Just days after the military announced Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was the U.S. Army soldier being investigated for the shooting deaths of 16 Afghanis, details about his past four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the difficulties he and his family have faced have now begun to emerge.
While some of the reports paint SSGT Bales as a heroic friend, neighbor and soldier, other reports allude to legal, professional, and financial troubles. After Bales meets with his defense attorney John Henry Browne (the Seattle lawyer famous for his representation of Ted Bundy) at the penitentiary in Ft. Leavenworth this week, additional details are sure to emerge. In the meantime, in the absence of information from military sources a more personal picture has been gleaned from blogposts which his wife, Karilyn Bales, posted during portions of his previous deployments and homecomings.
The New York Times is reporting that as far back as 2009 Kari Bales was blogging about the ins and outs of daily military life. Though the websites for "The Bales Family Adventures" and "BabyBales" have since been taken down, Milblogging.com is reporting that old versions of the webpages are still visible through search engines, and the content of some of Ms. Bales posts can still be read online.
However the posts that have been shared are nothing remarkable to the average military spouse; they vaguely and plainly describe a pregnancy alone due to a long deployment, hopes for a new more exotic duty station in the future, the numbness of deployment, and the excitement of homecoming. It's what the blog doesn't say that seems to have become the story.
For example, on August 9, 2009 Kari Bales simply wrote: "Bob left for Iraq this morning. Quincy slept in our bed last night.”
It hardly seems like the tell-tale sign of a military wife suffering under the unbearable strains of military life, pouring her heart out publicly for the world to see.
There is a rule that as military spouses we observe and honor our servicemembers' safety by purposely leaving gaps in the information we present to the public. PERSEC is for our own personal security, and OPSEC or COMSEC protects our spouses and their comrades who may be in harm's way. This may have particularly been the case for someone like Kari Bales, whose husband served in some capacity as security for some of the special operations forces who were involved in training Afghans.
However, the benefit to blogging or posting our military family travails is a sense of community and connection in a splintered and increasingly diverse military family community. Benefits and services that were at one time only discussed at the Navy Relief Society or by an Ombudsman are now readily available online. Facebook groups provide instant online social experiences. Support groups for deployment, financial organization, redeployment, and spouses of servicemembers who return with a physical or emotional injury are commonplace. And highly therapeutic.
So it's no surprise to me, as a military spouse, that Kari Bale blogged about her experiences. There are thousands of similar online diaries that provide little more than a time capsule for children, and an update to family members constantly asking about the family's well-being during a deployment.
I am reminded of the recent story of the military spouse who was notified via text message of her husband's death, and it leaves me wondering whether social media and the speed at which electronic data arrives to our smart devices is ultimately hurting or helping the military spouses in our communities. But as I ponder that impossible answer, I realize it doesn't matter. Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and the immediate delivery of information via television, internet, and text message is now a part of our daily flow of information. The only thing we have left to do is to find a way to manage it in a responsible manner that balances our own need for community and connection with the privacy and safety of the families we and our spouses serve alongside.
Lori Volkman is a deputy prosecutor, mother of two, Navy brat, and Navy Reservist’s spouse living in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about military family reintegration at www.wittylittlesecret.com.