The Story Behind the Photograph

The Story Behind The Photo | Andrew Craft

Just recently my newspaper did a follow up story on the Jenkins family that was featured in the photograph above in 2006. Read the story below.

Story by Drew Brooks
On a visit to Fayetteville in March 2009, first lady Michelle Obama was given a photograph of a Fort Bragg soldier who was going to war.
The photograph, titled "Tearful Departure" by Fayetteville Observer photographer Andrew Craft, shows the Iraq-bound soldier grasping the hand of his soldier wife from the inside of a bus as their daughter cries.
To many, the photograph was the embodiment of the type of sacrifice that has become commonplace on Fort Bragg since Sept. 11, 2001 - family members going to war while others stay behind, hoping their loved ones come home safely.
By the time Obama received the photograph, the two soldiers pictured had been separated for more than three years.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Claude Jenkins is the soldier seen reaching from the bus.
His ex-wife, now Maj. Shelia Jenkins, is the woman clutching a tearful Khadyajah, who was 7 at the time.
The Jenkinses said they had no idea they were being photographed on Aug. 23, 2006.
The photo was taken outside Funk Physical Fitness Center on Fort Bragg, where family members said goodbye before soldiers were bused to the flights that would take them overseas.
Claude Jenkins was headed to Iraq with with other members of the 82nd Sustainment Brigade.
"It was a surprise to me," he said of the photograph. "There was a lot of emotion there."
The deployment was Claude Jenkins' first. Until then, he had spent his more than 15-year Army career at military posts around the world but never at war.
His wife had been deployed one time before, to the Philippines in 2003.
He said his daughter was taking his deployment particularly hard.
The deployment marked the beginning of the end for the couple's marriage, he said.
Shelia Jenkins said she deployed to Korea months after her husband left, leaving the children stateside with a nanny.
"It was difficult to be in three different countries at once," she said. "That's stressful for both parents and kids."
Court records show that when Jenkins' wife filed for divorce in February 2008, she listed Aug. 24, 2006, as the date of separation.
"I guess you could say I won the battle against terrorism but lost the battle on the home front," said Claude Jenkins, who is now stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va.
With two children at home, the stress and strain of military life were too much for the couple's relationship, Claude Jenkins said. The two began discussing divorce while both were deployed and filed after the 15-month deployment was over.
"We decided that divorce would be a course of action we both would agree with," Claude Jenkins said. "We tried to hang in there. We gave it all we could."
The two wed in October 1990 after meeting while stationed in Germany. The romance was quick and, just over nine months later, their first child, Olajuwon, was born. Khadyajah was born in 1998.
With two children, the couple said they found it difficult to balance their obligations to family and the military.
The marriage began to fall apart in the post 9/11 world, Claude Jenkins said.
"It makes a marriage much more difficult when both parents are on the opposite side of the world," he said. "While the other is away, you develop a system to keep the household functioning. When you return, reintegrating takes time. All the while, birthdays and holidays are being missed."
The couple said it was difficult for them to readjust after these periods of separation.
"It caused a strain," he said. "We were really challenged just to get back on par. The way things were going, (divorce) was the best course of action. Such is life."
"Some families figured out a way to stick with it. We didn't."
"You get the best and sometimes the worst," Shelia Jenkins added. "It can be worth it. But you have to work very hard."
Now several years removed from the divorce, Claude Jenkins said the couple get along just fine.
Shelia Jenkins is getting ready for a new assignment in Honduras.
Claude Jenkins said his Army career - now at 22 years - is drawing to a close soon.
"I'm ready to pursue another career," he said. "I'm talking with my daughter about opening a frozen yogurt store."
Khadyajah, now 12, is excited about that, Claude Jenkins said.
His son, 20-year-old Olajuwon, is considering a military career, something both parents are encouraging.
After his deployment to Iraq, Claude Jenkins said, he thought little about the photograph.
That is until March 2009, when friends on Fort Bragg spotted the photo at the Obama visit and recognized it.
At the time, he was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. His ex-wife and children were in Korea.
Claude Jenkins said he went online and confirmed the story.
"I saw the picture of myself, my ex-wife and my daughter, sitting off to the side," he said. "It was one of those momentous moments."

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