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While Daddy's gone

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Coffee County - It's a whole new world for 21-year-old Arly Pridgen.

"Usually we get up around 8:00 and bathe the baby," said Pridgen.

Adjusting to life as a new mom is hard. But adjusting to that life without her husband is even harder. "My husband left January 2nd, the baby was born January 10th," said Pridgen.

Specialist Eric Pridgen is at Ft. Stewart training for war. He was able to come home when little Jackson was born, but only for two short days. "He held and rocked the baby the whole time, and spoiled him."

Pridgen is part of the 121st Infantry, 2nd Battalion National Guard Unit based in Valdosta. In the spring, his unit will head to Iraq. "We're hoping to have him back by next April," said Pridgen.

But by next April, his son will be a completely different person. "He thought he wouldn't remember him when he came back and he'd miss out on a part of his life he'd never get back but then he thought he was going there so other soldiers could come home who haven't seen their babies," said Pridgen.

And Arly's doing everything she can to keep this father and son connected. "We're going to tape Eric reading a book to him and he talks to him on the phone every night and maybe send him some letters on tape so he can know his voice," said Pridgen.

For this new mother, the most important thing is letting her husband know she's fine, and everything at home is taken care of. "I want his mind focused on his job, so he can get it done and come back home," said Pridgen.

And she is doing great, with family and friends always close to help with the new baby. (37:04/"They do a lot of grocery shopping, I had a friend come out and clean my yards a little while ago and just things Eric would do if he were home," said Pridgen.

Helen Vaughn is dealing with the same stress as Arly Pridgen, but she's got double duty. Cheyenne is a year and eight months old, baby Catherine is eight weeks. "Cheyenne's usually crying because she wants me to hold her instead of holding this one," said Vaughn.

Specialist Chris Vaughn left for Ft. Stewart the day after his wife and new baby left the hospital. He will be gone for more than a year, missing first steps, first words, and many other milestones. "I let them talk to him, I know she can't say anything but I let her listen to his voice over the phone," said Vaughn.

His voice and his pictures will remind his daughters of the sacrifices their daddy's making. "I tell them Daddy's at work, he's doing what he needs to do," said Vaught.

Helen also depends on family and friends to help with the kids, but she has a little more experience than Arly. Specialist Vaughn left for a mission a week after Cheyenne was born. "He missed her first birthday, we were hoping he'd be here for her next b-day but that sort of changed," said Vaughn.

Both mothers know the next year will be a long and lonely one, but their proud of their husbands and will have a great story to tell their kids when their old enough to understand. "I'll tell him that his Daddy made an obligation to his country and he needed to fulfill that, that he made a promise and he had to go even though he didn't want to," said Prigden.

And they'll give these little ones enough love and protection for both parents, until their daddy's are back home.

posted by ashley.harper@walb.com

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