One year ago today I waiting in an overheated hangar for about six hours with my MIL and stepdaughter waiting for the plane carrying DH to come into view.
One year ago today I spent close to 10 hours after he got home with MIL and stepdaughter waiting on post with my DH less than 50 ft away but unable to come and see us or be with us because they were locked down because some huge asshat left his weapon in Kyrgyzstan. That man spent the night under guard because he had a squad of super tired, super pissed off soldiers who wanted to kill him. Their families wanted to kill him too.
One year ago today I was half prepared for the struggles that would come after deployment, but wholly unprepared for the sheer depth of the red tape, the utter cultural isolation of this place, and how much my life would change after being here.
One year ago today I had no idea that today, on the anniversary of him coming home, I'd be preparing to send him back in about four months.
One year ago today I wrote this for my returning soldier, and despite the struggles we've gone through this year and the problems we're still working on in the marriage I still mean every word of it.
And one year from today I will be preparing for him to come home again. I pray that he will come home safe, whole, and with every single soldier he went over there with coming home the same way.
One year ago today:
Lately I've noticed when I check in on Twitter or on the social media outlets I use for everything other than keeping up ties with my friends and family that the bulk of the posts are from charities, advocacy groups, and other military spouses clamoring for money, time, support, or attention. Write a letter for this. Join this social networking group. And this one. And that one. And these other five. Attend this meeting. Attend this conference. Listen to this. Read this. The need is overwhelming. And deafening. Especially since the people they are trying to get money, time, support and attention from are the people who can least afford to give it. It's a good day if I have time to shower most days, I don't have time to endlessly volunteer, blog surf, attend conferences that don't have strong, focused agendas that might actually help me accomplish something other than gossip with bored milspouses.
It's not that I don't want to give all of these groups my time and attention. I would love to, but unfortunately real life as a military spouse means that I don't have a lot of spare time, money, attention or support to go around. It's great that so many people want to help soldiers and their families but really guys, go OUTSIDE the military population to do it. Only around 1% of the population serves in the military. 1%. That leaves 99% of the American population for you to ask for money, time, support and so on. And many of them would absolutely love to help out soldiers and their families but they don't have a clue how to do it. Expand your range a little, there is a great wide world of support out there. Start trying to raise the public awareness of the sacrifices soldiers and their families make instead of coming back to the same well over and over and over for more money, more time, and more attention. After nearly a decade of constant fighting in two wars that well is nearly dry.
This Salon.com piece has gotten a lot of milspouses talking...... Read the whole article and join the discussion over at Leftface blog- the blog for "other" milspouses ;)
How to Leave a Soldier, by Courtney Cook, reposted from Salon.com:
You’d be surprised how easy it is to leave a soldier on deployment. You can do it with a letter. (He can’t argue with you. He doesn’t have a phone.) If you lay the groundwork early, saying to the soldier before he leaves, “This will be the end of us, we might as well admit it,” it’s that much easier. The letter won’t even come as a shock.
And if you have children with that soldier? You can handle all that with a letter, too. He’ll write it — because he cares about the kids, because he wants to work with you to do what’s best for them even though you’re leaving him — and you’ll give it to them. Here again, you will avoid a nasty confrontation. Who will they cry to? You? You’re just the teary-eyed bearer of the letter. Him? The one who’s sweating it out in the desert?
There will be no moving truck, no boxes, no house torn asunder. The soldier is peeing in a bucket as you pack. He doesn’t care who gets the couch.
I can chart the entire history of my first marriage along the lines of U.S. military engagements. I fell in love with my ex-husband in no small part because he was a soldier. He was a Dartmouth senior on a ROTC scholarship, and his heroes were George Patton and Ulysses S. Grant. He could use words like “valor” and “courage” without irony. I liked the way he carried himself — taller it seemed, and with honor.
He was from Oklahoma, I was from Wyoming, and Dartmouth was a culture shock for both of us. We were public high school kids who’d grown up driving pickup trucks and going to church on Sunday. We came from families who ate hot breakfasts together and said prayers over dinner. I was a wide-eyed freshman, experiencing Virginia Woolf and Henry David Thoreau for the first time. John was slightly more worldly. He was in a coed fraternity and owned a motorcycle — things that raised eyebrows at the weekly Campus Crusade for Christ meetings we both attended. I didn’t pay attention to their warnings...
Yesterday when I arrived to pick up DH at 16:30 I was told that he and I were required to wait around until 18:00 for a mandatory FRG meeting. No notice whatsoever. Surprise! Hmm. Well I'm a civilian, so nothing can be "mandatory" for me, thank you very much. Unless the Army added me to the payroll when I wasn't looking I don't take orders from the Army and the Army cannot tell me what to do with my time. They own my husband, not me. And I had a very important project waiting that did not get done thanks to a mandatory FRG meeting that I didn't get any notice of.
**side rant** - HEY Army/FRG bots - NOT ALL ARMY SPOUSES ARE SAHMs and SAHWs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Even the ones who are may not be able to get a sitter/may have appointments/or may have to work. WE NEED NOTICE before a "mandatory" meeting.**/side rant**
Anyone, with a lot of bitching and moaning we went. It was almost exactly as I had imagined. Stiff, dull, no one wanted to be there. Cliques very much in evidence, and gossips gossiping without even trying to hide it. The captain mentioned that it was ok with him if someone started a FB page for the group, which is a GREAT idea! PLEASE give me a FB group I can check for information and do not make me depend on these gossipy women for information, especially during a deployment!!! But, since no one knows how to do it they are HOLDING A MULTI WEEK CLASS on how to set up a FB page. Seriously! A MULTI WEEK CLASS. Um, setting up a FB page takes less than 5 minutes and if you do the security controls correctly OPSEC won't be an issue. Is this REALLY something that requires a class? But considering our ACS offers a class on How to Write a Check I guess I shouldn't be surprised.
But there in lies the crux of the problem with the FRG - It's outdated, and it only serves a small segment of the unit. It's still 1940 on the Army clock, but it's 2010 in the real world. There are many Army spouses that don't need classes in setting up a FB page - we already know how to navigate the Interweb and have been using email and the Net quite successfully for many years now. We don't need classes in writing a check, we do that a lot. There is a LOT more diversity in Army families now. Not every spouse stays home and raises kids. Some stay home and work, some work outside the home, and some go to school. We run our households more efficiently than command runs their units, and FRGs really need to get with the times and start serving the needs of all different kinds of Army families, not just the traditional ones.
**side rant** FRGs should NOT be a voluntary organization!!! Army spouses give ENOUGH. We give MORE than enough. Quit expecting us to do this too with no resources and no support. Make FRGs a little more 21st century and a little less high school and you'll attract volunteers who have a wider skill set and more experience. But right now many spouses wouldn't go near an FRG with a 10 foot pole. **/side rant**
FRGs need an SOP. Create a national, Army wide system for how FRGs should be run. Connect the FRGs all over the country. Give them tools and resources. Make it easier for people PCSing to find/get into an FRG at the new post. FRGs need to be run in a uniform way, with a clearly spelled out mission and procedures so that they cannot be used as gossip hours or chances for bored wives to create their own soap operas.
I could tell last night that the command really did want the meeting to go well. They really did want soldiers and their wives to hang out, get to know each other and so on. I applaud them for that and it's a great idea. The fail was in the execution. The meeting sucked. It sucked hard. Here's why:
1. The room wasn't set up. Really ladies, get off the couch earlier and get in there and organize the room. Put the chairs out in a way that encourages conversation and doesn't divide people into little cliques. Put out the food in a welcoming way, don't just dump it on the table. Maybe write a little welcoming message on the board.
2. Food. There should be some. At 1800 people are usually having dinner. You have required them to be away from their homes, and their dinner. Many of the soldiers didn't go home, and had been on duty since 5 am. A plate of sad looking cupcakes and a plate of cookies and some soda aren't going to cut it. Pitch in $5 or $10 each and get some pizza, or pick one or two people to make a casserole or some mac and cheese. A baked mac and cheese could have fed everyone there and then some for less than $10. Have some food that the kids could eat - most parents do not want to feed their little ones cupcakes and cookies at 1800 and deal with the ensuing sugar rush.
3. Watch the kids - There was a kids table in the corner with some crayons and paper. Whee. It would have taken 20 minutes to find some coloring pages and games online and printed them out. Another 20 minutes to assemble them into fun little books. $5 worth of stickers from the craft store and crayons and those kids would have played all night. One of the FRG women could have volunteered to sit over with the kids and keep an eye on them, make sure they got something to eat etc but no one did. Childcare fail.
It's not rocket science. Really, it's not. Meetings don't have to suck. Organizations can be run well and efficiently. Recognize the needs of ALL military families, not just the traditional ones.
There have been a lot of tongue in cheek posts on the Web about what the general public should not say to a military spouse. You'd be amazed at the ignorant, hurtful, and downright stupid things that people say to military spouses.
Or, if you are a military spouse, maybe you wouldn't because you've probably had some of them said to you. Sometimes people don't realize how incredibly stupid they sound, sometimes they don't realize how ignorant they are, and sometimes they are just downright mean and judgmental.
But some people really do want to help, and they really do want to offer support, but they just don't know how. They have no idea what being the spouse of a deployed soldier is like so they don't know what to do or say to help. Many of them, not wanting to sound dumb or ignorant or mean, say nothing.
So here are some things you CAN and SHOULD say to the spouse of a deployed soldier:
"I'm making ________for dinner tonight. Why don't you and the kids come have dinner with us?" - Don't pretend like everything is normal, but don't ignore us. Invite us to BBQs, family dinners, ball games and other activities. And don't talk about the war when we're with you. Give us the chance to have a normal afternoon/evening with our family and friends. It's one of the best things you can do for us.
"I'm going to the grocery store/post office/mall can I pick up something for you?" - Running a household and a family by yourself when your partner is gone is hard. Very hard. Sometimes it's just too much effort to get out and run errands. Sometimes we are waiting for a phone call or an Internet chat, sometimes we are just too worn down to face traffic and shopping and normal life. Knowing someone you love is in mortal danger can do that to you.
"I'd like to send a letter/card/package to your spouse. Can I have his/her address?" - Don't forget about our spouses. They are working hard in deplorable conditions and often they do not get the supplies they need. Send letters/cards/photos from home. Send dry socks too, they can never get enough of those.
"I'll take this meeting/cover your shift/let the boss know where you're going" -When we do get that phone call we've been waiting for don't give us grief about taking it in the middle of work. We have no idea when those calls will come in. Sometimes it might be weeks, or even a month or more before we get another one. Cut us some slack and help out a little so we can talk to our spouses for as long as they can talk to us.
"Let's get a cup of coffee" - When you can see that we're edging down Depression Road and haven't gotten off the couch in a few days or have stopped bothering to shower everyday force us to get out and get back into life again. When you're dealing with the stress of knowing a loved one is in danger, and having to be responsible for a family all alone, and living with the reality of being alone after having a partner to lean on for a long time it's easy to just shut down, shut the world out, and retreat into solitude. Don't let us. Drag us back into the world again even if it's just for a cup of coffee.
"I don't know what you're going through, but I want to help. What do you need?"- Don't compare yourself to us, don't try to sympathize. You don't know what this is like, so don't try to convince us or yourselves that you do. It's ok that you don't know how hard a deployment is. We go through it so you don't have to know what it's like to lose your spouse or loved one and so that your family can be safe. But you don't have to know what it's like to help us. Just ask how you can help. We'll tell you what you can do and what we need.
"Call me anytime you need to
talk" - We need people to lean on, and not just between the hours of
9AM and 5 PM. When a message about an injury or death in a unit goes out,
when we hear about a bombing in our soldier's vicinity on the news, when we see
the dreaded black sedan coming anywhere near our home, when the burden of
carrying all the responsibility of keeping a family and a relationship becomes
too much a sympathetic ear is a lifeline that can keep a spouse sane. At
3 AM when you've been up for days willing the phone to ring so hard you
almost convince yourself you hear it ring and you obsessively check the
computer for email or an IM and the dark thoughts of disaster start creeping
into your mind having someone to talk to can banish the "what ifs"
and help us gain some much needed perspective.
"Thank you" - We don't do this for thanks, the same way our soldiers don't do their jobs for thanks or praise or medals. But even that small acknowledgment of the sacrifices that we make and the enormity of the struggles that we go through keeping things at home running and supporting our soldiers so that they can protect and serve means the world to us.
Holiday leave is over. Because of all the problems we've had in the last couple of months I spent Christmas by myself visiting friends and while it was a nice break it's very sad that DH and I have never spent a single holiday together. In 2008 he was deployed. In 2009 he has had staff duty, training exercises, or range exercises on every holiday, including my birthday and our anniversary. Isn't the point of being married so that you can spend the holidays with someone you love? I used to love holidays but now they don't seem very important. Another casualty of Army living I suppose.
I'm dreading the return to "garrison" life tomorrow. The waking up at 4 am, my husband becoming a shadow again who leaves the house at 4.30 am and doesn't return until after 17.00 and then is too tired to do anything but eat and go to bed. The adjustment back to Army life after block leave or an extended break is brutal. Sometimes I wonder if we're making it harder on ourselves than it needs to be, and wonder if we should not try to maintain a "normal" life when he's not on duty. But I tried that and was miserable. So while the way we do things is tough giving up the essence of who we are to become, essentially, True Believers, is impossible. At least it is for me. I suspect DH wouldn't have a problem with it. Even when he's on leave he watches the military channel and is always in a military mindset.
I'm also dreading it because of the strain it puts on our relationship. Things are quiet right now, and small steps are being taken to change attitudes and rebuilt trust, which is working. But once we go back to the stresses of day to day Army life I'm not sure that will last. Right now we have a partnership where he helps out with the errands and the housework and gives me time to do my job, but tomorrow we go from a partnership to everything being dumped on my shoulders again.
Housework, errand running, shopping, laundry ....all the tasks I hate will be left up to me since he eats, sleeps, and breaths Army from M-F and is too exhausted on weekends to help out. I resent having to take time away from my career and my grad school preparation to do things I hate to do and to be responsible for taking care of everything, including changing my schedule to wake up at 4 am to drive him post. That kind of stress would be tough for a healthy relationship to take, I'm worried that ours, as it is, won't survive it. I've had people tell me, "well that's life as a military spouse" but I refuse to accept that. Just because it's always been that way doesn't mean that it can't change. This is not 1940. Spouses today do not have to conform to those outdated stereotypes just because no one has ever done it differently. But finding a way to balance military life and 'regular' life is not something we have found yet.
When I first started this blog nearly a year ago I said that the pairing of a career Army soldier and a career oriented independent suspicious of the military Liberal would either bond us together forever or crack the relationship beyond repair. I'm still waiting to see which one is going to happen. I've committed to stay here until our apt lease is up in 4 months, which will be just after our wedding anniversary. In that time he has agreed to go private counseling and we both have agreed to marriage counseling. I've agreed to work on the relationship for those 4 months and then decide if we have a future together or if the Army life is just too much for our relationship to survive.
It would be difficult for me to put into words everything that's happened over the past year. But, I was definitely happy to see 2009 pass into obscurity. One of the few bright spots, especially recently, was the return of a friend at Fort Drum from Afghanistan. We were overjoyed that he was able to make it home to spend the holidays with his family and is now safe and out of harm's way. For 12 months anyway, then most likely he will be going back to Afghanistan. Here are Fort Campbell many of the soldiers already have orders to go and are gearing up. Luckily, due to his shoulder injury and our impending move, DH won't be one of them.
I don't know what the new year will bring, professionally, personally, or in any other way but I know there will be big changes. And change is usually a good thing. The writer Phyllis Rose says that:
The literature of women's lives is a tradition of escapees, women who have lived to tell the tale. They resist captivity. They get up and go. They seek better worlds"
I have definitely felt like a captive this past year. A prisoner stuck in a place I didn't want to be, in a world that was completely foreign to me, with a partner who had become a stranger. But this year, I will not be a captive. This year I will seek better worlds.
What are you doing to make 2010 a year of positive change and growth?
I took the blog down a bit of awhile ago because I felt like with the holiday stress and the stress that my marriage was under there was really not a lot to say. I needed some time to sort things through on my own. Even though I'm glad that my blog raises questions and inspires discussion, it's still my life and it's never easy to have people picking apart events in your life when they are still very fresh and painful.
But after I took the blog down the emails started coming in. Confessions from other wives that they have gone through the same struggles, and stories of how they got through, got up, moved on, kept going. Those stories have been an inspiration and tonic for me when events seemed so painful and confusing that I just didn't know where else to turn, and I feel as if I'd be letting down those awesome women and men who shared their stories with me when I needed to hear them the most. I realized during the hiatus that what we spouses/partners need more than anything is just to share our own experiences with others and hear theirs. I read somewhere that less than 1% of the population serves in the military, and since not all of them are married the spouses/partners of military personnel really are a small, elite group who have lives that the bulk of the population just do not understand. Political differences, lifestyle differences, philosophical and religious differences all pale in comparison to the one experience we have in common: loving a man or woman who serves in the military.
So I'm putting the blog back up, to share more stories, more information, and more observations about the chaos of life in the military when you're not a True Believer and learning how to balance the pride of service with the stress of life as a military spouse/partner. If the last year has been any indication it's going to be a long, bumpy ride. Better pack a snack.