07/30/06 — Mom waits for son to return from Iraq

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Mom waits for son to return from Iraq

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 30, 2006 2:06 AM

Tuesday lunches haven't been the same for Laverne Barwick since her son went to war. She said it used to be their time, the highlight of her week -- and will be again when he returns home to Goldsboro.

A few months ago, Tech Sgt. Steve Summerlin left Seymour Johnson Air Force Base for a tour in Southwest Asia. This week, his mother shared the story of raising an airman and missing him while he fights for freedom halfway around the world.

"It's not bad, except for when he's deployed," Mrs. Barwick said of having a son in the military. "I mean, I really miss him, but that's his job and I know that's what he has to do sometimes."

When Summerlin was a young boy, his mother never would have guessed he would have ended up in the Air Force, she said. All she knew was that he was meant to do great things with his life.

"I knew he was super smart and could do anything he wanted to do," she said. "So I just let him pick. I was probably one of those strange mothers. I didn't really pick what his profession would be. I just wanted him to do whatever he enjoyed doing because that's what I have always done."

After graduating from Eastern Wayne High School with the Class of 1989, and trying college for a few semesters, Summerlin finally made his career choice.

"I was really surprised when he chose the military," Mrs. Barwick said. "It just wasn't anything we had ever talked about. But the girl he had fallen in love with, her dad was in the military, and of course, Steve's dad was in the Air Force. I guess maybe he was thinking that his daddy was in the Air Force and maybe he should try it out. It worked out. Like father, like son."

Summerlin officially joined the Air Force in 1991. On Wednesday, his mother showed off old photographs from the day he decided to leave home.

"That was the last shot before he left for the Air Force," she said, eyeing a photo of her young son walking through an airport terminal, sporting a shaggy haircut and a smile. "Such a young, sweet boy."

Three years later, in July of 1994, he again got off a plane -- this time, for his return home.

"His father was battling cancer and the Air Force granted him humanitarian reassignment," Mrs. Barwick said. "It just worked out that they moved him two weeks before his first baby was born."

A little more than a year later, his father lost his battle with cancer. But the lessons he taught Summerlin as a boy are with him still, his son said.

"My dad told me one time that the best thing he could leave to me was a good name," Summerlin said. "He told me to make sure that when it was time to leave it to my children, it was still just as good."

Now, Summerlin has three little girls of his own -- Kristina, 12, Victoria, 7, and Breanna, 3. Mrs. Barwick said he must have learned a thing or two about being a good dad from his own father.

"He is just a good, good boy," she said. "I guess I should call him a man now, but he's still my boy. And he's a super dad. He loves all the girls. He doesn't mind taking them wherever they need to be, whether it's dance class or whatever."

Summerlin said his father's example still shines through in the way he raises those little girls.

"Dad's influence in my life was anytime I needed something he was there," he said. "He was just a good man, I don't know really how to describe it properly. Whether it was school, or the Boy Scouts, or baseball, if I was doing it, he was involved. Just like any father, I hope I provide a good example to (the girls). I hope that what they're seeing is a good example. I hope they use me as a role model for when they have their own children."

Still, being deployed disrupts typical family life, he said. You miss certain moments -- like his daughters' birthdays -- and it can be a lonely feeling.

"Those times are times that you don't want to miss out on," Summerlin said. "But that's part of being in the service. Our obligations take us away from that. I feel worse for them then I do for myself."

And he feels for his wife, Amy, too. When he is deployed, she takes on two roles -- mother and father.

"For them, it's difficult because everything that I do when I'm home is gone," he said. "It's a lot more on my wife. Over here I've got laundry service and meals prepared, but what she ends up with is everything I would normally help her with."

So, when he gets home, one of the first things he plans to do is send her away -- a vacation to give her some time to recover.

"I'm gonna send my wife away for a few days to get away from it for a little while," Summerlin said. "That also gives me time with the girls to get back reacquainted with them."

Miniature golf games and trips to the movies are among the activities he hopes to enjoy with his daughters soon.

"Basically, I just ask them what they want to do and anything in the world they want, my desire is to give it to them," he said.

And just because he has his "own little family" to look after when he returns, doesn't mean he has forgotten about those special Tuesdays with his mother.

"Tuesday is our lunch date" he said. "That's when we get together and just spend some time. That's something that being stationed at home allows me to do."

And it will mean the world to his mother, too, she said.

"I just love those Tuesday lunches with Steve," Mrs. Barwick said. "Sometimes, I pack us a picnic and we go to a park and eat. Those are just the best times."

And until those days are back again, she hopes the example she set as a mother helps guide him through the good and bad that comes with war.

"I hope I am a really good and loving mother, that gave him the moral values he was supposed to have and the sense of responsibility it takes to be a contributing citizen," she said. "He just knows how much I love him. That's just all there is to it."