Active-duty dad reflects on hardships of parenting, military life

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Cameron Otte
  • 60 Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “I don’t like when daddy goes away; I want him here,” said Rowan Cunico, 3.

She always wants her dad around and he wants to be there. Unfortunately, Tech. Sgt. Joshua Cunico, 373rd Training Squadron military training unit flight chief, knows deploying is a part of the job and he may have to leave his wife and three children again at some point in his active-duty career.

 “As a father, the hardest part of any deployment is leaving, because you know you’re going to miss out on key moments of your child’s life that you will never be able to get back,” Cunico said.

He remembers thinking about this when he left for his first deployment as a new dad in 2014.

“When I left for Afghanistan, my son was four months old, which means I was a new father and my wife, a new mother,” Cunico said. “We were getting adjusted to raising a child when I had to go, leaving my wife to raise our child without me for a while.”

While Cunico was deployed, he served as a flying crew chief for combat and rescue missions. Finally nearing the end of his deployment, he was ready to go home, but didn’t realize there would be a change of plans.

“My deployment was supposed to be four months long, but in the end, it lasted half a year,” Cunico said. “By the time I got back home, my son was at the point where he was grabbing onto things to stand and making those funny little steps kids do when they’re trying not to fall.”

Cunico had come to realize that being away for so long not only made him miss out on time with his child, it also resulted in his son having no memory of him.

“When I returned, it was an adjustment because my son didn’t know me,” Cunico said. “He couldn’t recognize me at all; I was a stranger to my own son because I wasn’t there during the first phases of his life. So he had to warm up to me while I had to figure out how to be a dad, because my son was so young when I left. We took it one step at a time and figured it out from there.”

Nearly two years later, Cunico’s daughter, Rowan, was born, and he was intent on not missing out this time.

“When my daughter was born, I didn’t deploy until she was a full year old, so I was able to make up with her what I missed with my son,” Cunico said. “A little while later, I ended up deploying to Iraq in 2017 for five months, and leaving for this deployment wasn’t any easier than the last time. It never gets any easier because you know when you leave, you’re going to be gone for months at a time.”

During his deployment, Cunico made sure to stay in touch with family any way he can.

“While I was away for these deployments, we stayed in contact through Skype, email, calls and other various ways,” Cunico said. “We would try to talk as often as we could to catch up and make sure everything was OK.”

When Cunico returned from Iraq, he and his family began doing a variety of activities together to make up for lost time.

“We ride bikes around the neighborhood together, but my daughter is still on training wheels. We go a steady pace so she stays caught up,” Cunico said. “We go to the park; they love jumping around the playsets, and just a little while ago, we went on a road trip to Ohio to see family for a month.”

He has deployed twice since having kids and knows it could happen again at any time. So Cunico and his family make the most of their time by spending it together, he said.

“The relationship between my kids and I has only gotten stronger from our time apart,” Cunico said. ”We have learned to cherish the time that we have because, just like that, it can be taken away.”