U.S. Air Force Major Kirk Rowe at a home in Clifton
with his wife, Christina, and their children, Forrest and Merideth.
serviceman in Saudi Arabia, a dad like everyone else at home
Dads like Clifton resident Kirk Rowe dont leave their families for
three months on a moments notice for just anything. But when they
are called by the U.S. military, they take their leave proudly.
Major Rowe, a clinical neuropsychologist in the 74th Medical Squadron
at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, remembered the apprehension he had
a year ago about leaving his wife and two young children for the first
I was in the hot seat for quite a while, a couple months prior to
going, Rowe said. A lot of people love to go, but I didnt
get that. I was worried about leaving my family.
Rowes wife, Christina, recalled her anxiety.
I wasnt excited at all because we didnt know if it would
be six months with no communication and possibly not knowing where he
was, she said.
After Rowe learned last March that he would be spending 90 days at Prince
Sultan Air Base in northeastern Saudi Arabia, the family had a place and
a time frame to work with. Four-year-old Meredith got a calendar to count
down the days until her fathers return. She kept track for herself
and her 1-year-old brother, Forrest.
Rowe flew out March 7 on a commercial airline for a 17-hour flight to
Riyadh. It was his first trip overseas and his first time in the air since
the World Trade Center attack just six months before. But his anxiety
was put to rest shortly after arriving at what he called a well-established
base with a great crew to work with at the hospital.
Rising at 5:30 a.m. every morning with the desert sun to catch the bus
to the base hospital, Rowe spent his 10- to 12-hour days counseling and
evaluating military personnel. Most service peoples issues involved
the strain the distance put on relationships with people back home, Rowe
Its difficult doing marital therapy when one spouse is 5,000
miles away and the spouse here is wanting out, he said. Its
like doing one-sided marital counseling.
For the most part, Rowe said, the medical people there are not that
busy. Were there basically waiting for something to happen.
In fact it was so quiet that Rowe taught smoking cessation classes for
service members who, he said, wanted to do something positive while
they were there.
But fostering intercultural exchange was not on the agenda since military
personnel were not allowed to go off the base other than for express
purpose, Rowe said. The only multicultural interaction he had was
with third country nationals, people from countries other
than the U.S. and Saudi Arabia who are hired for duties such as cooking,
cleaning and laundry services on the base.
U.S. military personnel were also not allowed to drink alcohol out of
respect for Saudi Muslims, who dont drink, Rowe said. But no alcohol
meant no trouble from alcohol abuse, which reduced the responsibilities
for the mental health professionals who deal with those types of incidents,
Restrictions such as these tended to open up time for other activities,
such as communicating with loved ones back home.
But usually personnel had to wait in line for one 15-minute phone call
per week, Rowe said. And if they were clever, after the first call they
would clamor to the back of the line for a second. Rowe was lucky enough
to have a phone in his room.
Phone calls and online chats often had to be scheduled because of the
eight-hour time difference between Ohio and the base in Saudi Arabia.
It gave our daughter some control knowing when to call, Christina
The Rowes did not know how their children would react or how much they
would understand their fathers absence. Both trained psychologists,
Kirk and Christina watched Meredith especially to see how she would handle
We explained to her, Daddys going a long way to help
people, Christina said. She said, Thats
sad and kind of scary.
The first week her father was gone Meredith seemed clingy,
Christina said. But once she realized her world wasnt going to change,
she got excited about phone calls to her father and the packages he sent
with desert photos and stuffed camels.
With a less than demanding work schedule, Rowe had a number of other diversions
to choose from.
There was a big gym with a pool, organized sports to play or watch, and
the bases movie theater. There were letter-writing parties where
troops would respond to letters of appreciation from individuals from
The two main chow halls served great food, Rowe said, with the freshest
of melons, apples, pears and thousands and thousands of cookies. And if
the service personnel ever really got to longing for their American roots,
they could sit down with a Burger King Whopper and a scoop of the 31 flavors,
just like here at home, and watch the cheerleaders from the Baltimore
Ravens who came to support the troops overseas.
Rowe said he spent most of his time reading and thinking of his daughter
watching the same moon he saw over the desert at night.
He could read all day, the cooking was done for him, there were
no poopy diapers to change. . . . Christina said. If it wasnt
for missing his family, it was like a vacation for him.
But when 90 days rolled around and Rowe learned his departure would be
delayed indefinitely, it was a blow for the whole family.
Psychologically, you gear yourself up for it in the beginning. You
say, O.K., 90 days, Christina said. It was emotional
for me when we had to change the arrival date on the calendar.
As a counselor, it was Rowes job to reassure others that they would
return home safely when it was time, and yet he became nervous when his
date was commuted, he said.
Luckily he only stayed 10 extra days before June 17, when he rejoined
his family in Ohio.
Meredith especially was overwhelmed, and none of us realized how
much she had missed him, Christina said. For the next few
days she would touch him and want to be near him all the time.
It didnt take Rowe long to remember Saudi Arabia hadnt been
all good. There were sandstorms and days when the temperature reached
110 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Youd get dirt in your mouth all the time, he said. I
like being here at Wright-Patt, I like cloudy Ohio.
Rowe said that the deployment schedule for his division works on a 15-month
rotation. As long as the political climate remains steady, he could be
up for redeployment again by the fall.
It will be harder the next time because the kids are getting older,
and the next base wont be as nice, he said.
Rowe comes from a tradition of military parents, uncles, grandparents,
but he seemed surprised to hear himself say he wants to stay with it.
I like being part of something bigger, Im proud to go to Saudi
Arabia, he said.
Christina, also a former military officer, thinks about how their military
life affects the familys involvement with the Yellow Springs schools
and the Community Childrens Center, where Meredith attends school.
Yellow Springs isnt a real fit for the military, she
said, but my thought is that we need more of that thinking in the