It was a sunny day in September (2001) when Julie Swogger’s phone rang. Her husband Ray, an Air Force major working in the Pentagon, called home to tell Julie two planes had just flown into New York City’s World Trade Center in a suspected terrorist attack.
After hanging up with Ray, the home-schooling mother of three clicked on the television, something she doesn’t often do in the middle of a school morning. Watching the events unfold in lower Manhattan, Julie’s fear turned to horror as the news began reporting a plane had just hit the Pentagon, too.
Studying the coverage, Julie realized that the plane hit the Pentagon on the opposite side of the building from Ray’s office, so Ray was likely safe. Yet it was three hours until Ray had a chance to call home again. Three hours of waiting for Julie with her three children and many other neighborhood families who had stopped in to pray for the safety of the Pentagon personnel. Three hours of fielding phone call after phone call from family and friends asking if Ray was safe. Three hours of constantly giving the same answer: “I don’t know.”

When the plane hit the Pentagon, Ray had been in the basement, insulated from any knowledge of the crash. Following a hasty evacuation and quick headcount of his department, he was sent home. But without access to his car or his cell phone, left behind on his desk, his 40-minute drive home to Bolling Air Force Base in Virginia turned into a walk that stretched on for hours. Ray was able to find a working phone on a construction site a few miles away and called Julie to tell her he was safe. Fortunately, his trip was shortened when some people who were picking up a few of the hundreds of soldiers forced to walk home that day gave him a lift.
Without a doubt, home-schooling families across America face many challenges. Yet the sacrifices of military families who home school cannot be overstated. Most of us saw Sept. 11 through television and newspapers. For families like the Swoggers, the events of that day and its aftermath were up close and personal. They saw it in machine gun nests that were quickly set up around the entrance of the bases where they live. They see it every day in the fully armed patrols walking the streets of their neighborhoods.
Dealing with these kinds of issues on a daily basis can be extremely stressful on a family. Often, dads are not home to shoulder the burden. “Much more falls on the moms,” says Dennis Ingram, a Marine Corps data communications expert, who with his wife home schools his four children. His wife, Amy, agrees having Dennis away from home so much is “mentally demanding” and the family “tends to feel more vulnerable without Dad.”
And the Ingrams have good reason to be scared. They have been warned that servicemen and military dependents could be future terrorist targets. Stress like this sometimes makes it difficult to stay on target with home schooling. “It makes you realize how little you are in control of your life,” says Amy, adding that she relies heavily on God’s help and her faith to concentrate on getting through the day’s trials.

Family Challenges
The complications brought by Sept. 11 come in addition to the many other challenges facing military families. Families move often as the military parent is assigned to a new location every few years. The Ingrams currently live outside Quantico Marine Corp Base in Virginia where Dennis is stationed, but they know they are due for reassignment later on this year. A reassignment, they say, that could take them as far away as Japan.
Even more challenging, military families must often cope with times when a family member is called away for duty. “It is difficult,” says Tarita Bacon, “to make educational decisions when your life partner is not here to help, enforce, and encourage.” Tarita, whose husband Craig is often gone for months at a time, is all too familiar with this scenario. Craig serves as a combat information systems officer on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier currently deployed in the Arabian Sea.
Tarita herself grew up in a military family, attending 13 different schools in 12 years. She tries to use home schooling to make things as normal as possible for her children. “My children seem adaptable to moving around a lot,” says Tarita, “I’ve found that they tend to take their cues from me.” When Mom has a good attitude about life’s trials, she says, her children pick up on that.
Despite the difficulties of military life, most home-schooling families feel that teaching their children at home generally makes things easier. Although frequent moving can be disruptive, many use the moves to teach their children about the countries and cultures they visit.
“When we left [the United States] three years ago, my home-schooling motto was ‘We are going on a three-year field trip,’” says Rebecca Garvey, whose husband Richard is an Army Chaplain. After their first tour in Germany, the Garveys have opted for a second. “We are excited to have another three years to explore and learn more about the other countries in the region.”
The Garveys, and others like them, have found ways to meet the challenges of frequent relocation head on. When they arrived in Germany, there was no organized support group. So the Garveys started their own.
Making Do