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The March of Motherhood: A Single Mom’s Life As A Soldier

When a soldier’s duty is to their country, how does a single mother balance her commitment to being a servicewoman as well as both a mother and father to her children?

There’s one question that soldier parents may dread answering: How do you prepare your kids for the possibility that something might go wrong in the field? Single mom and soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Teresita Gangan, thinks for a moment before shaking her head. “You know what, I don’t think I ever did,” she admits.

It’s a situation that most soldiers don’t wish to entertain. Yet, it’s one of the occupational hazards they signed up for. The fear of leaving their loved ones behind is a reality they cope with as they protect other people’s families — “It’s a sacrifice that we make,” says Lieutenant Colonel Teresita Gangan. “I stay awake 24/7 so they [the families] can sleep peacefully at night.”

There’s a saying that goes, “Some must fight so that all may be free.” And for the many modern-day families who sleep soundly at night, it’s because soldiers and military officers like this single mom make that sacrifice.

The March of Motherhood: A Single Mom's Life As A Soldier
Source: Teresita Gangan

A dedicated military officer and mother

“Once those who wish to serve swear their oaths, their lives are the government’s,” shares the lieutenant colonel. “Our families, I think, understand that. While they should be a priority, our priority will always be our service.”

Although the Magna Carta for Women and Gender is slowly improving the military scene for women, there are still moments where being a mother has an unwritten rule: parental duties should not hinder one’s ability as a soldier. Unfortunately, for Teresa, it means missing quite a lot of milestones in her children’s lives. “So many birthdays, so many recognition days, holidays missed — because I was doing my job. Just because I was on duty…” she trails off.

She recalls the many days that she returned home late at night only to wake up at 4 AM to bring her kids to school. But the sad smile on her face shows the guilt she had to constantly cope with. “It’s tough — the guilt,” she admits. “I just try just to make up for all the absences because I know my kids understand…”

Many of her friends in the military comfort her with the truth that there must be something she did right. Instead of moving her children around like how most do, she opted to make them stay in one spot. “I wanted them to have that stability,” she admits. “I know it’s a sacrifice [of not being within geographical range] but, I wanted them to know their roots. Right now, they have really good friends, and extra-curricular activities so, it was a good trade-off.”

Teresita Gangan's sons
Source: Teresita Gangan

But what happens when one follows in her footsteps?

It seems that the trade-off worked a little too well, for this single mom’s liking. When Teresita found out that her 20-year-old son, Lorenz, wanted to join the military, she tried to bribe him out of it. “He’s always been quite vocal about joining the military, particularly the Air Force,” she laughs softly. “His dad was a pilot but crashed in 2013. This is actually his third try to join, but he was in UP taking up Mechanical Engineering. When I asked him, he said, ‘I really want it [to join the military]. Pero kung wala pagkatapos nito, then it’s not for me.'”

She recalls lamenting her son’s choice and echoes a conversation she had with the colonel, a senior officer, and a good friend of hers. “The colonel said to me, ‘Alam mo, Tere, once your son swears that oath — pag-aari na siya ng gobyerno. While you will always be his mother, his primary duty now is with the government.”

And although she admits that a part of her was proud that she didn’t have to “flex any muscle” for him to realize his wish of joining the military, she still fears for his life, as any mother would. His near-death experience with dengue, she shares, was the first time she realized the possibility she could outlive her son. “It’s why sometimes I’d rather not say it,” she admits. “If I say it out loud, it’s like I’m confirming it.”

The pain of losing a child — whether to disease or war — is indescribable. That same pain, she recalls, was something she witnessed during the burial of a young soldier.

“The mother was hysterical,” she shakes her head. “When we gave her the folded flag, she didn’t want to accept it. She was crying as she said, and I remember, ‘Hindi ko kailangan yung bandilang yan. Ibalik niyo yung anak ko.’ To the whole Armed Forces, he was a hero. But to that mother, he was still her child. Kahit sabihin natin sa mga magulang, ‘Maraming salamat po for the service’, hindi siya nag-sisink in.”

No amount of medals and decorations will fill the void a soldier leaves behind. The oath sworn to protect the country is not just by the soldier but also by their loved ones who will have to face the possibility that they will outlive them.

Single mom soldier Teresita Gangan
Source: Teresita Gangan

Appreciation for the little chaotic moments at home

Being mindful of that possibility is what makes this single mom appreciate the little chaotic moments she has at home. Whether her boys fail to place things in their proper places or they forget a few things, she cherishes them as a breath of fresh air from the regimented and structured lifestyle in the military.

“I try to discipline them like how it’s done in the military but I can’t,” she admits. “They’re kids, not soldiers. I sometimes think that I spoil them a little. When I do try to punish them like putting them in the corner” — she chuckles — “Sometimes, I feel like they actually enjoy being in the corner.”

Besides having a newfound appreciation for the chaos her two boys leave behind, Teresita finds the silver lining in not always being a “long-term planner.” “It’s something that I also learned as a single mom since raising them alone in 2006. ‘Para matapos na ang 24-hours na ito‘ — because the next 24 hours will be different again,” she laughs. “COVID really taught us that, too. That anything can happen. You live in the present.”

Although there will come a time that she needs to “shed her uniform,” Teresita shakes her head at the notion. “Back then, I asked myself, ‘Can I see myself in anything else other than this uniform?'” — she smiles as if comforted by her answer. “The answer is no. And so long as I can see myself in it [the uniform], I will keep going.”

And while the country recognizes her efforts and her dedication to protecting the country and its families, it is her son, 17-year-old Micah, who gives the highest honor that anyone can give. “Mom, thank you for being the best parent you could be,” he says. “I think everyone knows how hard it is to raise kids and you were able to do it on your own. You’re the best parent I could’ve ever hoped for, the best mother and father in one person. I’m really grateful for you and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Happy Father’s Day, Mom!”

To the many soldiers and military parents who sacrifice their chances of a normal life to allow others to do so, thank you for fighting the good fight.

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