EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – The Griffin family of Evansville knew the day of deployment would inevitably arrive. Yet, nothing could truly prepare them for the reality that a husband and father, Captain Ernie Griffin, would be leaving for just over one year.

“It’s really, really gotten real,” says Natalie Griffin, Captain Griffin’s wife.

Captain Griffin, the now-former Assistant Principal of Harrison High School, deployed to Iraq with the 163rd Field Artillery Battalion of Evansville’s Indiana National Guard. The mission, which includes supporting safety coalition forces in the country, is expected to last just over a year, leaving Natalie and daughters Brooklynn and Ella to work together to make it through.

“We’ve had a lot of talks with them over the last couple of weeks, just about one thing that’s going to help mom and dad so much is them being helpful,” says Natalie.

Prior to Captain Griffin’s departure, the family planned many dinners, game nights, and pool days to spend as much time together as possible. One of those plans even included an early birthday party for Ella.

“We celebrated my 10th birthday earlier so that he wouldn’t have to miss that,” says Ella.

The Griffin’s say they have been overwhelmed by the support they have received so far. From fellow church members, to friends and family, and even support groups that have formed with other families of the 163rd, support has come from areas the Griffin’s did not expect.

“My chemistry teacher, her husband’s deploying with Ernie,” says Brooklynn, “so it’s a good thing that I have a teacher who knows what I’m going through, and we connect on that.”

Ella says her involvement in dance practices and recitals has provided a sense of escape from the difficult transition into life after deployment.

“Dance is something that really distracts me from what’s going on,” says Ella, “because my friends are so kind there. Just being there just helps us cope with it.”

Ella also has a special counterpart to make it through the deployment. During her early birthday celebration, Ella received a stuffed bear, dressed in military attire, and equipped with a recording of Captain Griffin, allowing her to hear her father’s voice at the push of a button.

The family has also set a clock to match the current time in Iraq, and says they have already scheduled weekly Zoom meetings so the family can consistently communicate with Captain Griffin throughout the next year. Now that the deployment has officially begun, the Griffin’s have begun a new countdown of their own.

“I think all of us are just really ready to start the countdown for his return,” says Natalie. “And not the countdown to his departure.”