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Military Wife's Novel Mirrors Real-Life Experiences

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"Hello & Goodbye" says it all for former military wife Cari Schaeffer. At least until the next volume of her trilogy comes out.

The novel is the fictional account of Heather, a young woman facing -- not very well at times -- the reality of being married to Rick, a non-commissioned officer in the Air Force: From their first meeting to the litany of goodbyes as he leaves to fulfill his job in the military.

The first of three books in The Yellow Ribbon Chronicles, "It has little pieces of me in it," said Cari, 45, of O'Fallon. She, her husband, Jim, 46, and three children arrived at Scott Air Force Base in 2002. Jim retired as a master sergeant and is now a contractor at the base. They've been married 25 years.

"He was gone the week after our marriage," she recalled while sitting at the family dining room table. The assignment lasted a year.

It echoes the beginning of "Hello & Goodbye," when couple Heather and Rick are separated shortly after their wedding because of a remote assignment.

Cari spent four years in the military and met Jim at McCord Air Force Base in Washington state. She grew up in California and Jim in Pennsylvania.

"I'm not as naive as Heather is in the book. I saw the other side," she said of what being in the military is like. "I was married and alone, living in the dorms on base and I had to put the uniform on every day and go to work. She's young and stupid."

But it's life's lessons Cari wants to impart, and she hopes readers can learn from self-centered Heather -- who can't seem to accept the lifestyle of being married to someone who sees the military as a career.

In an excerpt from Chapter 3, in which Heather is upset about a delay in Rick coming home for the holidays:

"Heather, you are going to have to accept that you're a military wife. He wears the uniform, and this is part of the job," Mom replies.

I shake my head. "I didn't sign up for all this! I married Rick. I didn't marry the military."

"Yes, you did," Dad chides me. "When you marry a man that wears the uniform, you are signing up for this."

Cari, a former critcal care nurse and personal chef, has been a mentor for two Mothers of Preschoolers groups. In her research for the book, she also talked to military wives.

"I really wanted to reach out to them," she said of young mothers who may feel alone in their new life.

She saw the need to tell a story that would shine some light on common situations, starting with the first years of marriage for Heather and Rick, his no-questions-asked remote assignments, her initial isolation, strong bonds of friendship she develops with other military spouses and the reality of rearing children alone.

I'm not as naive as Heather is in the book. I saw the other side. I was married and alone, living in the dorms on base and I had to put the uniform on every day and go to work. She's young and stupid.

Cari Schaeffer on her book's main character

"He was gone a lot. That's how life was in the '90s," Cari said of Jim's deployments. "The phone would ring and he'd be gone. He couldn't tell me where he was going."

It was hard, she said, especially with a young daughter.

"Amanda (now 22) didn't remember her dad. She didn't ask for him anymore," Cari said. "She was 3 or 4. We kept a globe on the desk and she would rub the spot (where he was assigned) and say, 'Daddy.'"

Heather and Rick's family experiences something similar in the book, as well as the post-partum depression both the writer and her character suffered.

"That was a difficult part to write," Cari said. "I didn't want to go back there." Cari and Jim also have two sons, Alex, 17, and Steven, 14.

But the book also delves into pinching pennies to make ends meet, dealing with base housing, making moves across the country and having your patience tested by government bureaucracy.

"There are many aspects of military life that people are unaware of," she said. "With this book, I wanted to validate the experience."

Cari is currently working on the second book in the trilogy of Heather and Rick's life together. The author says readers will see a transformation as Heather matures, starts to find her own identity, but still has challenges to face.

"Hello & Goodbye" is available online for $4.99 through Amazon, Barnes & Noble/Nook, Apple iBooks and Kobo.

See more information about Cari and her book, including a previous novel, "Faith, Hope, Love, and Chocolate" at www.carischaeffer.com.

Suzanne Boyle: 618-239-2664, @BoyleSuzanne

Helpful tips

Cari Schaeffer offers some advice to military spouses

* 1. "Just realize that you married him, but you married him in uniform."

* 2. Try to learn patience with the military system

* 3. Don't close in on yourself. Now you have to make your own family.

* 4. "The military never asked if I needed anything, so put yourself out there. Reach out."

* 5. Support groups don't have to be formal.

* 6. Finding a church can be a great comfort and a place of support. ___

 

This article was written by Suzanne Boyle from Belleville News-Democrat and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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