He is a devoted husband of 10 years, a loving father of eight children ranging in age from 17 to 7. He helps take care of his wife who was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s type one and two, multiple sclerosis and heart disease.
He himself suffers from a lower back injury and battles post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) on a daily basis, but never lets that interfere with his life, family or work.
Daniel Batiste, Minocqua, is a staff sergeant of the United States Army, proudly serving his country in the military for 12 years.
“I love what I do. It’s been a life changer,” Daniel said. “I think the military is probably the greatest organization in the world. The adventure of being deployed in the Army is just something I’ll never forget.”
For his wife, Jennifer Batiste, military life is in and of itself rewarding – but definitely not an easy life to lead.
“People need to know that if you choose to take this role, this life, this path, understand that it’s going to come with lots of highs and tons of lows,” Jennifer said.
“But no matter what, at the end of the day you’re a part of something that is bigger than you. If you choose to accept it, it’s almost like for a family of an army active choosing to accept a mission. And if you do it and you make it, you will find out at the end of the road that you are so much stronger, so much more self-reliant. Everything about you will change, but it will be for the better,” she said.
Three deployments to Iraq
After graduating from Lakeland Union High School in 1999, Daniel began his military journey by joining the National Guard.
“Sept. 11 changed my whole perspective on why I joined,” Daniel said. “After Sept. 11 I knew there was a reason why I joined – to help the people in the United States who cannot actually fight for themselves.”
In 2003, Daniel was deployed to Iraq – the first of three deployments. By the time he left for his post overseas, he was the father of six children, making the time apart from his wife and young family even more difficult.
“It was terrible,” Daniel said of his first deployment. “First of all thinking about what’s going to happen on deployment. And then you worry about your family back here and what’s going on with them. It’s hard.”
His missions while stationed in Iraq included route clearance – detecting and defeating IEDs.
“What’s the best way to put it – hell probably froze over,” Jennifer said, describing how Daniel’s first deployment impacted her and their family. “It was extremely difficult to go from just recently married to a single parent all over again – to have him there and then have him gone.”
Adding a whole new layer of emotion to Daniel’s deployment was the simple fact that their children were too young to fully grasp the situation.
“They didn’t understand why dad was leaving and if he was going to come back,” Jennifer said. “So all the questions the kids asked were, ‘Does that airplane have my daddy in it?’ and ‘Is my daddy going to get blowed up like on TV?’ That made things a little more difficult.”
But it was comforting to know that what Daniel was doing is not something that the average person can do, Jennifer said.
“You take comfort in that and then you hope and you pray that the next phone call is your husband saying ‘I’m here and I’m alright,’ even if it’s not where you want them to be. At least you know they’re alright.”
Several months of being stationed in Iraq later and Daniel was reunited with his family.
“We didn’t even get all the way into the driveway before all the kids were running to get to their dad. And he was leaping to get out of the vehicle to get to them, too,” Jennifer said.
But that was only his first deployment. Three years later Daniel’s call of duty would lead him back to Iraq.
“The second deployment was ...” Daniel said, searching for the right word.
“Interesting,” Jennifer said, finishing his thought.
Interesting to say the least. Especially since he was now a father of eight children.
“It was difficult because there were more lengthy missions, so I wasn’t always there to call home,” he said. “So it was difficult for Jennifer because she didn’t know whether or not I was still alive.”
As Jennifer described, “there’d be days and then there’d be weeks” where she wouldn’t hear from Daniel.
“You learn as an Army wife ... to stop watching the news,” she said.
But one aspect that differed from his first deployment was how their children handled it.
“By this point the kids were getting used to it,” Jennifer said. “When we would come home to visit up here in Minocqua they would tell everybody, ‘Did you know my daddy’s in Iraq and he’s a soldier? Yup, because he loves me,’ and they would just brag.”
His second deployment lasted six months. After another three short years, Daniel was deployed to Iraq yet again, but this time he had Jennifer’s health to worry about.
In 2006 she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.
“I didn’t know I had it and it was left untreated for two years,” she said. “I just knew there was a large lump in my throat and I didn’t know what it was from, but I didn’t have time to worry about what was going on with me.”
Because of her condition, Jennifer had to undergo surgery before Daniel left for Iraq – and while he was overseas.
“I was constantly worrying about her. But on deployment you don’t always get to come home because of a surgery. You just have to take it one day at a time and hope for the best,” Daniel said.
But as Jennifer described, you make “new family” in the military to help you in your time of need.
“Your family is still your family, but the other wives and the other spouses that are serving [in the military] become your extended family,” she said. “My Army sister will be at my beckon call whenever I need her. It doesn’t matter where I am or what’s going on.”
And the same goes for Daniel and his fellow soldiers.
“You make such good friends – you deploy with them; you live with them; you share your blood, sweat and tears with them,” he said.
The aftermath of serving in Iraq
Over his 12 years of serving in the Army, Daniel has come away with scars – both emotional and physical. Because of his experiences, Daniel suffers from PTSD, TBI and lower back pain.
“PTSD is so real. It changes them literally,” Jennifer said. “It’s like they go to bed, and depending on how severe the PTSD is, he might wake up a completely different person. Not the man you married. Not the soldier you’ve been standing beside.”
But after going to therapy and taking medications, Daniel’s PTSD is now under control. However, he still feels some effects from the disorder.
“PTSD changes their way of thinking. What was once rational no longer is. What once made sense no longer does,” Jennifer said. “He doesn’t get a full night’s sleep anymore. He tries, but he doesn’t. I know that there are times while he’s sleeping that he thinks he’s back on the line, that he’s back over there.”
Throughout Daniel’s diagnosis of PTSD and treatment, Jennifer held on to her faith in her husband and stood by him.
“I knew that the real him was in there because I’d catch glimpses of him all the time. I just needed him to focus long enough to believe that what I was saying was accurate and true, and that’s what happened.”
And PTSD is just one wound Daniel has endured. He also has had to deal with TBI – severe migraines caused by a strong force traumatically injuring the brain – since his third deployment. In Daniel’s case, the force that was the root of his syndrome was from the last IED he encountered, which blew out all the windows of the vehicle he was in.
“A lot of football players suffer from TBI because they get hit hard,” Daniel explained. “It’s the same thing with soldiers when they get into an IED. For some it only lasts a day or two, others maybe a couple of weeks. Mine to me still has not gone away. It’s constant headaches.”
As for his lower back injury, that was the result of a parachute jump.
“In 2010 I did a parachute jump and I don’t know if I landed wrong or what happened, but I ... was hurting a little bit. Then I did a 12-mile ruck march, and from then on my back has just hurt,” Daniel said. “The Army has done all they can to help me out.
This injury has limited what he can do at home with his children as well as at work.
“Even though I have a back injury I keep going to work. I keep trying. I keep showing the kids not to give up – just keep trying.”
To top everything off, Daniel was almost the victim of a friendly fire incident during his last deployment.
“Basically what happened was the guy was nervous and he accidentally shot a round that ended up ricocheting and actually hitting the ground near my foot, and the gravel hit my leg,” Daniel said.
Importance of family
Daniel’s military career has taken him and his family all over the country: Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Carson, Colo.; and Fort Bragg, N.C. And last September he was stationed in Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., leaving his family behind.
“We’re in a position where I need to help take care of other family members. The kids and I will be here, and so once again, even though it’s not due to a deployment this time, we’ll be separated from dad,” Jennifer said. “At least this time if something happens he’s literally a plane or car ride away, so that’s going to make it a little bit easier.”
Thanks to the support of one community member – Erin Kosiba, general manager of Quality Inn, Minocqua – Jennifer and their children have had a place to live while Daniel is based in South Carolina.
“She has gone above and beyond for our family to ensure we had a roof over our heads,” Jennifer said. “It has been extremely hard, especially since [Daniel] had to take our only family vehicle.”
Kosiba’s ties to the Batistes go deeper than simply offering them a place to stay. She is engaged to a man that served with Daniel in the National Guard, Shawn Kelly.
“Military families stick together, no matter where your career takes you ... there are those that still will do whatever is in their power to help,” Jennifer said.
But no matter where his work takes him, Daniel has instilled a sense of pride in his children.
“We have great kids. They adapt well. In the beginning they weren’t impressed that dad was gone all the time, and what kid would be? But now they understand why the uniform goes on and what it is he’s doing, and that makes them proud,” Jennifer said.
And Daniel is equally proud of his children.
“He always tells everybody that his greatest legacy is his children, because if he was to pass away on a mission, however they act – that’s his legacy. That’s what he taught them. That’s what he left behind,” she described.
“It takes a special kind of breed to be a soldier. That’s him,” Jennifer said.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org