‘Hearts Apart’ program supports military families during deployments

Inside The Gates
'Hearts Apart' program supports military families during deployments
Updated: Sep. 28, 2022 at 4:00 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Moving to Alaska in January, after previously being stationed in Illinois, was difficult for Kenzie Easter and her family.

Rather quickly, Easter had to register her 10-year-old son Liam for school and get adjusted to the different Alaska climate, while her husband Rickey — who serves with the U.S. Air Force — was preparing to leave for a six-month deployment.

“Then my husband actually deployed shortly after we moved here,” Easter said. “So, coming to a new place, starting over essentially and then he left.”

Countless families on base experience a loved one being deployed. During her husband’s deployment, Easter discovered the on-base program, Hearts Apart. The program helps military families work through the internal battles many families face during deployments.

“It reduces their mental health and also promotes that connectedness,” U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Dorothy Cadenas said.

The program hosts events outdoors, at a rock climbing gym, and game nights, as well as art and craft sessions for families to participate in.

“Me and my son are kind of homebodies, so we have gotten out. Ms. Dottie has been super amazing. We have tried new stuff that we would never try without this program,” Easter said. “... It’s hard when your spouse is deployed because if there’s like a family emergency, you don’t have family here, so you’ve really got to rely on those friends — that’s what helps with the deployed spouses — and being able to actually reach out to those if you need help.”

Easter can reach out to fellow moms, dads, and spouses who just understand what it means to have a loved one deployed.

“Because you don’t get the judgment,” Easter said. “If things are getting rough and you just really need to vent ... It helps to have that.”

Once their spouses return from deployment, their entire family can continue participating in the Hearts Apart program for another year, a critical step in families uniting.

Cadenas said families can struggle to adjust to the new sense of normal that appears when a loved one leaves or returns from deployment. Cardenas said this program can help families reunite.

“That connecting piece is going to be really crucial to helping them say, ‘Okay we’re not alone,’” Cadenas said.

It’s something that Easter said her husband is already looking forward to.

“He’s excited to bond over the activities as well,” Easter said.