A former history professor, Tom Miller
is a novelist and essayist. His most recent
novel is Full
Court Press (2000). His reviews
and essays have appeared in numerous books,
journals, and newspapers, including The
Encyclopedia of Southern History, American
History Illustrated, the Chicago
Tribune, and the Des Moines Register.
He also is a former Army officer and Vietnam
Being "married to the military" is hard enough in the best of times. There are the crazy hours, the pay, the frequent moves, and the difficulty of sustaining a career to name a few. Add war with its inherent dangers and frequent deployments and ... Well, it doesn't get any easier. But, when your military spouse announces that you're being uprooted for the umpteenth time and transferred to Minot, ND / Lawton, OK / Watertown, NY, and you have to give up the dream job that you thought you'd never find and the kids have to adjust to another school and you're beginning to hate the military, it's time you discovered Jacey Eckhart.
Ms. Eckhart has been there and done that, and she has some good, old-fashioned advice for "living the Happy Military Life." Yes, happy. Eckhart -- Air Force brat, Navy wife (seventeen years), mother (times three), and military life columnist for the Virginian Pilot (eight years) -- had to learn the trade secrets for "living the Happy Military Life" the hard way: experience. But, she insists, they are secrets only because "we forget to tell one another." With her column, and now with The Homefront Club, Eckhart is reaching out to military spouses -- especially wives since she says that husbands have their own issues and need their own book -- who need advice and encouragement in handling what the military throws at them.
Ms. Eckhart isn't for everybody though. While she's no apologist for the military and doesn't sugarcoat the bad news, she is relentlessly upbeat and positive. Moreover, she does not tolerate victims. Noting the myriad difficulties associated with military life, she concedes that the military could do more to help -- and in fact is doing much more than in the past. But, she always puts the ball squarely in the spouse's court. It's your life, she says, take charge of it. Don't blame the military. Don't blame your spouse. "They can't make you happy," she notes. Like it or not, the author's insistence on personal responsibility is the book's best advice -- and strongest asset.
Moving got you down. Nobody in their right mind -- military or civilian -- enjoys moving. Ms. Eckhart, who has moved thirteen times in seventeen years of being married to the Navy, knows that better than most. (Mamie Eisenhower who moved thirty-five times in Ike's thirty-seven-year career should be considered for Sainthood. At least the poor woman got to live in the White House long enough to get everything unpacked.)
"Moving is a Very Big Deal, Eckhart admits. (Using lots of capital letters for emphasis is a Very Big Deal for the author. Since it's one of her favorite rhetorical flourishes, you might as well get used to it.) But, it "isn't the end of the world." After suggesting a number of concrete ways to make the experience less trying, she ends with this: "Moving is like walking across hot coals. Don't stop; keep going." Resist the temptation to dismiss such comments as facile. Eckhart's style is chatty and informal, but that doesn't mean it's not substantive.
Ms. Eckhart asks the best way to get through a lengthy deployment and answers "Any way we can." Once she's got your attention and signaled that it's time to pull yourself together, she outlines a host of sensible strategies for coping while they're gone. Likewise, there's straight-forward advice for sustaining a career through multiple moves, helping kids prepare for and adjust to moves, and dealing with the inevitable loneliness that "is part and parcel of military life."
And then, there's the "One True Path to Military Happiness: Don't plan stuff." The One True Path even comes with a military wife motto: Semper Gumby -- always flexible.
Ms. Eckhart has written a how-to manual for military spouses -- especially for those just beginning the journey who can use the most help. That doesn't mean that more experienced spouses won't profit from the book too. In fact, The Homefront Club deserves the broadest possible military and civilian audience because military spouses, who labor in obscurity, also deserve the praise and respect of a grateful nation. Maybe the publisher will send Secretary Rumsfeld a copy.