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Military Spouse Life: A Photo Essay

Just after reading Sarah's post about her deployment letters, I found an interesting article which takes at look at Prince Charles' life as told through Christmas cards over the last 30 years. The author claims body language in the photographs tell a real life story. None of us really know what goes on in someone else's marriage and family life. Even so, there's probably some truth in the commentary. You'll all be relieved to know that in 2010, Prince Charles finally appears to be at peace, and trouble-free.

I began thinking about my years as a military wife. If my military story were told through a photo essay, what would someone glean from the pictures?

I was not one of those gals who instantly embraced military life. You would not find "Hooah" stamped on my forehead, or even in my vocabulary. I was a bit resistant in the beginning. I wasn't a military brat and I didn't know anything about the culture. I had bought into many of the stereo types, the same ones which now frustrate me. I adored my new husband and was thrilled to be married, but I missed my friends and family who were a thousand miles away.  In the beginning, I wasn't sure this whole military thing was going to work out very well. With respect to military life, I didn't opt to sink or swim. I just checked boxes as I went along. Many opportunities to make new friends and become involved were missed in the early days as a result of my reluctance to adjust to reality.

Conflicted. That's what my early photos might relay. Loved the husband. Military life? Not so sure.

Putting the "military" aspect of a military marriage on a shelf and ignoring it was increasingly difficult to do. After a few moves to both desirable and undesirable locations, I began to get the hang of military life and feel more confident that I could handle it and that there was a meaningful role for me to play. I learned along the way that I had something to contribute, and something to gain. Military life, as with anything, had benefits and pitfalls. Which would I choose to focus on?

Relaxed and Confident. This is what photos of these years would show.

Then came September 11, 2001. I knew immediately that my life, and your life, would never be the same. My country would not let those attacks go unpunished. My husband, and your spouse, would be called upon to inflict the punishment. Just prior to 9/11, my husband spent a year deployed to a very unstable region. It was clear that trouble could bubble up to the surface anytime, but after so many years of relative peace, I shoved the thought away and became complacent. I couldn't have imagined protracted combat. War, should it ever happen, would surely resemble the only large-scale experience in recent memory -- Desert Storm -- in which our military dispensed with the Iraqi aggressors in record time and our troops came home pretty quickly.

Shaken and Unsteady. This is what photos just after 9/11 would portray.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged on, so many of us turned to the internet. Initially, I sought news and information, but it wasn't long before I found that the web was more than an information portal. It would become, first and foremost, a web of support. A place where military families could connect and bond. Share our experiences and support each other. In some cases, it's the sole source of support for spouses. In other cases, it's been an incredible supplement to the physical support systems available to us. Whatever the case may be, the internet has sustained so many of us in times of great peril. It has given us friends we otherwise might not have and it's allowed us to create forums where we can discuss the good, bad and ugly with people who really get it.

Grateful. Amidst the chaos, there is beauty.

The lessons of 9/11 are many, but if that tragedy taught me one thing, it's that we can never be certain of what the future holds. World events dictate our future, and the world has its share of dark corners and unpredictable actors. Life is tough, but so are military families. We're tired and we're stressed, but we've risen to the occasion. And then some. We've lost much. So much. But we've gained much, too. Our strength and sanity have been thoroughly tested, and will continue to be.

Cautiously Optimistic. This is where I live today.

I've noted there's no uphill trend here. There are wild ebbs and flows. Military life brings with it the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It's the nature of the beast. What would a photo essay of your time as a military spouse say about where you started, where you've been, where you are and where you may be heading?

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