Active-duty spouses struggle with deployment policy

By: TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer

VISTA ---- It's a familiar scene to people in North County when families prepare to see loved ones off to war, one that will play out with dozens of local military units this fall and winter.

Marines and sailors hug their kids and spouses goodbye and head off to combat on a plane, helicopter or ship.

But what about families with two parents deploying at the same time?

There are no rules preventing a child's mother and father from heading off to war over the same period.

So when it happened that Capt. John Dixon, a Marine fighter pilot, and Lt. Beverly Dixon, with the Navy's medical corps, came up with orders that could have landed each of them in a combat zone, they had few options.

"It's a nightmare," Beverly Dixon said.

Dual deployments that send mom and dad to war at the same time are likely to happen in areas such as San Diego County, where a number of service members and bases are situated.

But there is no military policy or federal law allowing the Marine Corps or the Navy to officially refrain from sending a set of parents into a combat zone at the same time.

Efforts to legislate change have fallen short.

Each of the Dixons, who are married, has served 17 years in the military. Both started out as enlisted service members and worked to become officers. Both say they are ready to support the military mission in Iraq.

But this was too much. The orders meant both would kiss their kids goodbye, leaving them parentless for several months. Ashlyn will be 3 years old in October, and Kaely is 9 months old.

"It's a system fight," John Dixon, 35, said as he sat in his Vista home last week. "It's us against the wall. I call it a wall because it doesn't move."

The Dixons moved forward with their backup plan. The captain's mother planned to skip out on work and move from Oregon into the couple's Vista home. The girls were losing their parents for a while, and the family didn't want them to have to leave their home, too.

'I saw the writing on the wall'
The Vista couple are not the only married pair of active-duty service members facing the problem. It's an issue that ultimately led Kristin Hamon to leave the Navy.

"Had we not had these increases in deployments, I probably would have stayed in," Hamon, 29, said. "I saw the writing on the wall."

Hamon, who was a lieutenant stationed in San Diego before she left the service this year and who now lives on the East Coast, said she was shocked when she learned there was no official regulation that would keep one of them home once they had children.

"A lot of people meet their spouses in the military," Hamon said in a phone conversation Thursday, "and it (the threat of dual deployments) happens a lot more than we realize."

Defense officials did not provide requested data about the number of dual active-duty marriages in the armed services.

There have been efforts to change the law to protect families from losing both parents to deployments.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer has repeatedly addressed the issue since the early 1990s, but bills she introduced that could help keep both parents out of combat at the same time have failed.

This year, Boxer has tried again, tacking on an amendment to the defense spending bill with Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. That bill is pending.

The Washington D.C.-area National Military Family Association, which fights for military families, has not taken a position on the issue of dual deployments for parents, organization official Kelly Hruska said.

"Deployment of dual military families is an operational decision and we do not get into operational decisions," Hruska said. "But we do remind leaders there is an impact on the family."

Spouses aren't the only ones facing more than one deployment in their families. There is also no current Department of Defense policy allowing family members to ask that they not serve on the same ship, in the same unit or in the same combat zone.

The Pentagon does allow a sole surviving child whose siblings were killed in combat to request a pass on combat duty.

The issue of family members fighting together in Iraq hit national news recently when Army Cpl. Nathan Hubbard, 21, died Aug. 22 in a helicopter crash. He had enlisted while grieving for his older brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Hubbard, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi in 2004.

A third brother, Army Spc. Jason Hubbard, 33, was part of the platoon that recovered Nathan's body from the crash site. After Nathan's death, Jason was sent home from his unit and was ordered not to redeploy to a hostile fire zone.

'I need to fight this fight'
When Beverly Dixon got her orders to head to Iraq, she began fighting a battle of her own. She said she went up the chain of command asking for her trip to be deferred until June, when her husband would be back on American soil.

That request was denied.

"I wear the uniform, and I take great pride in it," Beverly Dixon said. "It's been tough, but I need to fight this fight."

The couple hungrily read everything they could find about dual deployments for married couples.

"We are two officers with 17 years in, and we struggled to find any information," John Dixon said, frustration in his voice. "This has been a tough road."

So Beverly Dixon, led by her mother-in-law, turned to a number of congressmen for help. If they couldn't change her own fate, she asked, would they at least consider introducing legislation to help others?

"I know I am not the only one in this situation," Beverly Dixon wrote in her letter to Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole. "Probably just the only one stupid enough to say something."

Last week, the North County Times heard of the couple's plight and contacted them. By then, the Dixons were hopeful but seemed resigned to their fate. Both of them would be deploying, they said.

She would leave in September and end up in Iraq for a year. In January, John Dixon would climb aboard an aircraft carrier for more than four months, with the looming possibility that the ship could take him to a combat zone.

The stress may have been too much. Last week, 37-year-old Beverly Dixon ---- who hadn't realized she was six weeks' pregnant ---- miscarried.

'It should never have come to this'
After a few days of receiving questions from the North County Times about the Dixons' case, a spokeswoman for Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., e-mailed the newspaper with news that the family welcomed.

"We just got word that Lt. Dixonís orders are canceled!" wrote Lindsay Jackson Gilbride, Smith's press secretary. "Problem solved!"

Beverly Dixon was stunned to hear the news. Thrilled. And still determined to make a change in the policy.

"I'm relieved," she excitedly said. "But at the same time, it makes me want to fight even more. It should never have come to this."

She said she later learned that she was not given a waiver because of the looming deployment of her husband.

Instead, there was a loophole that pushed back her deployment. Because Kaely is less than a year old, the Navy will retroactively apply its newly passed policy that allows new mothers to delay their deployments for up to a year after a child's birth.

Kaely will be 1 in November.

"It's a Band-Aid," a still relieved but frustrated Beverly Dixon said Thursday morning. "I was told not to unpack my bags. There are other deployments out there."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 631-6624 or