Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Monday, September 20, 2010

Face of Defense: Couple Gives Soldier New Family

By Army Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger
U.S. Division Center

BAGHDAD, Sept. 20, 2010 – When Army Spc. Christopher Sandri travels home for leave this month, he plans on enjoying home-cooked meals and fishing for bass.

Sandri, an infantryman serving in U.S. Division Center with the 3rd Infantry Division’s Company A, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, said the best moments of leave, however, will be those spent with his parents, John and Dorean Sandri of Green Bay, Wis.

Sandri didn’t have parents to visit while on leave or to send him care packages while he was deployed to Iraq’s Anbar province from October 2007 to April 2008. When his unit returned to Fort Stewart, Ga., he stood alone on the parade field while other soldiers went home with their families.

“I pretty much sucked it up and went to the barracks,” he said.

The Laurel, Md., native was born Christopher Kroll on Oct. 14, 1983. He was practically raised by his grandparents, because his biological mother was unable to do so.

He maintained a strained relationship with his mother after joining the military and leaving Maryland, he said, but the relationship worsened after he left the United States for an assignment in Germany.

“She wasn’t happy I couldn’t contact her all the time,” Sandri said. “The longer and longer I was over in Germany, the more and more she just grew away from me.”

After three years and a six-month deployment to Afghanistan, Chris moved to Fort Stewart. It was then, over a phone call, that his biological mother ended all contact.

“Her exact words that day when I called her were, ‘I have no son anymore,’” he said. “At the time, it didn’t bother me, because we were in the middle of training. It didn’t click.”

Two “rough” years later, he said, he met his future adoptive mother through an online chat server.

Dorean Sandri, an executive secretary for the not-for-profit organization “Adopt a U.S. Soldier,” read the soldier’s profile and suggested he meet her husband, a Vietnam War veteran. The three adults became very close and talked frequently.

Through months of communication, the Sandris heard about Chris’ family history. Knowing he had nowhere to go over the holidays, the couple invited him to spend Christmas of 2008 with them in Green Bay.

One evening during the visit, John Sandri asked the soldier if he would consider becoming his and Dorean’s son. The question caught Chris off guard at first, he said, and he told them he needed to think about it. It took him only two days to decide.

“It was like, ‘All right, I’m going to do it, I don’t have anybody else to trace back to,’” he said. Finding out the couple couldn’t have children, he said, contributed to his decision.

Chris Kroll and his soon-to-be parents submitted the necessary paperwork to the courthouse, and in early 2009, the soldier officially became known as Christopher Sandri.

Since the adoption, Chris said, it has been easy fitting in with his new family.

“Their whole family — every last one of them — is nuts,” he said with a laugh.

Chris said he especially has appreciated being able to talk to his adoptive father about things that have happened during his deployments. On the soldier’s last visit to the Sandri household before his current deployment, he said, his adoptive father broke down into tears when sharing some of his memories from the Vietnam War, in which he served as a medical evacuation pilot.

“It brought me to tears,” Chris said. “He sat down and he looked at me, and figured it’s only fair that if he spilled it all out to me, then it won’t make me feel awkward if, for some reason during my career, I need to talk to somebody.”

Chris said Dorean always lets him know he’s wanted and that she loves him completely.

“It makes a difference knowing that if I have a hard day at work, I can get online and gripe to my parents,” he said. “My father will take it like a champ and find a way to make me laugh, and my mother will be not too far behind with a promise of fresh-made cookies coming in the mail.

“All in all,” he added, “John and Dorean are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

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