So, in my life right now there has been a definite increase in the amount of spouses I know who have sent their soldiers off to one combat zone or another. It’s strange, because there has been an obvious decrease in the number of troops actually deployed. But around me, for whatever reason, I have gotten more than a few texts from my girlfriends saying their husbands are getting sent ‘over there’.
I love that my MilSO ladies feel comfortable texting or calling me when they need someone to talk to or to complain to, or a wine night away from packing and acronyms and the gear explosion that inevitably happens in the living room when there’s a deployment or school coming up. (I fondly call this ‘gear vomit’ because it really looks like a military surplus store has just emptied it’s contents into the middle of my floor. I’m not even sure how we have so many dufflebags if I’m being honest. Who needs a 9 foot canvas bag?)
Being near an Army post set me up to have the most amazing, supportive group of people. I met girlfriends who I instantly fell into an easy friendship with. They’re wonderful, and so loving and caring. And both are military kids, and army wives. They know more of what I’m feeling than anyone could possibly comprehend. It made getting through the last few years much more manageable. Almost enjoyable – we helped each other through the here today, gone tomorrow schedule our men have been in for a while. Projects were finished, and months apart were conquered with help and a lot of laughter (and more than a little junk food and wine). The only other person who I’ve had that level of connection and friendship with is my best friend who is ALSO a former milspouse. No matter the emotion, milspouses have been there. There’s no judgement when we are too sad to put real pants on, or when we’re asking our husbands when they’ll be in the field next because we aren’t used to sharing a bed, or having someone around every day. Worrying about your soldier feels the same no matter their rank or MOS (specialty – the job they do for the military). If you bail on plans because your husband is home, they get it. Not only do they get it, but they encourage it because they’ll be there one day, too.
I’m not saying that ‘civilian’ friends can’t be wonderfully supportive – they can, absolutely. But – only those of us who have been bitten can truly tell each other how it feels. That being said, my ‘civilian’ friends have asked what can be done to support me. AND I had people ask on here how to help their friends who have a soldier gone in some capacity. So, I figured instead of just rambling off, I’d be honest and even put it to words, in a format a little easier than a teary conversation or a text message. These obviously can’t be said for every MilSO, but I think they’re a good start.
Ask. The first thing is to ask. I will probably not have an answer because that’s just me – panic in the moment and handle it later. But if you ask if I need or want anything, that’s honestly wonderful, it shows that you care even if you don’t know what to do. And, makes me remember that I have people in my corner. Just understand that the answer may actually be that I need time alone.
Don’t Assume It’s All About the Military. As awesome as it would be, my life does not pause when J is gone. And thank goodness! I still have bills and stress and every day craziness to handle. The infertility stuff that’s happening is still right there, there’s just a pause in moving forward. My Bravo the Infantry Dog will still eat my shoes and try to kill himself, there’s just no one to help me get his 60 pound puking self. Work problems will be there, and I’m going to school too. Oh – and writing a BOOK (more on that in a little bit). Ask about those things. It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re not just someone’s wife – there’s a ‘me’ in here too.
Come Over. We may binge watch Army Wives (don’t you dare judge me.) and drink coffee and not even talk. Or, I may need someone to come over and help me with a project, or I just need people around. Come over, be present. That’s one of the best things my best friend does – seriously, she just shows up. No questions. Sometimes we build a writing desk, sometimes we watch Band of Brothers and make meatloaf muffins. But that girl has a talent for being around when she’s needed. Actually – I think I may make this the biggest suggestion. By two other J girls (we call ourselves J Cubed… no joke.) just show the heck up when they’re needed. Once, at an emergency room with about 15 minutes heads up. But now I know that I could call at 3 am and they’d come pick me up with car problems if needed. The people in my life I remember the most are the ones who are present and want to be there. (Another example – we had SIXTEEN people DRIVE DOWN to help us PCS. Whoa, our people showed up for us in a major way.)
Support Our Soldier. This is insanely helpful. Offer to send letters or care packages or emails – he may not respond, but knowing that I can take some time to put one together is nice, and knowing that someone else is looking out for my husband makes me able to put energy into keeping our little life running with out feeling too much guilt over last weeks late-mailed care package.
Don’t Say Stupid Things. This is (mostly) a joke… but oh man have we military wives heard some doozies. Some of them can be pretty painful. On the top of the list are;
- “Oh… that’s not too long.” Just no. Gone and at war is gone and at war. Let’s send your husband away for a few months and see if it’s ‘not too long’.
- “Are you worried?” Nope. I love constantly wondering what’s happening.
- “You signed up for it.” Cue the rage. I’m going to stat saying not nice things to this one. Because really, it’s not okay.
- “I understand what you’re going through.” People are trying to relate. But honestly there’s no way this works well. J and I are handling our infertility journey, and for some reason people latch on to that and say “I understand what you’re going through.” No, no you don’t. Unless you’re trying to also get pregnant and make sure you can actually have kids, while also being worried about the fact that your husband might not come home – you don’t get it. Honestly – Can we just eliminate this phrase COMPLETELY? Like, in all situations not even relating to the military. I don’t understand what you’re going through, and assuming I do makes me look like an idiot. An insensitive one.
- “Oh, but he’s just National guard.” No. A million times of DON’T SAY THIS TO ANYONE. Yes, national guardsmen are not reporting into post every day, but when they’re gone for a year and you tell their wife they’re ‘just national guard’ she will hit you. You’ve been warned.
Yes, that’s very snarky but what I really want to convey is that when you’re husband is gone you feel everything a lot, so some serious grace needs to happen – on both sides – but a lot of these things really strike instant nerves for a woman who is missing her husband, who is in danger and unable to talk to her.
We’re going to seem weird. Just roll with it. The military is a weird culture. There aren’t many jobs where one spouse leaves the other behind, and can’t tell them where they are or what they’re doing. There are so many things that we cannot control, and it leads to some interesting reactions, weird rules and… peculiar coping mechanisms. I will run away from a table faster than a marathon sprinter if I see an ‘unknown’ number come up on my phone. No goodbyes, just out I go. Every morning, I drink my coffee out of an “Army Wife” coffee cup. Because even if the army takes my husband away, or keeps him for our anniversary weekend, at least it’s giving me my morning coffee. Weird? Oh heck yes. But somehow, it helps.
The final takeaways? Don’t pity us. Our soldiers are badasses. They’re amazing, resilient, wonderful people and we are so so proud. Help us celebrate them and keep our lives together. Each deployment will be different, and obviously each military couple, but if everyone strings their lives and interactions with grace and a loooot of patience, it will be perfect – or at least something close to it 🙂