No home for the holidays for this soldier — for 4 years in a row
Maj. Stephen Waldrop is spending yet another Christmas on duty away from his family, this time an ocean away with the U.S. Army in Africa.
“It’s the hardest thing of my life since I’ve had kids,” Waldrop said of what is about to be his fourth Christmas away from home. “I know what I’m doing here is worthwhile, being on active duty and being a part of something bigger than me. But it’s really hard, missing my kids, having seen them only for maybe four months out of four years.”
The Fayetteville native and Newnan resident will mark Christmas again this year apart from his wife, Tracy, and their young children Alexander and Blake Elizabeth.
That is because since going on active duty in 2008 Waldrop has had only a couple of months off between tours. Next year will be the last, however, since his active duty status ends next December and will put him home for Christmas 2012.
Waldrop said Tracy makes sure his children don’t let go of the memory of their dad, something that soldiers sometimes experience.
“The first year away at Christmas was not as hard, but as kids grow older they begin to ask more questions and they ask when I’m coming home,” Waldrop said.
The emotion in his voice was evidence that his boots may be on the ground in Africa but his heart is thousands of miles away with his family in Newnan. “I Skype with them, and Tracy always has pictures of me so I’m kept fresh in their minds.”
Waldrop is a native of Fayetteville and lived there until 1994 when he and Tracy moved to Coweta County. Waldrop’s other family members are also Fayette residents, with his parents residents of Peachtree City and his brother living near Brooks. Waldrop and Tracy are partners in Fayetteville’s Waldrop and Trite law firm.
Waldrop throughout the Dec. 19 phone conversation repeatedly returned to Tracy and her sacrifices for their family while he serves overseas.
“Tracy is the real hero. She’s kept the family and the law practice going while I’ve been gone. She is the one that deserves the medals,” said Waldrop, a multiple medal-winner.
Waldrop originally served on active duty with the Georgia Army National Guard where he commanded an infantry company. Though an attorney, Waldrop’s commission is as an infantry officer.
Waldrop is currently assigned to the U.S. Army Reserve and deployed first to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, then to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and is currently deployed to Horn of Africa. His current mission, one considered to be a combat zone, is involved with stopping piracy on the Horn of Africa.
Waldrop to date has received a large number of medals signifying his level of service. Among those a Bronze Star (2), the Defense Meritorious Service Medal (the third-highest award bestowed to members of the military), the Army Commendation Medal (3), the Army Achievement Medal (3), the National Defense Service Medal (2), the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal with Star, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Star and the NATO Afghanistan Service Medal.
A recent evaluation of Waldrop’s performance stated that it was outstanding, noting that, “Steve is a keen problem-solver who develops clear, executable solutions to the most complex issues. His leadership and force of will make difficult situations improve immediately when he is in charge. Waldrop is a leader who leads from the front. Many times when something was not executing on time he would personally visit the project, accepting great risk. Combined with his infantry leadership skills, he is an officer who can adapt, overcome and achieve.”
The praise for an exceptional soldier is obviously impressive. But what is likely to be more impressive will be the look on Stephen Waldrop’s face next Christmas when he will finally be at home with Tracy and the kids.