LIMA — A blown up picture of Army Spc. Dave Sodders’ head attached to a paint stick attended a Lima Senior High School soccer recognition program last October.
It was just one of the many ways the Sodders family has survived a year of dad being away in Afghanistan.
“So dad has been with us,” his wife, Lisa Sodders, said this week. “We have gotten creative over the year.”
With a little help from the Lima schools, the family has again found a way to include dad in a big moment: Doug Sodders’ graduation from Lima Senior on Sunday.
When the ceremony begins at 4 p.m. Sunday at Lima Stadium, it will be live-streamed so Dave Sodders can watch his middle son walk across the stage and get his diploma. It will be midnight in Afghanistan, where Sodders has been since last August. The Army reservist works as a plumber.
“I am glad Lima Senior has a way for me to watch it,” Sodders said in an email from Afghanistan. “It is a big deal for kids to have their parents there to see them graduate, but this way I hope he knows I will be there in spirit.”
Sodders joined the Army in the mid-1980s and served in Operation Desert Storm. He got out in 1994 but always missed it. He rejoined three and a half years ago. Up until last August, the longest he had been away from Lisa, his wife of 20 years, is for three-week trainings.
“The toughest for me has been trying to do it all by myself,” Lisa Sodders said. “We have been together for 20 years, and I am used to having him right by my side. But we have come to terms that we have to do without sometimes.”
The couple’s youngest son, Steven, 14, will be a freshman at Lima Senior next year. Sodders’ oldest son, Bryan, is in the Air Force.
The family knew when Sodders left in August that he would not be back for graduation. Lisa Sodders contacted Lima schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman before he left, wondering if Skype might be a possibility for graduation. The family Skypes often with dad.
As it came closer to graduation, school officials suggested that live streaming it on the Internet might be a better option. They did a test run a few weeks ago to make sure it would work. Lisa Sodders said she is grateful for the school district’s willingness to make it happen, and she said someone else in his unit from Defiance heard about it and is now doing the same.
“This is better than what it would have been with him not being here,” Doug said. “I think he will be proud of the fact that I pushed through and graduated.”
Doug said he didn’t think too much about his dad missing graduation because he knows that is how it goes when serving in the military. He is headed to the Army too in the coming month.
“I knew he was serving the country, and it is not like I can change it or anything,” he said. “I know when I get in I will be doing the same thing. There are going to be things that I will miss with my family when I get one. That is just how it works.”
Both sides of the Sodders family have long lines of military service. An American flag waves in the front yard, with pictures of past and current soldiers hanging inside.
While he accepts it, Doug does miss his dad, especially when playing sports and not hearing dad “yelling at me from the stands.” Doug played soccer and tennis at Lima Senior and was in DECA. Lisa Sodders said she wondered how the family would get through this year, worried about her boys not having their dad around.
“We have had our hard times, but we have made it through,” she said. “It has been easier than I thought it would be, I think because we are all so proud of him for doing this.”
Doug will leave for the Army later next month. He wants to eventually be a ranger or sniper. No one is surprised. Doug has been talking about the military since age 3. Lisa Sodders will be thinking about his departure as she watches him graduate Sunday.
“I will be thinking my baby is leaving,” she said. “I think this will be harder on me because Dave is not here by my side to support me like he was when Bryan left.”
Even though he will be so far away, Dave Sodders will be the proud dad in the front row.
“With me being over here, I know there is a lot of stress on the family,” he said. “”I am proud of him making it through and graduating.”
Lima Senior live streams graduation