MARJAH DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
Cpl. Timothy Stark wrings his hands, unconsciously tapping the wedding band on his ring finger as he speaks about his wife and unborn daughter.
The rigors of deployment are not new to Stark, a mortarman with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. This time, however, he has deployed to a combat zone not as a single Marine, but as a husband with a daughter on the way.
Stark is now on his third deployment with 1/6. He served with the battalion in Garmsir, Helmand province in 2007-2008, and deployed with 1/6 again during Operation Moshtarak, the push to remove insurgents from Marjah last year.
Now, the battalion has returned to the same city to help Afghan National Security Forces with reconstruction and security.
And now, Stark balances the responsibilities of being a Marine, husband and father.
“It’s definitely harder this time, and you do miss [your family],” said Stark, while waiting for an open phone at the battalion’s Moral and Welfare Center.
Stark hopes to wish his wife a good morning before he goes to bed. Between the East Coast and Helmand province, there is an 8.5-hour time difference.
“I miss my wife a lot and wish I could be with her, but at the same time, you know they’re safe and will be there when you get home,” Stark said. “If you have a strong marriage, you have that trust and that confidence, and you know they’ll be there when you get back.”
Stark’s ultra long distance relationship is a change unlike anything he’s experienced in the Marine Corps. He has adapted to the shifting tactics of insurgents, who fought coalition forces with platoon-sized forces in Garmsir, shifted to squads and sniper teams in Marjah, and now rely almost solely on improvised explosive devices. However, prolonged separation from loved ones is a totally unfamiliar challenge, he said.
“I’ve gotten married, and now I have a daughter on the way on my third deployment,” said Stark, from Westerlo, N.Y. “One thing I’ve learned is how to adapt. I honestly think it will be harder for me to adapt to being a dad, but I’m going to do the best I can.”
The pain of separation, however, is only the negative side of a dynamic relationship. Although longing for his wife and children occasionally distracts him from his role here, the same longing drives him forward, he explained. He is ever conscious of his wife and children waiting at home, and he carefully attends to his duties so he can safely return to them.
“I used to look forward to cracking open that first beer, or having that first barbeque -- seeing the friends who couldn’t be there with you on deployment, or the one’s that got injured and came home early,” said Stark. “But this year … the one thing I want most is to hold my newborn daughter.”
Editor’s note: This is the second installment in an ongoing series which will highlight the lives and growth of junior servicemen within 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, during their deployment to Afghanistan.