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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Military life is not an episode of "Army Wives".

As many of you know, my significant other is recently home from a 15-month deployment in Iraq. Going through a deployment is difficult for us here left behind; obviously, it doesn't compare to what our men and women are experiencing, but it isn't exactly a cakewalk. It's not an episode of "Army Wives" either, a ridiculous excuse for a poorly performed soap opera. It does not even slightly resemble real life.

The inspiration for this blog came from Rachel Lucas, whose other half is being called to service to go to Iraq. She made a very good point today:
I want to know about it for myself but also for others, because although I know people mean well, I’ve noticed something about their reactions when they find out Rupert’s being deployed: they look at him as though he’s just been diagnosed with cancer or has just been given the death penalty.

Man, is that the truth.

Whenever I would tell people Michael was in Iraq, they would suddenly get this expression on their face usually only reserved for funerals. They'll put what I guess they feel is a sympathetic arm around me, or give me a hug, or whatever, and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry," or, "Oh, honey, I'm sure he'll be fine." It. Drove. Me. Crazy. Michael knew what he was getting into when he enlisted; it was after 9-11, and we were at war. I knew what I was getting into when I started dating him. It's part of the package. Do I like him being away for excessively long periods of time, or knowing that he may not come home? Not in the least. It's difficult and scary and lonely and stressful. But I am unbelievably proud of him, of his strength and his willingness to step up and do what needs to be done. And I'm grateful to him, as I am to all our men and women serving, for being willing to protect the freedoms we so take for granted here. I'd rather hear people say, "Tell him thank you," because there's no need to be sorry or offer reassurance.

That said, here's a few things you should never, ever say to someone whose loved one is currently deployed overseas.

  • Aren't you afraid that he'll be killed?
    This kind of goes under the "duh!" category. And yes, people ask that. All. The. Time. Yes, of course we're afraid that he'll be killed. It's a fear that you never completely forget about; at best, you can push it to the back of your mind. And of course, being reminded of that fear is often the highlight of my day! (Sarcasm off.)

  • OH, that's horrible...I'm so sorry!
    Don't. Be. Sorry. He's doing his job. Be appreciative. Take a minute to realize that everything you have in your comfortable little life is possible thanks to those men and women who are doing that "horrible" job.

  • Wow, you must really miss him.
    No, I don't miss him at all! I'm a mindless robot who can automatically turn love on and off! The second he boards that plane to go to war, I can flip that switch and not worry about it until he comes back! Seriously... of course we miss them. I missed Michael every day and for the most random reasons. I missed being able to go to the movies with him, I missed waking up next to him in the morning, I missed holidays with him... there are a million different reasons you find to miss them every single day, but each day you find a way to keep on trucking.

  • How much longer until he gets done with all of this?
    This is annoying in its condescension. For Michael, and a lot of soldiers like him, there is no "getting done with all of this". He, like many soldiers, loves his job and, like many of them, keep signing up. It's a lifestyle, not just a job.

  • I don't know how you manage. I don't think I could do it.
    This, again, is annoying in its condescension. I know, it's intended to be a compliment. It isn't. No one dreams of doing this job. No one wanted to be alone for significant portions of their relationship, keeping their cell phones with them always, even in the bathroom and shower, just in case he calls. We aren't any different than anyone else; we just happened to fall for a man (or woman) who is a soldier. You put all your efforts into being a good support system for them while they're gone. You find a way to cope.

  • This deployment shouldn't be so bad, now that you're used to it.
    News flash: it never gets easy. Yes, you can learn how to cope. Yes, you can find ways of distracting yourself for a little while so you aren't constantly worrying every minute of the day. But it never gets to be "easy", no matter how many deployments you go through, and just because our guys may have been there more than once, it doesn't mean they're miraculously invincible.

  • Oh, I know exactly what you're going through. My husband/wife had to go on a business trip to _________ for a month, and it was awful!
    While I can appreciate that being away from your significant other for any period of time is not fun, it is not the same thing as what our guys are going through. The only way it would compare is if while on this "business trip" they were away for 12 - 18 months, while dodging bullets, mortars, RPGs, IEDs, and God knows what else, living in cramped quarters with 2 - 3 other people, working 20 hour days in 120 degree heat while wearing body armor and gear that can weigh up to 75 lbs, and having no idea when the next time you'll talk to your loved ones is. It is not the same thing as being at war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Saying you know what we're going through because of some measly business trip where you husband or wife gets to stay in a comfortable hotel room with clean sheets and hot showers, three meals a day, eight hours of sleep a night, and reliable phone service that lets you talk to your family several times a day is kind of an insult.

    Yes, if you're wondering, every single question listed above is one I have been asked by people fairly regularly. I know people don't mean to be insensitive or thoughtless. I know they just want to to feel like they can relate to us, or they're curious, or whatever the case may be. But so often, people don't think about what they're actually saying.

    By all means, these "trials and tribulations" are nothing compared to what our troops go through in Iraq and Afghanistan. But when you're thinking about and praying for our troops, remember the ones who are left behind as well... the mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Military life is not an episode of "Army Wives". Conflicts don't get wrapped up in 42 minutes; deployments don't get cut short because the wife wants them to be. Stays in Walter Reed aren't only for a day or two; soldiers do not always come home surly and violent because they're stricked with PTSD. Real life is so much different than that piece-of-crap show.

    Don't feel sorry for us or for our soldiers. Be grateful and appreciative, and remember the families left behind as well.
  • 4 comments:

    Jay said...

    I really appreciate this post. It was difficult for my wife while I was deployed as well. You have to have be strong and have faith in your relationship. Its good to see other good people out there.

    Sarah said...

    Amen, sister.

    My husband keeps volunteering to deploy again, only to keep getting thwarted for various reasons. The horrified reaction from friends and family that he's purposely trying to deploy and that he's disappointed to not get to go...well, you can imagine.

    BME said...

    Please pass on my thanks to Michael for his service, and I'd also like to thank you for yours. It's not easy to be the anchor back at home for a fighting man, but it's an important job - you give him a tangible "something to protect" and "something to come home safe for", in addition to providing the comforts of home he definitely will need on his return.

    My prayers will be with both of you.

    Anonymous said...

    My oldest grandson is there now, the fourth generation of a proud military family. It never gets easier, but it is pride, loyalty, love of your fellow man, honor and an old fashioned altruism drives those ofus in the military.

    For those who choose not to understand, nothing we do will ever enlighten them, since they have allowed personal greed and ambition to control their thoughts and actions.