Life is no straight and easy corridor along which we travel free and unhampered, but a maze of passages, through which we must seek our way, lost and confused, now and again checked in a blind alley.
But always, if we have faith, a door will open for us, not perhaps one that we ourselves would ever have thought of, but one that will ultimately prove good for us."
- A.J. Cronin
Last week, I received an email from SpouseBUZZ reader and frequent commenter, LAW. Her husband's unit had been extended. A very big disappointment for her, and the rest of the families who were so close to a reunion. I asked LAW if she would be interested in jotting down her feelings about the extension, and she did. Below is LAW's raw, first-blush and honest reaction to receiving the news.
An Oncoming Train, After All...
Last Wednesday night, that light at the end of our 18 month deployment tunnel became what we dreaded... not the bright light of homecoming, but an oncoming train called Extension.
The notification of the extension was handled incredibly badly. We found out on the radio, on-line, from TV. The troops found out from their families, my husband learned of it when we were IMing after the President's speech. I couldn't believe he didn't know, I told him to check the news (I couldn't just type out 'you've been extended'!) and to watch his face on the webcam when he read it... that was hard. The well documented problems with notification, including non-notification of the troops first, the media notification of the families and the public before the troops, the frustration of the Guard Command, have contributed to the overwhelming feeling of being run over by that train.
So now we sit here with questions.... Lots of them. From the day to day living - DEERS registrations (we are Guard, not Active), Tricare, to the specific - what about those non refundable tickets for the after homecoming trip of a lifetime, can they get leave for the weddings planned for June (the extension is supposed to last until late summer) - the babies being born in the summer. Will there be additional R&R?
And underneath all the questions, is the anger. The anger at the plan, the anger at the disgraceful way the Brigade was informed, the amorphous anger some of us feel against the Army/Pentagon/DoD, the anger at our lives being further disrupted, without any regard for us or our families - the feeling that we have done our part, we have had our lives put on hold for almost 18 months already! Being National Guard, our troops were sent for training for 6 months, and we were not permitted to see them other than a 2 week leave over Christmas, and 6 days pre deployment leave. Then they left for a year in the Sand. Now, the entire deployment will last almost 2 years.
How have others handled this? Having been an Active Army wife I understand the vagaries of the Army better than most of the National Guard wives and other family members. But I have never had to deal with anything like this before.
Empowered? I'm supposed to help those younger troops' families. And I have been their sounding board, answering questions from their moms, trying to educate them in the milspeak that is a second language for me but is so much gobbledygook to them. I have listened to them cry, explained the "why" when I knew, and helped organize big projects for us to do for the troops, to keep occupied, to feel like we were making a difference. Have we made a difference? Have I?
I know we will get through this, most of us without lasting scars. Some of the younger families are suffering greatly, and I hope that their FRGs and families are helping them through this. My own FRG is one of those we always hope we don't have to deal with, so many of us are out here on our own, hoping that those we met at a meeting will stay in touch. Dealing with the day to day, is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Dealing with the civilians' pity, that's a different story. Dealing with the drama queens in the family... well, that's ongoing! Dealing with the disappointment, knowing we have another summer to go through, now I'm not sure how to deal with that.
I'm pretty strong, I've gone through a previous deployment (not to the Sand), many schools that kept him away, ADSW unaccompanied tours overseas... and I'm no newbie to all this. But I still wonder how much longer I can stay strong, how much more disappointment I can handle. I'm lucky, I don't have little kids (and my grand daughter isn't old enough to understand) I have a good job and our fiscal situation didn't suffer when he was activated. But I've been alone for over 3 years, with short reunions and 2 weeks leave reminding me of what it might be like. Have I grown as a milspouse? I suppose so. Am I more powerful as a person? I suppose so. Would I want to do this all again? Hell no.
I can only imagine what these soldiers and their families must be going through right now. I believe in calling a spade a spade and it's quite clear that the notification process of this particular extension was botched. Badly botched. I encourage you to watch this video. Kudos to the Commander for not sugarcoating this debacle.
This isn't the first time this type of thing has happened, but I hope that the military is working hard to see that this never happens again. It's incredibly unfair to all parties involved. While milspouses should know that there are no certainties in this life, proper communication channels can help "soften the blow." In this case, there was no softening.
I'm sure it wasn't much consolation for LAW, but I did remind her of the old quote that goes something like this, "it's not mistakes that define us, it's how we handle them." I told her to substitute "setbacks" for "mistakes." Setbacks are a common part of military life. They're no fun, but they are all too often our reality.
For the families who are dealing with this extension, our thoughts and prayers are with you.
I'd like to thank LAW for sharing her feelings with us at a particularly stressful moment. I'm interested in hearing more from her during this extension on how the spouses are supporting one another.