When the Wild family gathered for Thanksgiving last week there was one empty chair at the table.
The seat belonged to Betz Wild’s son, Lance Cpl. Taylor Wild, who now enters his third holiday season in a row spent away from home since he became a U.S. Marine.
“We’re such a family of traditions,” Betz said as tears filled her eyes. “We go to the same places for Thanksgiving ... and same thing Christmas Eve. It is hard that he is half a world away knowing what we are doing and knowing he is missing it.”
The Wild family lives in Severna Park: Betz; her husband, Bill; and their three children, Libby, 9; Griffin, 15; and Taylor, who will be 21 in December and still deployed.
“It’s hard on them, but when Taylor comes home he makes a point to spend time with them—they are so close,” Betz said. “He always takes Libby to the aquarium and plays baseball with Griffin.”
Taylor graduated from Severna Park High School in 2010 and left for boot camp in October of the same year. Taylor’s father, now a police officer in Anne Arundel County, was in the Air Force Reserves. And both of Taylor’s grandparents also served.
“He told me he wanted to enlist and it caught me off guard, but I think he had decided long before he told me,” Betz said.
It was during boot camp that Taylor missed his first Christmas.
“It was easier then because I knew he was safe and in the country,” Betz said. “But still I knew the only bond he had there was with the guys in his unit. And the only way we could talk to him there was with letters. There were no phone conversations.”
The First Tour
After boot camp, Taylor was deployed to Afghanistan where he spent seven months in what his mother said was a rough part of the area.
Temperatures reached 120 degrees and Betz said Taylor told her you can’t even imagine what that much heat feels like. They also had no running water, and it took 25 bottles of water to wash two T-shirts.
“That deployment was definitely the roughest,” Betz said. “They were in a rough part of Afghanistan and we rarely got phone calls. He was supposed to be home in time for Christmas that year, but he got stuck in a sandstorm.”
When he did come home, Betz said she could see a difference in her son right away. He had matured into more of a man and was more confident, which she attributed to his time spent in Afghanistan.
While Taylor was happy to be home with his family, and in his own bed, somehow it’s the small things that have the most impact.
“I remember his face walking out the airport when we picked him up and we were on like a field and he just stopped,” Betz said. “He was like ‘do you know how long it has been since I have walked on grass?’ It was a comfort to him.”
The Current Tour
Betz said Taylor decided to join the Marines out of high school because he knew he wanted to serve before he had a family of his own he was leaving behind. Taylor plans on going to school when he finishes, but he wanted to serve his country first.
Taylor spent his first tour in Afghanistan but volunteered for the one he is currently serving in the Middle East. The assignment had been given to a different unit, but they needed more people, so Taylor stepped up.
“At first I was like ‘why did you do that?’” Betz said. “And he told me that if he didn’t go, maybe a dad would have to and he didn’t want that. It is also what he is trained to do and he wants to go out and do it.”
It is this current tour that will keep Taylor away from his family for the third Christmas in a row and for his 21st birthday.
“It’s definitely hard,” Betz said. “This Thanksgiving, we all went around the table and said what we are thankful for and everyone mentioned Taylor.”
During Thanksgiving the Wild family also made a book for Taylor. The story was The Night Before Christmas and each family member recorded himself or herself reading a different part of the story—and naturally added in an “I miss you Taylor” at the end of the segment.
Providing Help for Others
While it can be hard for service members to be away from their families during the holidays, it can be even harder for those who don’t have families sending them care packages and communicating with them.
Betz said she sends packages to Taylor frequently but it can get expensive, which may be why some families can’t do it.
“Marines and military people come from all different backgrounds and what Taylor realized during his first deployment is [some] guys don’t receive packages or letters,” Betz said, tearing up. “Families don’t have means or are in turmoil, so their soldiers don’t get packages.”
Betz became very emotional talking about the soldiers who don’t get items from home. She said most days they are only provided with three meals, most of the time packaged meals, and they only get snacks if the family sends them. That’s why she always packs Taylor extra.
“I know there are guys who don’t get anything so I always try to give him extra [to share],” Betz said.
Taylor has completed two years of service and has two more remaining. He should return from his current tour in January 2013. He is set to deploy again in November 2013—which means he will miss another Christmas.
Editor’s note: If you know of a local soldier currently deployed, please email email@example.com. Betz Wild said she is always looking for others in the same situation to provide support.
More information on helping troops this holiday season:
- The Big Bean Collects Cards for Troops
- Local Group Stuffs Stockings for Troops