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More than 50 Hill Air Force Base families gather, bond before deployment

Published: Saturday, March 15 2014 7:05 p.m. MDT

More than 50 Hill Air Force Base families gathered for a weekend of skiing, hiking and dancing. They were invited to a retreat at the Wolf Creek Resort to spend quality time together and learn how to cope while loved ones are deployed.

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EDEN — One member of the 729th Air Control Squadron described deployment as a terminal disease.

"Once you realize you have it, you live differently and you choose to place value on things differently," Tech. Sgt. Tyler Hand said.

More than 50 Hill Air Force Base families gathered to "live differently" during a weekend of skiing, hiking and dancing. They were invited to a retreat at the Wolf Creek Resort to spend quality time together and learn how to cope while loved ones are deployed.

"This is absolutely unique," Chaplain (Maj.) Eric Whitmore said of the retreat, unlike any other military retreat he has seen in 27 years as a Chaplain.

"If you can rebuild these positive memories, these positive experiences with positive emotions, then those will burn into your memories for years and years," he said. "You might jut be able to offset some of the negative stuff."

Tech. Sgt. Hand and his wife Katy attended the retreat for the second time as they gear up for his seventh deployment in nearly 11 years.

He said they have learned many things that have strengthened their relationships with each other and with their three children.

He said they try to look for the positives and good intentions in each other, develop good communication and spend quality time together as a family.

"Especially with kids, something like this is really valuable," Katy Hand said. "It's really just a lot of face to face time and I felt, and I think a lot of the people felt, really equipped before the deployment."

She said that in turn made their time together after the deployment more rich and valuable.

At the retreat Katy Hand also learned "the value that the family has and taking time to strengthen and feed that and how much that influences (Tyler's) ability to focus on his job."

Katy Hand said the deployments break up every day life in a radical way, but it means coming back to relationships with a refreshed and new perspective.

Ivy Whitehouse, Senior Master Sgt., returned home on Monday from her most recent deployment. She left her husband and seven and 10-year-old children for five months while she was in Southwest Asia.

"I missed his birthday," she said with tears of her son who just turned 10. "You want to be there for them. You want to tell them happy birthday and give them hugs and kisses."

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Whitehouse, Ivy's husband, has also been deployed several times. He said missing special occasions is something they manage to work around.

"You kind of look at it as just another day without each other, but then when they get back you can celebrate," he said.

The family fell into a routine without Ivy Whitehouse. From the dinner menu, and school work to managing electronics.

"She has to kind of figure out and work her way back into how we're running our life now," Michael Whitehouse said.

They both said the retreat has helped them come together as a family and work out those kinks.

"They explain all the kinds of stuff that we're talking about perfectly," he said. "They can put it in better words than we can. It helps us understand that those are some of the things that we're dealing with."

Ivy Whitehouse said her deployments have helped her realize how much she loves her husband and family, and that she never wants her family to separate.

Lt. Col. Darin Humiston, 729th Air Control Squadron commander, said about 14 of the families at the retreat are in his squadron.

"We're very comfortable going in and getting the mission done. It's hard for us to understand what the families really go through," he said.

The retreat, he said, is an opportunity for families to reconnect.

It helps those deploying to "understand what they're going through, besides missing you. There's a lot more going on."

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

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