From left, Maranda Stubbs, Zoral Stubbs, Damien Bonaparte and Jeana Bonaparte.
SHELLMAN — Christmas will be bittersweet for Zoral Stubbs and his family this year.
Not quite 2-year-old Damien, the bundle-of-energy grandson who already has Zoral and Ellen Stubbs hopping to keep up but loving every second of it, is just the right age to appreciate a visit from Santa. But even the expected bounty from Saint Nick can’t erase the reality that Damien’s mom, Jeana Bonaparte, and her twin sister, Maranda Stubbs, face when the jolly elf’s made his way back to the North Pole.
After an all-too-brief four-day Christmas vacation with Damien, Zoral and Ellen, Jeana and Maranda will fly to Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas. Then, when the next transport flight comes available — sometime between Jan. 5-15 — they will head with their unit to Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. The sisters, who are Military Police, will complete a one-year tour before returning to Southwest Georgia in October.
“I try not to think too much about it, but, yeah, it’s working on me,” Zoral Stubbs, 65, who is disabled now after a 32-year career as a truck driver, said of his twin daughters’ pending departure. “I’m proud of them for serving their country, but I know I’m going to worry.”
Jeana and Maranda both say they’re excited about the deployment, but Bonaparte admits her thoughts will always be back at home with Damien.
“I’m not really concerned about my safety in Afghanistan,” Bonaparte said. “I feel confident that our unit has trained to do its job. But I’m not sure how I’m going to take being away from Damien, especially since I am a single mom. I know dad and Ellen will do a great job of taking care of him, but it’s going to be hard being without him.”
Bonaparte will, at least, have the comfort of knowing her twin is close by. Maranda Stubbs will serve as an administrative aide — “a bodyguard, essentially” — to a colonel at the base, while Bonaparte will head up base security and force protection.
“Being an MP is as close as females (in the National Guard) get to combat, and I kind of felt there was no use being in the Army if I wasn’t going to get the full experience,” Stubbs said. “I’m a little anxious right now, but I think it comes from wanting to get in there and get this done. It’s the unknown that gets to you.”
Maranda and Jeana joined the National Guard shortly after graduating as co-valedictorians at Calhoun County High School. Stars on the state runner-up Calhoun High basketball team, the twins decided to join the Guard as a way to finance their education after active service.
“Our family grew up struggling, and we didn’t want dad to have to struggle to put us through college,” Bonaparte said. “A recruiter who came to our school told us about the (educational) benefits that come with joining the military, and since we both felt good about doing something for our country, we felt joining the Guard was something we wanted to do.”
After training at Fort Hood, at Fort Stewart near Savannah and at Camp Blanding near Starke, Fla., the twins were told in 2010 to prepare for deployment. They’ll finish training at Fort Benning near Columbus and ship out shortly after Christmas.
Zoral Stubbs became a trucker after graduating from Dougherty High School in Albany, but when a degenerative disease forced him to leave the profession, he settled into a house he, his brother and his mother bought in tiny Shellman. Not long after moving in in 2003, he met Ellen at the First Baptist Church and sparked up a courtship. They were married a short time later.
When news came that the twins would serve in Afghanistan, Zoral and Ellen made it clear that they were ready to take responsibility for Damien’s care.
“He’s spent a lot of weekends with us, so it wasn’t a dramatic change for him,” Zoral Stubbs said of his grandson. “He loves it out on our farm, being outdoors and especially seeing the tractors. He’ll sit and watch them until it’s too dark to see.
“He’s got his own toys in his corner of the living room, so he’s pretty comfortable.”
Damien was excited to get nightly calls from mom when she started training, but his attention often wanders now.
“When the phone rings, he expects it to be Jeana,” Ellen Stubbs said. “Sometimes he’ll talk with her, but sometimes he just holds the phone and listens. This is all a lot for one that age to understand.”
Bonaparte and Maranda Stubbs, who say they have that “twin connection” that allows them to complete each other’s sentences, have already made plans for their return from Afghanistan. Both are leaning toward forensics/criminal justice-type careers.
“We may stay in the Guard after we’ve completed active duty, and we’ll probably take classes while we’re overseas,” Maranda says. “We’re leaning toward attending North Georgia Military College (in Gainesville) when we return. I want to study biology and maybe minor in criminal justice and then get a master’s in forensics.”
Jeana, meanwhile, says she’ll probably focus her studies in the same field but in another direction.
“I’m more interested in psychology, in profiling,” she said. “Maranda’s more into the anthropology. Still, we’re interested in studying together.”
Bonaparte notes that her father’s and Ellen’s care for Damien makes planning for the future a little easier.
“It’s hard for me to be away from him, but he’ll understand one day that I’m doing what I think will be better for us down the road,” she said. “I have a job to do (in Afghanistan), and while I’m already missing out on important things in his life, it’s a little easier knowing Damien is being well taken care of.”
That’s a chore Zoral and Ellen don’t mind at all.
“The people in this community — especially at our church — have supported us, and their genuine concern means so much to Ellen and me and to the girls,” Zoral Stubbs said. “Our church family is in constant prayer for us and for Maranda and Jeana, and that has made a lasting impression on us.
“I never really thought I’d have to go through the diaper-changing thing all over again, but I don’t mind. Being with Damien takes my mind off the fact that my girls are in harm’s way while serving the country. We’re all so proud of them, but we’re anxious for them to complete their tour and come back home. We’ll be waiting for them.”