Iowans on a Mission: Keeping Long Distance Love Strong - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowans on a Mission: Keeping Long Distance Love Strong

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Sergeant First Class Mark Blakeman communicates with family. Sergeant First Class Mark Blakeman communicates with family.

by Sunny Layne

WASHBURN (KWWL) -- When men and women in uniform face mortal danger on a day-to-day basis, how is it possible for them to maintain loving family relationships thousands of miles away?

One family manages to stay close despite the distance, and an additional surprising sacrifice.

"I love you, too, when raindrops fall..."
Little Adam Blakeman's dad reads him a story every night, even though he is 7,000 miles away.

"We have a book that Mark recorded before he left, we read it at bedtime so he can hear Mark's voice," mother Monica Blakeman said.

Mom Monica keeps watch at home in Washburn while husband and father Sergeant First Class Mark Blakeman serves in the Iowa National Guard's First 133rd Iron Man Battalion in Mihtarlam, Afghanistan.

The Blakemans keep in touch through occasional email and cell phone calls.

"Hi daddy! Nice hair you got!"

But the highlight of communication finds the family face to face via Skype.

"It's been a slow day like most of them have been," Mark said through Skype.

"That's good. That's what I want to hear," Monica said to the laptop screen.

"Agh!" Monica said.  

"It goes offline?" Adam asked.

"Yep, it went offline," Monica answered.

Unfortunately technology glitches lurk around every conversation.

"You there?" Monica called through the computer.

"Yes I am," Mark said as he suddenly appeared. 

"Hey! We got video!" Monica said.

Mark and Monica Blakeman met through friends four years ago.

Mark worked as a lifelong member of the Iowa National Guard and Monica worked as a Waterloo Police Officer.

"Where is daddy? What's he doing?" she quizzed Adam.

"He's in Afghanistan," Adam said.

They welcomed son Adam together three years ago, and this past May they made their bond official with wedding vows.

"It's not 'if it's going to happen', it's 'when it's going to happen,'" Monica said.

Monica knew what marrying into the military meant, her family has served clear back to the Civil War.

But that didn't make things easier when she said good-bye to Mark just three months after their wedding, along with 2,800 other National Guard members.

"You know they say everyone talks about sacrifices that people make," Mark said, "but uh.. It's the family at home that faces the sacrifices."

Sacrifices like 3-year-old Adam passing another notch on his growth chart without his dad.

"Adam, how much do you miss your dad?"

"This much, this much, this much, this much!" Adam said.

"It's rough because he's at the age where he knows daddy's gone, but he doesn't really understand why," Monica said, "He'll pick up his play cell phone and call Mark."

To keep Mark a part of Adam's daily life, Monica made a 'Daddy Tree' with pictures of them together.

"It's me and daddy and mommy, that's my dad and me, me and my dad."

Little did the Blakemans know their sacrifice would go even further.

Just a month after Mark left, Monica discovered she was pregnant, due in April, at least three months before Mark returns.

"I was excited but it scared me - him not being here," she said. "He's going to miss the baby move, the heartbeat."

"She is a phenomenal persona and obviously strong," Mark said. "Going through all this by herself."

"He has me, as he calls it, 'Show him the belly' when we're on Skype, so he can see how big I'm getting," Monica said.

"Can you give daddy a kiss?" Monica said as she held up Adam to the laptop.

"Mwah," Adam said as he tried to kiss the screen.

The distance has made their bond even stronger.

And that makes saying good-bye even harder.

"I love you," Mark said. 

"I love you, too," Monica said, "Miss you."

"Bye-bye," Mark said.

"Bye," Monica said.

The Blakemans have high hopes Mark will get a two-week leave around the time of the baby's birth in April.

Online Anchor: Sunny Layne

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