FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City - For two senior leaders of the Philippine Army, achieving success as a professional soldier and as a family man is possible.
Colonel Arthur Ang, the current Brigade Commander of the Army’s 901st Infantry Brigade, and Chief Master Sergeant Guillermo Francisco, the Army’s Command Sergeant Major, said that military service and family life should go hand in hand.
Both 51, they believe that a soldier can’t afford to be successful in one and a failure on the other. Failing in one would be personally devastating. These two fathers take pride in being successful in both worlds.
For his part, Ang firmly believes that there is no value of having a successful military career but having a broken or dysfunctional family.
“The good news is that winning in both fronts is achievable. Failure in one is never an option; hence, finding the right balance is paramount. The key lies on the understanding, cooperation, and having a common direction towards proper molding of the children. ” explained Ang.
Meanwhile, Francisco’s secret formula for a successful marriage is not simply communication but consistent communication. He said that this requires extra efforts for the soldier and his wife.
“Even before the popularity of the cellular phones and the internet, I never failed to consistently communicate to my wife and children as part of my responsibility as the leader of my the family. I‘m well aware that coming short to my obligation as a father would have a negative impact to the well-being of my family.” he said.
‘No time for Love’
During the early days of their military career, Army soldiers are normally sent to the frontlines for their combat duties. Naturally, adventurous and young soldiers are the workhorses of the Philippine Army in its counter-insurgency operations and other tasks.
As a young and adventurous lieutenant who wanted a piece of real action, Ang started his military career fighting the secessionist rebels in Basilan island as a Platoon Leader of the 45th Infantry Battalion in 1981.
After a year, he found himself scaling the mountain ranges of Luzon when his unit was redeployed to confront the growing influence of the communist terrorists there.
“Due to the demands of my combat assignment, I rarely met my parents and my wife, Evangeline, who was still my girlfriend during that time. Since I was still single in the first four years of my military service, I focused on performing my job well as a company grade officer and learning other tradecrafts as much as I can.” revealed Ang.
On the other hand , Francisco, trained as an elite Scout Ranger, scoured the hinterlands of the Visayas islands as a young Private of the Army’s Special Warfare Brigade in the early 80‘s.
When he was assigned with the Army’s rapid deployment force, the First Scout Ranger Regiment (FSRR), he found himself hopping from one island to another, widening his forays to the enemy’s heartland in Mindanao and the lush forests of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges.
“In the FSRR, I had practically no time for love. At duty’s call, we get to deploy from one place to another in a moment’s notice. Soldiery became my first love and my rifle as my wife!” said Francisco as he laughed. “In the first twelve years of my career, I was single. It was in 1983 that I married my beloved wife Annielyn.“
Communicating with the Family
While carrying out their jobs in the military, both Ang and Francisco tried their best in performing their other important role - as a husband and as a father. They have placed high value to family despite the time-demanding and financially-constraining military profession.
They both believe that effective communication is the best remedy for their absence from home and other family predicaments.
Ang said that establishing constant communication with his family has been a habit for him. He said that the lack of postal service in Basilan in the early 80’s did not hinder him to maintain his constant contact with his wife.
“I wrote my love letters using ‘palara’ (cigarette pack) then sent it through any of my soldier who is about to go on leave in Luzon,” he narrated fondly.
With no advanced technological gadget that could deliver real-time communication, the military tactical radio set became the preferred mode of communication among soldiers and their families during that period. The ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio, the URC 187, became the ever precious link between soldiers and their loved ones. Though connecting both ends using the said radio is cumbersome, it nonetheless served its purpose and made everyone happy even for a moment.
Ang said that his wife availed of this communication line through his Unit liaison office in Fort Bonifacio.
Franciso likewise said that the same equipment had served as the main link to his family during his deployment to distant posts.
“Through the wonders of that superb equipment, we were able to talk even when I was in the boondocks and away from civilization. Can you imagine how it felt hearing the voice of your beloved after weeks, or even months, in the jungle?” said Francisco as he reminisce it with a smile.
The advent of the cellular phone in the military in mid-90s gave the soldiers the ability to reach their loved ones much easier and in an instant. Their family members don’t need to go to nearby camps and queue for a few hours to avail of free calls using the URC187 radio.
Ang, while undergoing a specialization training in Australia, spent much of his allowances on phone cards. He virtually burnt the lines chatting with his wife and only son, sharing their respective experiences.
Similarly, through his own cellular phone, Francisco continuously performed his role as a father even when he was in the hinterlands of Basilan sometime in 2002. “I helped my children with their school homework through text messages and phone calls. I helped them solve the problems then relay the answers through text messages,” he narrated with a wide grin.
The military father
Both wives of Ang and Francisco quit their respective jobs in order to dedicate themselves as full-time housewives.
“My wife abandoned her career to look after our son 24/7. We knew from the very start that it would mean financial difficulty but our son’s welfare and correct upbringing was our top priority,” Ang resolutely said.
Francisco ably convinced his wife to quit her job by the time their eldest child, Angeline, was born. He didn’t want to follow other soldiers who chose to tag along their families even in far-flung military detachments.
“I wanted my children to be personally reared by their mother in a family-friendly community while I was far away. I delegated most of my fatherly duties to my wife and I was lucky that she performed them very well. My wife is one tough cookie, she is a mother who can truly enforce order in our household. I’m truly fortunate to have her as my wife.” Francisco said warmheartedly.
Being constantly away from home, military children are normally closer to their mothers than their soldier-father.
Aware of this fact, Ang and his wife constantly remind their son about his father’s sacrifices in the service of the country and the nobility of the military profession. Through his wife, Ang ably remained as the father-figure in their son’s life despite his long absences.
Ang also believes that military fathers should not be too harsh on their children. Dealing with the kids is a bit tricky and can easily go haywire especially if they are treated as in a martial manner.
“As a father who is most of the time away from home, I cannot afford spending my limited time mistreating his son. I think that children who are mistreated by their soldier-father tend to become rebellious. Everytime I come home, I dedicate my time in our ‘bonding moments’ to create good memories about my presence,” Ang explained.
He further said that it is very important to maintain the ‘right balance’ and the role of the mother is crucial to the success of the household .
As an officer, there were times that Ang was designated to positions of major responsibility. During those times, going home became much more difficult.
“When I was a Battalion Commander in Bataan, my wife used to request that my son be allowed to take the written exams in advance so that they can spend time with me longer during school breaks,” he said. “Because I can’t go home to spend vacation, my family usually come to my headquarters in the field to stay with me for a week or two. We made necessary adjustments to maintain our excellent relationships”.
As an enlisted man, Francisco usually avail of the 15-day Rest and Recreation (R&R) privilege once every six months. When he was posted in remote assignments, it meant he can spend only about 10-days with his family taking into consideration the length of travel.
“Whenever I am home, I maximized my time with my wife and children. I used my limited time as an opportunity to make up with my absence by being with them all the time - watching TV shows, attending church services, and dining out. In our house, I transform from pure soldier to being jack-of-all-trades…being the carpenter who fixes whatever kinks in our house, a cook for my wife and kids, a nanny, an errand guy, a clown to make them laugh, etc. I did try my best to compensate for my absence. I kept telling myself, “I am a Scout Ranger, therefore I can do everything for the welfare of everybody especially for my family. Some may find it funny but it‘s true”, he said with a laugh.
When Ang was posted as a military attache in China, his family made a difficult choice. He convinced his son to temporarily quit his college studies in order to come with him to Beijing.
All that he wanted was to strengthen his relationship with his son. He noticed that he was closer to his mom and that he was drifting away from him
“Despite the fact that I am not a stranger to him, my son tend to confide to his mother. He turns to her for his financial requirements and other personal issues. In one way or another, I ‘envy’ my wife so I decided to bring them along with me in my new assignment,” said Ang.
Our stay in Beijing was probably the best time in our lives. For three years, we lived normally as one happy family - dining together, strolling around, and watching movies.
“My son became my ‘barkada’ (best friend) due to this assignment. It is priceless and I owe it to my military service,” Ang confided.
Winning in both fronts
Among military men, winning both in the home front and in their military career is an outstanding success.
“Knowing that my son has never been into any vice is already a big success for me. He has acquired the right attitude of a Filipino citizen and he never bragged about his soldier-father nor abuse his father's position,” Ang proudly said.
“I could not contain my happiness knowing that he has appreciated my military service and that he fully appreciate the sacrifices of our soldiers and their families in the service of our country. He never whined about my continuous absence. I owed everything to my loving and supportive wife, Evangeline,” Ang said.
Having simple dreams in life, Ang said that he has fulfilled his life’s aspirations. As a Brigade Commander, he would soon become a star-ranked officer.
“To become a General officer is already a bonus for me and I will repay our country with my honest and dedicated service until my retirement day in August 2015,” Ang humbly vowed.
Meanwhile, as the most ranking non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the Philippine Army, Francisco is in the pinnacle of his career. Having been recognized as one of the most respected NCO-leaders in the AFP, he is also an awardee of Metrobank and Rotary Club Makati-Metro’s The Outstanding Philippine Soldiers. Truly, he is an accomplished soldier.
Francisco is now busy doing some rounds to various Army field units and consulting with the soldiers while sharing his life’s valuable lessons.
Proud of his six well-disciplined children, Francisco said that they are his main accomplishments. He aims to motivate his fellow soldiers to follow his path.
“For the past years, I do not celebrate Father’s Day but I will this year. I will celebrate it by setting myself as an example that being a good soldier-father is very much possible. The dual role of being a father and a soldier is a challenge that we need to overcome and succeed. Yes, having a good career is rewarding but having a wonderful family is truly satisfying personally and spiritually. And to respectfully quote and modify few lines from George Skypeck‘s poem, “I was that which others did not want to be…I asked nothing from those who gave nothing. And reluctantly accepted the thought of eternal loneliness... should I fail. I have seen the face of terror; felt the stinging cold of fear; and enjoyed the sweet taste of a moment’s love. I have cried, pained, and hoped...but most of all, I have lived times others would say were best forgotten. At least someday, I will be able to say that I was proud of what I was...a soldier…and a good father to my family.” Francisco self-effacingly said in closing.