Lake Ridge family faces loved one’s deployment

Air Force Lt. Col. Sam Epperson called his wife at home one Friday afternoon in mid-January with a question.

He had an opportunity to go to Kuwait in preparation for the war with Iraq. He wanted to know what she thought. “I told him I wasn’t happy about it but if he had to go, I would support him 100 percent,” said Suzie Epperson of Lake Ridge. “I didn’t want to hold him back from his dream. I wouldn’t want him to hold me back from a dream.”

For a serviceman, participating in a conflict is what they train often for years to do.

Forty-eight hours later Lt. Col. Sam Epperson was gone.

There are no major deploying military installations in Northern Virginia as there are elsewhere, such as North Carolina, Texas and California. Still, there are thousands of military men and women stationed in the area, many of them living in Prince William County.

They are simply neighbors and friends. Likely many also know some of them, such as Lt. Col. Sam Epperson, who are now deployed and have left their families here behind.

Suzie Epperson said her first thoughts about her husband leaving were almost overwhelming. She wondered how she was going to get along taking care of their five children alone.

The youngest of the Eppersons’ children is Landen, 8 months. Then there is Bo, 4; Sam Barkley, 9; Kristina 14; and Jamie, 16.

“Some people think it is easier since I have teenagers but actually it’s harder,” Suzie Epperson said. “They are still kids and they need supervision. They also have a lot of things going on.”

Having their father leave for Kuwait with such little warning was the first hurdle the children had to face. “It was hard on the kids having their Dad ripped away from them that quickly. They didn’t get time enough to say goodbye. There wasn’t any time to prepare them,” Suzie Epperson said.

Maybe the child hit hardest by the departure is Sam Barkely. Barkley is Sam’s middle name and the family has always called him Sam Barkley to distinguish him from his father.

Sam Barkley was used to spending a lot of time with his father who served as the coach of his football and baseball teams. “They also liked to go fishing together,” she said.

While she tries to keep the children’s routine as normal as possible, some things have changed simply because their father is not here.

Sam Epperson use to put his sons to bed every night. Now Suzie Epperson does it. She said she can tell Sam Barkley notices the change and misses his father’s presence, especially at night.

“For the first month he was gone, Sam Barkley cried every night, not sobs; I would just see the tears in his eyes,” Suzie Epperson said.

Seeing how much her son missed his father is hard for Suzie Epperson as well. “I try not to cry in front of the kids. If I do cry, it is at night after everyone has gone to bed,” she said.

Recently, however, there was an exception. Sam Barley had excitedly told his mother that he has heard a tapping noise while he was taking a shower. He said that he had prayed to God for a sign. The tapping was the sign that told him that his father wanted him to take care of the family. “It was so sweet. I couldn’t help myself but cry,” Suzie Epperson said.

Suzie Epperson said she feels fortunate to often receive phone calls from her husband. She never knows, however, when they will come. “He could call right now,” she said Friday morning. Ten minutes later the phone rang and it was him.

They didn’t talk long and the conversation was household related. The normalcy of the subject matter must be in a way reassuring that, although he is a world away, he still is able to participate in their lives.

Since the start of the war, those calls have grown to mean more to Suzie Epperson. “Every time I hear from him now I am very thankful,” she said.

The war makes her nervous and she tries not to watch the coverage on television. She does not allow her young sons to watch it at all.

“I think [the coverage] is just too much not only for me but for the public,” Suzie Epperson said.

There have been some challenges in running the family alone such as with outdoor chores like clearing the leaves out of the gutter and cleaning the garage that her husband used to do. “I do what I can do,” she said. “I just don’t have the time.”

Her parents and in-laws live close enough that they have been able to visit and help out some.

Unlike many of the servicemembers involved in the Iraq War, Lt. Col. Sam Epperson has a good idea when he will be coming home. He is scheduled to take over the command of a squadron in California and is expected to return to do that in May.

Knowing when he will be coming home “is a blessing for us,” Suzie Epperson said. “I know there are many who have no idea. I feel sorry for them.”

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