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Home is about being together

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kelley Cox
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NEW CASTLE – The home of Jim and Barbara Foster in New Castle paints a perfect picture of the holidays.A Christmas tree in the corner impeccably decorated, opposite a gas-log fireplace that warmed the room to a cozy level. However, the presence of family, laughter accompanying bright smiles, and the comfort of familiarity warmed the room more than the fireplace ever could.For the Hartz family, home is not where they live, home is about being together. It’s something they get to experience every holiday season, though not always with the patriarch. Jim Hartz is a (chaplain) major for the 2nd Infantry Division in the United States Army.This year, not only did Jim Hartz reunite with his family – wife Dee, daughters Heather, 17, and Meaghan, 15, and son Craig, 13 – but the family reunited with the Fosters once again. It had been a while since the families spent time together, with everyone accounted for. But this holiday … that’s all they really wanted.Barbara has known Dee since Dee was 2 years old. Back in the late 1960s, Barbara was Dee’s baby-sitter during the day while Dee’s parents worked.It’s a bond that remains powerful to this day.”I’ve been like another mom to her for most of her life,” Barbara explained.Both Dee and Jim’s parents have both since passed away. That’s where the Fosters fit in the family puzzle. “We’ve sort of adopted them as a family,” Barbara said. “We are their family as much as they are to anyone else.”The two families are not related in the traditional aspect. But over time, events turn into traditions, and friends become family.”It’s been more of an opportunity than a tradition,” Jim Hartz said of spending part of the holidays with the Fosters.The one tradition that’s kept the families connected over the years is every Christmas Eve each of the Hartz family members opens a gift from the Fosters. The gift is the same every year – pajamas.

For the kids, being without their father for extended periods of time is just a part of life that they’ve accepted.”It’s all we know,” Heather said. “It’s not like it’s an experience you live through, it’s just our life.”Living on post, according to Jim Hartz, is similar to living in a small town; everybody knows everybody.But when his family relocated to Colorado Springs, they moved to a house on the opposite side of the city. Not to get away, but just to have a more normal life.”We moved from a place where everyone knows us as the chaplain’s kid and they think you’re a goody-two-shoes,” Heather said. “Then we moved to a bigger town where no one knows you, and it’s a lot different from being on base.”The military life isn’t the most stable for families: moving from base to base, being stationed oversees and having a member of the family away for months at a time, never sure of their return.”People say that they understand the life of a military family,” Craig said. “But they really don’t.”The Hartz family has lived in six different locations from Ft. Bragg, N.C., to Hanau, Germany, for a spell. Through all the moving the kids have seen their share of different houses and schools.

Heather, now a senior at Rampart High School in Colorado Springs, said she’s looking forward to finishing school in Colorado. Both of her siblings agreed that it would be nice to complete their education in state as well.But where they live is not the definition of home: They know it’s where your family is. Dee has a sister in Castle Rock, and with the Fosters in state as well, it’s the family ties that easily makes Colorado feel like home.”As a military family, you’re used to being away from family,” Dee said. “I can’t even say how much they (the Fosters) mean to me. They’ve been my parents and my friends. They’ve adopted us all and are really grandparents to the kids.”That military life has put distance between the Fosters and the Hartzes for many years. They’ve all tried to see the others as much as possible, but where the Hartzes were stationed sometimes presented a problem.”We didn’t see the Fosters very much for a while just because of where we lived,” Dee said.However, they could always count on the pajamas, on Christmas eve, to remind them that they were at home.

The Hartz family has been to Glenwood Springs a number of times, but this is their first trip to New Castle. Plans are still a little undecided, but everyone has a different idea.”We are just going with the flow,” said Jim Foster. “We let them give us the menu for what they want to do while they’re here.”When Jim Hartz mentioned the bowling alley he noticed on the way into town, excitement filled the air.”I haven’t been bowling in so long,” Meaghan said with a big smile.”Oh dear,” her sister responded.For Jim Hartz, he’s only got one thing on his agenda.”I plan to rest,” he said in his calm manner.Jim Hartz has been stationed in South Korea and Iraq for the past couple of years.His father was in the military for 23 years, and Jim never planned on being a “military man,” like his father, when he was younger.But sometimes life doesn’t go exactly as planned.”I swore that I would never join, then I did,” he said. “Then I swore I’d never enlist, then I did. Then I swore I’d never make a career out of the military, but I did. So, I just gave up swearing.”Jim Hartz has been in the service for 20 years now. Military life can be difficult, especially during the holidays. For the past two holiday seasons, he hasn’t made it home. In 2004 he was stationed in South Korea and last year he was in Iraq.When he got word that he’d be coming home for the holidays this year, he couldn’t believe it.”If you’re still in the ‘sandbox’ then you’re not home,” Jim Hartz said. “I believe it when my feet are in the gym at the base.”

Dee confessed that she’s learned not to give the kids a date when dad will be coming home because something often happens and he gets redeployed.”I told the kids that if he made it home for Christmas it would be a blessing,” Dee said.To everyone’s disbelief, he made it home before Thanksgiving to enjoy the holidays with his family. He doesn’t take his good fortune for granted and thinks of the countless families who weren’t reunited for the holidays.”We’ve been blessed,” he said.Even being away from their house for New Year’s, the Hartz family is right at home spending time with the Fosters. For the Hartz family, home is about family and friends.Contact John Gardner: 945-8515, ext. 16604jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO


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