It’s hard to say goodbye to Jamestown
Col. Perry Panos and his wife Aimee Panos and Lt. Col. Zach Zeiner and wife Heidi Zeiner are among some 46 active duty military families who have called the island their home for the past year. Their children attended the Jamestown schools, while the fathers studied at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport.
Both Zeiner and Panos are Air Force pilots. Zeiner flies C-5 Galaxy transport planes. Panos flies the C-130 transport plane.
Both will graduate June 21 and leave Jamestown with their families in a few days or weeks after the commencement exercises. Zeiner is headed for an Air Force base in Colorado. Panos is taking a staff job at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C. They are sorry to be leaving, they said.
The children will go to their Dads’ graduation. Zeiner’s two sons, Landon, 8, and Max, 4, enjoy the pomp of the military. When their father was squadron commander, the boys attended the change of command ceremony.
“Zach went in for the Finis Flight,” Heidi Zeiner said, meaning he took the plane up one last time as squadron commander. “The boys got to go out on the runway and marshal him in,” she said. “Then they sprayed a hose at him,” she added, which is the shower of salute that follows the last flight.
Their father is their hero, she said. Her children know the difference between a C-1 and a C-5 plane by the sound of the engine. When they hear the C-5 coming, they run and tell her, “That’s Daddy’s airplane, and Daddy might be in it as well,” she said.
Zeiner said her husband does not like to talk about the dangers of his job. For example, he’s had to land a C-5 with the engine on fire. In a crisis, Zeiner said, he just falls back on his training and looks for an open space to land.
Panos served in Desert Storm, and in the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. This year, because he’s attending the war college, he’s been able to live at home with the family.
“This year’s been nice that way,” Aimee Panos said. “This has been the first year in memory he hasn’t been gone.”
Although they moved to a new community and the change was stressful, they found neighbors and a support system – of both active duty and retired military in Jamestown – there to help.
The day Panos moved into his Jamestown home, his neighbor across the street walked over and introduced himself.
“You look like you could use a break,” Martin Hellewell said. Hellewell is retired Navy, and his family has been there ever since with a helping hand, Panos said.
Retired Marines Col. David Fuquea and Sue Gaynor have also provided a support system, with names of babysitters, drycleaners, hairdressers, doctors and every resource they needed to feel at home, Aimee Panos and Heidi Zeiner said.
“The reason I have a dentist and a babysitter is Sue Gaynor,” Heidi Zeiner said. “It makes a huge difference.”
“We love Jamestown, and everyone here is very, very supportive of military families that come and go,” Zach Zeiner said. “We had a nice experience here.”
Aimee Panos said her family will take a little bit of Rhode Island with them when they leave.
Her son Peyton, 10, and his sister Paige, 8, hit the jackpot during their year on the island, and it wasn’t the Powerball but the snow jackpot. Growing up in Florida, they had never experienced snow until this winter. They even enjoyed the blizzard and a power blackout, which their mother turned into a fun time with aid from a wood stove, some homemade soup and hot chocolate.
“We prayed for tons of snow,” she said.
Besides the snow, the children sampled other new things here. Peyton took sailing lessons. Paige learned to ice skate. The children said they are going to miss the island.
“I really really liked having a library really close, and I could just walk down the street to my friends,” Peyton said. Paige liked riding her bicycle to school and to Spinnaker’s for ice cream.
This is only the second time the Panos children are moving to a new home, their parents said because their father was in the reserve for much of the time they lived in Florida. The youngsters still see the humor in the moving experience and say this time, they’ll do a better job labeling boxes.
One box will say “Fancy China, not for eating,” Paige said, remembering when they arrived in Jamestown, the first box of dishes they opened was the Christmas china.
“Dad will have to cook some hot dogs,” Peyton said, while they’re between houses, and they have to remember the coffeepot for their mother, who needs her java in the morning.
Aimee Panos said she dreads the moving. The worst is the logistics, she said. They have to figure out where they’ll sleep after the movers come and what to take for the car trip and how to live without essentials for a few days.
Panos said when he was called up to active duty, his missions required him to leave home and fly to different locations around the world, but he was not deployed for an entire year, for example, the way servicemen typically are in other branches of the armed services, he said.
Typically, he would be gone three months, he said.
Zeiner said much the same.
“In the flying world, we can get deployed,” he said, “but we tend to be out flying missions around the world. So, we’re gone a lot.” But usually, he’s not away from family for long stretches of time, he said. “I might be gone 180 days a year, but I’m home a week and gone a week.”
He and his wife are thrilled to see each other when he comes home, but there’s always a period of adjustment when he returns, they said. They call it his “re- entry,” they said. It can last for as little time as a day, or it can be more like a week, depending on how long he’s been away.
Aimee Panos said everything seems to go wrong when her husband leaves, including the comical things, like the dog carrying a finch indoors, requiring her to rescue the terrified bird hiding behind a washing machine.
Their parents will help move them out to Colorado, the Zeiners said. The military packs their belongings and moves the household, but the logistics are daunting. The dog, 3-year-old Indiana Jones, has the best arrangement, she said, because he can stretch out in the back of the minivan and sleep between Holiday Inn hotels.
Their older son, Landon, is moving for the sixth time and doesn’t want to leave his friends, Heidi Zeiner said. Max is still too little to understand, she said.
“It hasn’t hit Max yet,” she said. Luckily, Landon is very social and makes friends easily, she said, and she will do all she can to stay in touch with the friends he is leaving behind. But it’s hard.
“Landon’s buddies that he’s met in California and in Jamestown don’t get it,” she said.
”They don’t get why Landon has to leave. They’ll say, ‘Come live with us,’” she said or they’ll say Zach can find a different job here.
She doesn’t like leaving her friends, either.
On Memorial Day, the Panos’s said the family usually contacts friends who are not able to have a family weekend together because a loved one made the ultimate sacrifice. They try to include them in their own family day, if possible.
Zeiner said he hopes people take a moment to think about the soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom.