Last Friday, Andi and AWTM were invited to speak with Andrea Shea King on her radio program. I liveblogged their conversation, but boy did it move fast! My apologies if I didn't get everything perfect. They touched on how they started blogging, SpouseBUZZ Live, reintegration, and other topics.
Andrea Shea King: Tell us a little about yourself
AWTM: I was raised in the Midwest, currently living in Midsouth. I am an LPN. And I started blogging when my husband returned from Iraq.
King: Both of your children were born while your husband was deployed?
King: Andi, you're the wife of an active duty soldier, just returned from Afghanstan?
Andi: Army, just returned. We've been married 13 years.
King: Andi, I'm very impressed with your leadership qualities. You organized the Milbloggers conference. What prompted you to do that?
Andi: The community is tight. We were at war and the milblog community was exploding, and I thought we should meet each other face to face and get in one room to talk. We covered some interesting and important topics, and we're doing it again on May 5, 2007 in Washington DC.
King: And what about the one in Killeen?
Andi: Military.com organized that one through SpouseBUZZ to get wives together.
King: You're also an ambassador for Sew Much Comfort.
Andi: That's the most important thing I do. They sew adaptive clothes for the troops. For example, burn victims have trouble wearing regular clothes. And body armor protects the torso, but the limbs are exposed. They can't put on regular clothes over their injured limbs. GBear's son noticed these soldiers needed better clothes. "I can be normal again," one wounded man told me. It's an all volunteer organization, and GBear just met with President Bush, and he thanked her for her work.
King: Another good organization is Soldiers Angels' Valour-IT.
AWTM: This was created by Joan D'Arc's husband who was injured and lost the use of his hands. He had a popular blog at the time and felt blogging was therapeutic. His wife did his writing for him while he was injured, updating his readers throughout the process. Another blogger donated voice-activated software so he could continue to feel connected while at Walter Reed. There are something like 625 laptops currently in Valour-IT. Army is ahead, hooah!, in the challenge right now to raise money to get more laptops.
King: Andi, you wrote recently about three experiences that have been overwhelming to blog about.
Andi: Going to Walter Reed was a life-changing experience. My father couldn't believe how positive the guys at Walter Reed are. And how proud they are. AWTM went with me in January. As much as we tell people morale is high, until you see it yourself, you can't really understand it. For example, I met Sergio Lopez. All he wanted to know how the other soldiers in his unit were, and he was grappling with the decision of having both legs amputated. The spirit and positive nature of these guys is amazing. If more Americans could see this, the sentiment in the US would change.
King: You really come together as military spouses, right? Moreso than ever because of blogging?
Andi: AWTM addressed this at Hood, comparing Desert Storm vs today. Technology has improved our communication with our spouses but also with each other as spouses.
AWTM: I'm a National Guard spouse, so I don't have a regular military community around. And I have two small children, so it's not always a great idea to take little ones to a meeting at bedtime. So blogs were a way to connect. The first spouse blogger I read was Sarah. I kept reading and found I wasn't alone. On a bad day, there was someone else having something going on. It became a second family for me. It's hundreds of years, technologically speaking, from Desert Storm. I had 3 calls then, and a phone bill for $700! Plus we got disconnected all the time. And no internet.
King: Have you heard from your husband a lot this time?
AWTM: Better. We email. But when lines of communication go down when something has happened, it's hard for wives. It's an anxiety-filled time. But with cell phones and internet, communication is immediate. Sometimes this is a positive thing; these are pioneer wives with this technology , and they're learning to manage the information.
King: Can you imagine what it was like during WWII!
AWTM: We have amazing choices these days.
King: Andi, what prompted you to start SpouseBUZZ?
Andi: On my own blog, I rarely deal with life as a military one. I was receiving lots of email from other spouses, and realized that there was no spouse blog that was primarily spouse-oriented. National Guard and Reserve spouses didn't have a support system. So I approached Military.com and pitched the idea. They were receptive, and before I knew it, we had SpouseBUZZ. Military spouses like to get together and like to know they're not alone. One thing I took from this meeting in Killeen is that we don't want our husbands to worry about what's going on at home. They can't be distracted. So when we all were in same room, these wives got to talk about how they were feeling without worrying the husbands. It was an outlet for them to laugh, cry, and all understand what everyone's going though.
King: So you blog about things like paperwork with Tricare, etc, right?
Andi: Yes, the SpouseBUZZ blog is educational, funny, everything; it's the good, the bad and the ugly.
King: Will you stay involved with this after husband leaves military life?
AWTM: I'm enjoying spouse and soldier advocacy. It's important. Andi is brave with that same pioneering spirit. We're used to getting support in blogosphere, so it's great to get the word out. Some spouses at SpouseBUZZ Live didn't even know what milblogs are. So we're getting the word out.
AWTM: And that's the funny part about reunion, for some of us. I wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted to look great when I showed up, but I was there with my kids after seven hours in the car, tired, covered in Cheetos and snot. And the thing about reunion is that those outside the military didn't understand my anxiety with reintegration. But you see, I didn't know what I was getting back. He was coming home to a new family, a pregnant wife, and I knew he was a different person. So I was surprised my writing was picked for The Blog of War. But Matt (from Blackfive) "got it". People have come to see that reintegration isn't just jumping up and down with a sign. Your husband has lost people he cares about, and he is leaving a "family" of sorts. As wonderful as it is, and as much as you love him, it's an adjustment.
King: A reader on the web said, "Soldiers are scared too. Are we still needed? Is there still a place for us?"
Andi: Someone put it at SpouseBUZZ Live as "I can handle things when you're gone, but I need you when you get back."
King: How did you get into blogging?
Andi: I found Mudville Gazette, and hours later realized there's a whole world out there. I didn't know what a blog was, but knew I wanted one!
King: And the tech aspect? How difficult is it?
Andi: I originally signed up for a high maintenance site and couldn't figure out what I was doing. Finally I did some research and established a user-friendly blog. Blogspot, Typepad, there are many ways to get started.
AWTM: At first I found it intimidating. But I finally had time when her husband got home. The first day he was home, I realized I wanted it and needed it. It's cheaper than therapy! I didn't tell my husband at first, but he was supportive. And it's a cheap hobby! He thought would be therapeutic for me.
King: There's some amazing work out there; I'm always amazed. Andi, you're knowledgeable, thoughtful, insightful. And, AWTM, you are hilarious. I told my daughter she had to read your site, and she was hooked! People enjoy you, and you are so willing to help others.
AWTM: But you spearheaded the whole thing with A Storm in Afghanistan. You got it out there and they went from raising $6000 to $30000. Kudos to you.
King: Thank you for your service. I noticed with pride and awe, that spouses refer to themselves as military. You are in service to this country. Thank you for being with us.