Being away from family for months at a time has become a common experience for 40-year-old Army Captain Jose Espinoza of Lincolnville, but as he gets older, it gets harder and harder.
“It’s tough and getting more and more difficult,” he said. “Now, all I want to do is come home.”
He surprised his children by showing up at a Centre pep rally Oct. 14.
His 18-year-old daughter, Summer, jumped into his arms when she saw him, and tears of joy filled her eyes.
“I was in shock,” she said. “I was so excited. It was a surprise. I can’t wait for him to be home all the time. It’s hard to see him leave.”
Espinoza is on a short vacation from a two-year deployment at Rhine Ordinance Barracks in Kaiser Slautern, Germany.
The Espinozas moved to Lincolnville in 2013. They have eight children ranging in age from 21 to 5 years old.
One could say they are sports fanatics. Jose and his wife, Jennifer, both coached at the high school level in the Fairfield school district early in their marriage.
Lainey Bell, the oldest, lives at home and is a paraprofessional at Centre Middle School. She also is assistant volleyball coach and junior high volleyball and girls’ basketball coach.
“My dad’s deployment was one of the main reasons I came back home from Valley Center, where I was living with my grandmother,” she said. “It’s pretty hard, but it brings us closer together and makes it really special when we can be together.”
Summer, a senior, plays volleyball, and Xavier, a sophomore, plays football. Eighth-grade twins Samantha and Alysha and their sixth-grade sister, Lili, are active in middle school sports. Trinity is a third grader, and the youngest, Sophie, is in kindergarten.
Espinoza served two deployments in Afghanistan, one in 2002, and the other in 2009. This has been his longest deployment.
He said the most difficult thing is missing his family’s milestones and activities.
“I missed Lainey’s graduation and I’m missing out on Summer’s senior year,” he said. “I’ve missed out on many anniversaries and birthdays. It’s not my choice. It’s because I’m out training and fulfilling my duties.”
The children hope their father can come home for Christmas, but he doesn’t know yet if he can.
They keep in touch by phone, Skype, and Facetime.
Espinoza is Logistics Officer in Charge at the Army’s 212th Combat Hospital in Germany. He works long days overseeing acquisition of all manner of supplies from building materials to food. He also oversees transportation of those materials throughout Europe.
“”Working 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. is a good day,” he said. “Usually, it is longer.”
Last summer, with the U.S. working together with NATO allies, he supervised the establishment of an entire field hospital operation in Poland.
“With all the tension in the world, it’s stressful right now,” he said. “I told Jennifer I’m losing my hair. It’s rewarding, but it’s tough.”
Espinoza hopes to be promoted to Major soon and plans to retire in four years. He is hoping for an early release from his deployment so he can come back next summer. Otherwise, he is committed until January 2018.
“I’m done sacrificing at my family’s expense,” he said. “I truly believe it is a pleasure and privilege to serve in the Armed Forces, but it’s time to pass on the torch to someone else.”
Espinoza likens his life and his children’s lives to the experience he had serving in an airborne division at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where he learned how to parachute out of planes.
“It is exhilarating,” he said. “You jump out into the open air, and there’s a moment when you are free falling. Then the chute opens and it’s like ‘Wow! You can see the world.’
“Was it the smartest decision? Absolutely not,” he said, noting knee and back problems from all the hard landings. “But I would do it again if I could. It’s rubbed off on my children. They are ready to leap before they look. I tell them, you can be afraid, but don’t let that hold you back. That first step is important.”
Espinoza plans to start another career after retirement but is not sure what that will be. He is considering teaching and coaching.
“I know we will retire in Kansas,” he said. “We thought we would be here for just two years, but the kids want to stay in this area. The community has welcomed us and taken us in.”
Until his return, the family will carry on, relying on relatives and community to help as needed.
“It’s a comfort to know they are there,” Espinoza said.
“We don’t have a father figure here, but I know he’s here,” Summer said.