mom.
“I don’t really mind,” she said.
A family friend helps take care of Kylee, who starts kindergarten next year during the day, but the other children must get themselves ready. This bitterly cold February morning ends with Natasha and DeAnna sprinting a block to catch their bus.
Christine Burmeister, 30, joined the Idaho National Guard two years ago to enhance her life, after working 11 years in retail. She missed the 116th Brigade Combat Team’s Iraq deployment because of a hip injury. After intense discussions with her husband and children, she felt it was her duty to volunteer to deploy to Afghanistan with the 1-183rd Aviation Battalion.
She left in October for training, coming back for three weeks of local training recently.
She and Richard are stoic when asked about the effect of the time apart. But this past Tuesday, when Christine prepared to board a bus at Gowen Field that would take her to a waiting plane and away from her family for the next year, the whole family was in tears.
Christine said she tries to talk to her kids every night before they go to bed, but she knows communication won’t be as reliable when she gets to Afghanistan. She drives trucks and various transports for the Guard.
The deployment has “made me realize, as a parent, that my kids are very, very important and that it’s tough being away from them,” Christine said by phone from Fort Hood.
Richard said he’s glad his wife is doing what she wants to do. The thought of Christine missing a year of their children growing up is emotionally tough, but he knows the drill of military life: His father served with the Navy for 33 years, and he grew up watching his mom adapt to that life.
“I’m used to someone close to me being gone,” he said.
Without Christine, Richard’s daily tasks have doubled. Grocery shopping, paying bills, chauffeuring the kids — he looks tired just reciting the list — but everyone does their chores, and he has a support network. Christine’s sister acts as backup when Monica needs help with certain 15-year-old girl issues, grandma and grandpa help watch the kids, and an understanding boss is flexible with Richard’s busier home life.
The 1-183rd is slated to leave for Afghanistan around the third week of February to fly Apache helicopter missions around that country. Then, the Burmeisters will have the added stress of Christine entering a war zone. The Guard is not releasing their exact deployment location.
Asked if he worries about his wife heading into danger, Richard said, “Yes and no.”
“Yes, I’m scared of her going over there, because ... the area she’s going to is dangerous,” he said. “But no, because there’s a lot of people over there ... who are going to watch over her and not let her get into trouble,” he said.
Contact reporter Heath Druzin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 373-6617.