We had a fierce competition on our hands for June's "What's Your Story Contest." The topic was, "What I want civilians to know about my life as a military spouse." All of the entries were excellent and we ended up with a tie. We had to wait for one of our judges to surface from a PCS move to break the tie.
This month, we decided to publish the essay of the finalist, along with the winning essay.
Congratulations to Karen Coulson, who submitted this winning entry:
What I want civilians to know about my life as a military spouse.
Dear John and Jane Civilian,
I live in an ordinary neighborhood, in an ordinary city. I grumble when gas prices go up 30 cents overnight. I water my lawn and keep the grass cut short. My dogs bark when the trash collectors come down alley. I like to go to work early in the morning and come home in the afternoon to avoid traffic.
Any of that sound familiar? Yeah. I thought so. You see, we are mostly alike. We want to do what's best for our families, to leave this earth a little better than when we arrived, and to find a little contentment and solace along the way. After all, it can be a bumpy road, this life. Of course, we go after those goals a little different from one another. My family has opted to do it through the US Army.
Actually, my husband of over 8 years is currently in the Army Reserves and he is deployed to Iraq. While he has been in Iraq for almost 9 months, he left home 18 months ago for training and assuming duties necessary to get the unit ready for its mission. During those early months while my husband was 1500+ miles away, I got to speak to him on the phone most days. And it did have some resemblances to an ordinary business trip in that he was generally accessible by phone, I would not consider having my husband training for combat operations for nearly 9 months ordinary business. I don't think you do either. Oh yeah. I got to see for about a total of 15 days in those 9 months.
Then he was off to place where there are people looking to kill him every chance they get. He knows when he is in danger, but to me, it is all dangerous. I've educated myself about his enemy, his mission, and the war in general. I've done the best I can to reduce my anxiety level about the dangers he faces. I have my own arsenal of coping mechanisms.
I understand it is difficult to know what to say to someone like me. Especially when you may have mixed feelings about us, the US, being there, in Iraq. You probably want to be helpful to me and I appreciate that. Support comes in many forms and you are providing me with a great deal of it. You keep an eye on my house when I am gone for a few days. You help me with the yard. You ask how my husband is doing. You offer a kind word, and maybe a few words you may think are supportive but are really just disheartening, discouraging.
You see, I have to believe that what my husband is doing is right. That it is just. That he's making a difference. That his route clearance unit is saving lives. My need for this belief is profound.
So when you say that it is a mess over there in Iraq, that we need to get out of there, that there is no way we can win, your words are not supportive. While I can do my very best to put up a wall between me and you in this type of situation, your words are like the IEDs my husband hunts: Sometimes I can see them coming and I can control the detonation, sometimes they are so well hidden there is no way to prepare and I am stopped cold in my tracks, wounded. Of course, all my limbs are intact, my heart continues to pump. But my scars are on the inside, out of sight, not out of my mind.
I pick myself up and go about my day, just as you do. I go about my life in my ordinary neighborhood, in my ordinary city. Waiting. Patiently. For my husband, and for your next question.
"So when he comes home, he's done right?"
Yes, until he goes again when he is asked to do so. Because that's what we as a military family do.
As I mentioned above, we decided to publish the essay of the finalist, Tracey Krumbine. It's definitely worth a read.
What I want civilians to know about my life as a military spouse.
Here is an analogy: the civilian spouse and the military spouse each have a recipe for chicken (which represents life). But my recipe for the chicken might just have a lot of extra hot sauce and spices thrown into it whereas your recipe may not. The point is it's all still just chicken regardless of how you spice it up.
I am not that different from you in the great scheme of things. We each go through life struggles and challenges and we handle them in our own various ways. Military spouses endure some of the same challenges in life, although, unlike our civilian counterparts, those challenges are usually handled alone because our spouses tend to go away for long periods, and even when they are home, they are not always available.
Where I do see some differences in my life versus the average civilian spouse's life is that I think I have a different level of appreciation for my husband and that is all due to the absences we endure from each other. This is not to say that civilians do not appreciate their spouses because I am sure that many of them do. We military spouses, however, do have a different way of thinking about our lives with our spouses because of their jobs and for some, the extra risk of danger in their jobs. I tend to remind myself, especially around deployment time, how trivial most things are that I would get wound up about. These deployments, in some fashion, make us fall in love all over again with our spouses and remember why we are together and how important our spouses are to us. I wouldn't be so conscious of not taking life for granted if it weren't for being a military spouse, and for that insight, I am glad I chose this crazy path and I am glad to be part of this sisterhood/brotherhood of military spouses.
Many people say when I meet them, "I could never do what you do." Guess what, I didn't think I could either. I didn't come from a military background or [have] even an ounce of knowledge about our military. But when I met my husband, that seemed irrelevant as I knew he was the one for me, and I learned little by little what I can and cannot do (and I have to say I can handle a lot more than I ever thought possible). Having been on this roller coaster (and that is an accurate description for this lifestyle) for almost 8 years now, I don't regret the decision I made to marry into the military. It's not always fun, and sometimes, it's challenging like no other life challenge, but it is also very rewarding. This lifestyle has taught me things about myself that I would never have learned elsewhere. When someone says that "I could never do what you do," I think "yes, you probably could if you loved that person." People would be surprised at what they can endure for the cause of love and that one special person in their lives.
You and me, we are not that different. In the end, we are all just people with recipes for chicken (life). We go through life and make our chicken and season it accordingly, dealing with the challenges that come our way and trying and have fun along the journey.
Great essay, Tracie.
We'll announce our August topic shortly.