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Special Forces soldiers celebrate daughters

Annual dance helps SF soldiers maximize time with family

Madeleine Hefner, 4, enjoys a dance with her father, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Hefner, at the annual 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) Father/Daughter Dance Sept. 17 at the American Lake Club on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. /Melanie Casey

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Being the child of a soldier is difficult enough, and this burden can be even more challenging for children of Special Forces soldiers. Frequent deployments, constant dangerous training in obscure and somewhat mystifying countries and long hours can take its toll on the relationship an SF soldier forges with his children.

"Because the Special Forces vocation demands fathers to be frequently separated from their children, fathers must intentionally maximize time together with their family," said Chap. (Maj.) John Manuel , 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) chaplain. On Friday, 1st SFG (A) offered its soldiers that opportunity when it hosted its annual Father Daughter Dance at the American Lake Club on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Organized by the 1st SFG (A) unit ministry team, the evening included a buffet dinner (with kid friendly fare, such as macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and fresh fruit) and a disc jockey spinning tunes for the dancing dads and daughters. Corsages were provided by family readiness groups, and the unit's family readiness support assistants helped decorate.

Though the glasses were charged with sparkling cider instead of champagne, the event had the look of a formal event. Pink and silver balloons tied to the chairs and floating on the dance floor complemented pink napkins on the tables and highlighted the feminine facet of the evening. About 50 girls ranging in age from a few months to late teens relished the opportunity not only to dress up but also to spend time with their fathers.

"It's nice to be able to do something special with just me and my dad," said Taylor Fernandez, 14, who has attended the event for the past four years with her father, Master Sgt. Bernie Fernandez.

"It's a great thing," said the Green Beret master sergeant. "(Because) before you know it, two deployments later and they're grown up."

The inaugural 1st SFG (A) Father Daughter Dance was held in 2002 at the unit's forward stationed 1st Battalion in Okinawa, Japan.  The dance serves as a way "to enhance the relationship between fathers and daughters in a fun and memorable setting," Manuel said. The event spread to Fort Lewis in 2006 when Col. Eric P. Wendt, who had started the tradition as the 1st Battalion commander, became the 1st SFG (A) commander. It has been an annual event since.

"It's great for the guys who are just coming back," said Chief Warrant Officer Maurice Duclos, the unit's 3rd Battalion senior warrant officer, who brought daughters Electra, 17, and Raven, 8, to the event.

"Military daughters pay a high price with their dads being gone so much," he said, noting that the Army has programs in place to reinforce the spousal relationship during reintegration such as marriage retreats and couples events, but not as much for the children. (The dance) is a way to make (them) feel special." 

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