Coping with war.
It’s never easy, no matter how aggressively military spouses may attempt to tackle that One Great Evil which forever overshadows military life in general.
You know the one: Inevitable family separation as husbands and wives called to duty resolutely take their places at the tip of the spear.
Like now, as war continues to be waged in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These men and women may be soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines. The bottom line for their ‘at-home’ partners is the same. The anguish of wartime deployment tends to be equalized only by the intense sense of heartache others in the community feel while enduring their own personal, hardship-ridden circumstances.
For instance, as local troops continue to deploy year after year to the Middle East striving for victory while fighting continues in Iraq and Afghanistan with no imminent end in sight to these wars.
I spent time this past week talking to local Hampton Roads spouses of deployed service members, curious to know if their lives have managed to take a somewhat positive turn despite years of war in the Middle East. I wanted to know what their stategy was in terms of effectively coping with circumstances beyond their control as they continue to confront periods of family separation that brings more wait and worry. Each had plenty to say.
All of these spouses asked that I only refer to his or her spouse’s branch of the Armed Forces in this column rather than any specific unit affiliations simply to ensure family privacy.
Paul, married to a Navy first class petty officer recently transferred to an aircraft carrier which is currently deployed to the Persian Gulf said, “I quit drinking the week after she deployed. What an eye-opener that turned out to be.”
Accustomed to “taking the edge off” by drinking alcohol every day, Paul told me he would come home from his civilian job as an IT manager for a local firm and consume a 12-pack of beer every night during the week, a quart of vodka or more on weekends.
“I decided to stop drinking, point blank, mainly because of my kids. Something about her being gone and the war made me realize I need to have a clear head – for them, especially – from start to finish.”
Paul considers his newfound sense of sobriety to be a major, life-altering experience as he plays a dual role in the lives of his preschool-aged son and daughter. He’s now both a father and mother, full time.
“The house is always clean, a major wake-up call for me, since I usually had a hangover I was nursing and didn’t notice the mess before when the wife was on a cruise,” he said. “I found there’s a whole different world out there when you don’t drink and you take your kids to IHOP early on a Saturday morning.”
For Paul, going on the wagon was “the best gift I could give my kids, because I’m actually paying attention to what they need. I never really thought about it or cared like I do now.”
Janelle, married to an Army sergeant who deployed to the Middle East from Fort Eustis, sought refuge from her grief by sitting down in front of the family computer and throwing herself into entertainment available for free on the internet.
“I learned how to play games online like Bingo, checkers and stuff,” she said. “I never played games before over the computer, but something told me to give it a try.”
She’s now very glad that she did.
“These games take my mind off him being gone and keep me from feeling overly tense and worried. They give me a quick, healthy escape whenever I felt the need to get away from things like the war.”
Online games have also helped Janelle understand why her three adolescent sons feel so driven to play their Xbox as much as they do while their father is deployed.
“We’re looking for an outlet for our suffering, pure and simple,” she said. “They have their Xbox games, I have my online Jackpot Bingo, Cribbage and Backgammon. We do what we need to do to get ourselves from one day to the next.”
The games Janelle plays can be accessed on the internet at pogo.com.
Melissa, the wife of a local Air Force officer assisting with flight operation missions in the Middle East, decided to make every Saturday into a special Family Expedition Day for herself and her four children during periods of her husband’s deployment.
“I can’t stand the thought of the five of us sitting at home thinking that Daddy may have a bad accident over there and never come back,” she said. “I got this crazy idea a few years ago that the kids and I should plan something every weekend as a family activity, just to help us make time pass and somehow survive as a family.”
Some crazy idea. Her kids have thrived voraciously on it ever since.
Melissa and her children have managed to become professional tourists in Hampton Roads and outlying regions following her husband’s periodic departure from Langley Air Force Base when it’s his time to go. They’ve also put in a fair share of quality family time at bowling alleys, gaming arcades, the movie theaters.
“As insane as it may sound, we have found a way to enjoy ourselves and be at peace with the war by leaping from Saturday to Saturday this way, year after year,” she said. “What we plan as a family activity seems almost monumental to our own sense of survival when we have to live without him.”
Shannon, a new Marine Corps wife who has no children, decided to focus her energies on advancing her own education while her husband, stationed with the Marine detachment aboard a Navy ship currently in mid-deployment in the MIddle East.
In the meantime, she’s been busy taking online courses offered by Old Dominion University in Norfolk and Strayer University . She’s also training to become a certified nutrition consultant through an online course she’s taking with the Global Institute for Alternative Medicine.
“I figure that as long as he’s out there doing his job, I should be here doing my job – working hard to make our life better for the future,” she said. “The more I keep myself busy and doing something constructive with my time like focusing on furthering my education, the less time I have to sit and worry and feel afraid.”
After speaking with these spouses, I’m convinced there are more heroes emerging as a result of these wars than just those who have chosen to wear a uniform and take their designated places at the tip of the spear in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We have an abundance of everyday heroes right here among us in the form of military spouses – those who have come to know their own struggle for strength only too well and somehow managed to find that strength through the commitment of the depth of their love.