The Eppersons, who now live on Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, have experienced both adversity and happiness as a military family. While Thomas Michael Epperson served his country as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, his wife Jerilyn and his daughter Caitlen have adapted to a life of frequent moves and shifting circumstances.
Jerilyn met her husband in Arizona while he was on vacation. At the time, she didn’t know anyone who served and was totally unfamiliar with the lifestyle of the military family. While happy with the new life she began with her husband, she found Thomas’s sometimes-lengthy deployments and the regular cross-country moves daunting.
Having lived in Arizona, Oklahoma, Ohio and California, the Eppersons found “family” was their only constant. At one point, Jerilyn and the Epperson children spent two years away from Thomas. He had two back-to-back deployments so his family made the difficult decision to move to Ohio to be closer to Jerilyn’s parents.
In the Buckeye State, the Eppersons found a great deal of support from the region’s many military families. It was in Ohio that Caitlen, who didn’t know any other children whose parents served in the military, first met other kids who felt the unique mix of pride and anxiety. One instance that Jerilyn found incredibly touching, all of the school’s students in Caitlen’s middle school contributed to care packages that were sent to Thomas. The gesture was especially moving, as the vast majority of her daughter’s schoolmates had never even met Thomas, but they were willing to show support for his service all the same.
When the family relocated to Massachusetts in 2013, the Epperson’s migratory lifestyle caught up with them. Frequently changing schools had caused Caitlen to become insecure and overwhelmed. A one-time honor student, Caitlen was now struggling just to pass her classes. However, after joining and receiving help from the counselors at Hanscom’s Youth Center, her life quickly changed for the better. Her formerly questionable grades improved immensely and the one-time introvert felt secure enough to begin acting in plays.
Despite the many setbacks and reversals of fortune the team has endured over the years, the Epperson’s are all diehard Cleveland Browns fans. When Thomas was deployed, Browns’ games acted as a touchstone for the family, regardless where they were in the world. Now, the entire Epperson family makes it a point to watch every Browns game they can together to reaffirm the bonds that have sustained them through the years.
On the subject of what she would say to new military families, Jerilyn offered a succinct and profound bit of advice: Stay optimistic in the face of adversity. “It gets better. It’s not always going to be this hard. Support each other, keep busy and get involved.”
Mario McKellop is a freelance writer who has covered the pop culture beat since 2010.