“The real story isn’t me, it’s my wife and kids,” said Chris E. Kalafut, Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves said.
Deployment to Southwest Asia is on the horizon for Kalafut. He and his wife, Mary, have five children: Marrion, 21; Meachan, 18; Christopher, 15; Keegan, 13; and Michael, 12.
“I will miss Mary, Marrion, Meachan, Christopher, Keegan, and Michael very much — and yes, even my two dogs,” Kalafut said.
“All military members being deployed have an idea of what the atmosphere they are about to enter, either from training and/or unit passdown. However, the family are not afforded the ability, and remain somewhat in the dark as to where their loved ones are going,” he said.
“Seems that the family not only has to deal with the normal stresses of home life but also the added stress of separation. They are truly the unsung heroes for members deployed abroad,” he said.
Military service is not new to the Acworth family. After graduating from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Kalafut served on active duty with the Navy, then transitioned to the Naval Reserve where he was actively involved in the Counter-Narcotic Mission throughout Central and South America.
A Naval Reserve Officer for more than 26 years, Kalafut is currently a fulltime commercial airline pilot with Delta Air Lines.
It is the day-to-day life that pulls on the heartstrings.
“I will be missing an upcoming anniversary, college graduation, birthdays, lacrosse, football and swimming games/meets — but mostly the overall spontaneous love and fun that comes with a big family,” Kalafut said.
Even with much improved technology, challenges such as opposite times zones, work schedules and practices will be difficult to manage and cannot replace Kalafut’s presence at home.
“The biggest challenge I see for me on deployment is being able to keep the connection with all of the members of the family,” he said.
“We plan on setting some goals that we can achieve over the time we are separated. In addition to checking in on how their progress is going, we will discuss international events. I hope they will achieve their goals, improve their international awareness, and an understanding of why our country is so great,” Kalafut said.
Kalafut credits both wife and children for making the family work. “My wife, Mary, is an awesome woman and mother. She raises five great kids. If it is running an Iron Man, volunteering with the local swim team or school, she still finds time to keep the house in order and help with the school homework and projects,” he said.
“My kids excel at school and on the playing field. Marrion is a senior at UGA as a physical therapy major and a member of the track and cross country teams. Meaghan is a sophomore as communication therapist at UGA and starting to compete in triathlons. Christopher is a sophomore at Harrison High playing on the lacrosse, football and swim teams. Keegan and Michael attend Durham Middle both playing lacrosse and football,” he said.
“They try their best with all that they do. I am proud and blessed to have such a wonderful family,” Kalafut said.
Kennesaw resident Sean Kirkland parents with an open heart.
He and wife Laura recently adopted 4-year-old Lucy from China. The couple has three biological children: Zoey, 9; Henry. 7; and Finn, 4.
When Laura wanted to adopt four years ago, Kirkland appeased her with a “head nod.”
“It pretty much didn’t go anywhere past that. I was giving approval but didn’t have any heart to it,” said the Marietta native and 1993 Marietta High School graduate.
Kirkland is a filmmaker and owner of Pursuit Productions, a video and productions company.
Laura tabled the issue but subsequently brought it up a year later. Again, Kirkland said, “Sure, let’s do that but I didn’t give a second thought to it.”
After the second conversation, however, Sean felt God speaking to his heart.
“(God) basically opened up something in me that I didn’t really realize was right in front of my face,” he said.
Kirkland’s father, Anthony Kirkland, was raised in orphanage.
“He grew up his whole life in an orphanage as a young man. He was never adopted,” he said.
Kirkland said there was an unspoken pain in his father. After his father left the orphanage, he attended Georgia Southern University, graduated, and went on to become a lawyer.
“To give a child a home would make all the difference in the world,” said Kirkland, who yielded to God’s call. “When that hit me, I said, ‘yes.’ That was a huge turning point for me in terms of my motivation and my excitement for the process. It made a personal connection to my family’s background.”
In July 2013, the Kirklands and daughter Zoey traveled to an orphanage in Hefei in the Anhui Province of China. They returned Aug. 8, 2013, with Lucy, who was deaf but has since had two successful surgeries for Cochlear Implants. Lucy is expected to eventually hear and speak normally.
The adoption experience has been “an amazing thing” for the Kirklands.
“It’s so much more than I initially thought. It’s been a huge healing thing with our family in terms of a connection with my dad and Lucy. They really have a sweet connection as grandfather and granddaughter. It’s been a neat healing process. It’s been something the Lord’s led us through that’s been incredible,” Kirkland said.
“For me, being a dad has shown me the heart of God more than anything else. When you are a dad and you have this massive, almost crushing love inside for a child, you have a better understanding of how much God loves you and how much he would do for you out of that love. You can’t comprehend it. It does not manifest itself until you’re put in that position,” Kirkland said. “Being a father opens up a window for you,” he said.
Kirkland said he hoped his children would learn many traits from him such as an appreciation of life, a deep love for God, compassion and the importance of family.
He said, “I’d like them to learn trust. In a broken, mistrusting world, they need to know they can trust. I’d like it to have begun with how I interacted with them.”
Fathers play an important role in a child’s life.
“It’s very much a shaping factor in your identity and who you become. It’s an amazing honor to be a father,” Kirkland said.