The soldier becomes a seeker
Adopted as an infant, Kurtis Woulard wonders about his origins. His pending tour in Iraq adds urgency to the search.
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published July 22, 2006
Kurtis Woulard is like many adopted children. He wants to find his roots and connect with his birth parents. But perhaps unlike most people involved a such a search, Woulard has found a new sense of urgency.
In a few weeks, the U.S. Army staff sergeant will leave for his third tour of duty in Iraq, an assignment that has caused him to reflect on a harsh reality: "Basically, whether or not I'm going to come home in one piece."
Woulard, 29, has a few clues about his adoption. He was born on Nov. 20, 1976, and was four months old when his adoptive parents drove from their home in Fort Pierce to the Children's Home Society in St. Petersburg to pick him up. Back then, his name was David.
The rest he has yet to discover.
But the search weighs on his mind as he prepares for Iraq. Recently, Woulard witnessed his wife reunite with her estranged father after 10 years.
"I kind of broke down," he said in a telephone interview from his Army post at Fort Riley, Kan. "I wanted to know where I came from. I have my mother and father, but I really want to know where I came from."
Woulard was about seven or eight when a neighborhood playmate told him he was adopted. He didn't know the word so he asked his parents what that meant. Chester and Barbara Woulard explained it.
"It never changed the way I felt about them," Woulard said. "I will always love them. Those are my parents."
The Woulards had two young daughters, seven and five, when they decided to adopt a baby boy. They contacted the Children's Home Society in West Palm Beach and picked up the baby six months later in St. Petersburg.
"We were very excited and we took our other two children with us when we went to pick up the baby," Barbara Woulard, 59, said by telephone from her home in Fort Pierce.
The family got a surprise shortly after that. "Once we picked him up, within a month later she realized she was pregnant again," Chester Woulard, 60, said of his wife. It was another girl.
The family grew again a few years later, when the couple adopted another son, this time through the Florida Department of Children and Families.
The Woulard children attended Sunday school regularly. At Fort Pierce Westwood High School, where his father is dean of students, Kurtis played on the football team.
His father never missed a game.
"Even when we played out of town, I could look out in the bleachers and my dad was there," said Woulard, a diesel mechanic in the army. "I wanted to make my dad proud."
Woulard's memories are of a "great" childhood. "I just pretty much made a promise to myself that I really didn't want to know who my real mother is," he said. "At that time, I was young."
But three years ago, Woulard married Kyla, 27, a teacher. They started talking about having children and the need to know his medical history.
Then came the news about his re-deployment.
Woulard enlisted in the Marines after high school and finished a four-year stint. "I kind of credit my father for guiding me into the military," Woulard said. "He said I needed the discipline. He enrolled me in ROTC."
He tried to be a civilian for a while, but eventually joined the Army Reserves in 1999. He did his first tour of duty in Iraq in 2003, staying for 14 months.
He had been home for only five months when he was sent back to Iraq for 11 months. During his second tour, which began in October 2004, he joined the regular army. He came back home last November.
Now, he expects to head back to Iraq sometime in the fall, probably in September.
Woulard's wife knew her husband yearned to find his birth parents and wanted to help him search
But he had been reluctant to discuss it with his mother.
"I talked to her about it years ago, but I wanted it to be his decision," Kyla Woulard said. "He was a little uneasy about it. He didn't want to hurt her feelings."
In fact, Woulard first approached his grandmother a year ago about his adoption. She urged him to talk to his mother, but he was still reluctant. So his grandmother gave him what she thought was the name of the agency in St. Petersburg.
But Kyla Woulard couldn't find it so she called a friend in Tampa.
The friend suggested she call the St. Petersburg Times. After learning about her son's search, Barbara Woulard shared the correct name of the adoption agency: the Children's Home Society.
She said her son need not have worried about hurting her feelings.
"There were no feelings to consider, because we didn't think about that," she said. "We raised him as our own kid and we accept him as our own child."
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Woulard says he has no particular expectations about a reunion if he finds his birth parents.
And yet, if there is one, he is more worried about "whether or not I would receive a warm welcome or a cold shoulder," Woulard said. "I would like to have a relationship with them, but it's totally up to them. I don't have any resentment toward them. Knowing me, I may cry."
Adam Pertman, executive director for the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute based in New York, said Woulard's conflicted feelings are shared by most adoptees.
"They feel that it would hurt their parents," Pertman said. And "they are sometimes scared of what they will find at the other end, that they might be rejected."
The institute estimates there are 125,000 to 130,000 adoptions annually in the United States, and experts say the trend of reunions is happening more often.
"What we know is that it is commonplace and growing," Pertman said.
Maggie Benson, program supervisor of the adoption archives unit at the Children's Home Society of Florida, can't talk about Woulard's case. State law prohibits the release of information on birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees unless a court orders it.
The agency, however, can reunite Woulard with his birth parents, if they are willing to communicate with him, Benson said.
It may take some time, though, if Woulard's birth parents have moved, changed names, or died.
"A search can take from one day to six months. It just depends on how many doors we have to knock on and where we have to go to," Benson said.
And there are no guarantees. Birth parents might not be ready for a reunion, Pertman said, noting that such a search is not like a television movie.
"What we see in real life is this is a process and not an event," he said.
For now, Woulard has filled out paperwork with the Children's Home Society, hoping for some answers before he leaves for Iraq.
But he realizes that might not happen.
"I know that it might be a lengthy process," he said. "Maybe when I come back home, there will be someone waiting for me."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 727 892-2283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.