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We Don't 'Stand By' For Tragedy

Before the phone rings, it is a normal Thursday morning. Then we get the official word that there has been a casualty at the command.

The next of kin has been notified, but the name has not yet been released.

We wives (there are only wives at this command) are told, “Stand by and stand down.”

Stand down. ... Stand down? As wives, we understand that when they tell us to stand by and stand down, they mean for us to hold tight.

To wait.

To refrain.

We wives understand why we are asked to do so.

But, as wives, what are we to DO? We STAND UP. We run. We pray. We pace. We worry. We cry.

What do I do? I realize that since I have not received a call from a girlfriend, the casualty must not be in my immediate circle of friends. I take my kids to school 30 minutes late and rush home.

That’s when the calls start coming in. Did you hear? I got a call this morning. Who is it? Do you know the wife? I wonder if there are kids, oh I hope there aren’t any kids! That poor woman.

And then we all say what every wife has said before and every wife will say again,This could be any one of us.

Then the name is released. Often tell each other, Wait, I don’t know him. Wait a minute, isn’t he the one that (fill in the blank)? Isn’t she the really tall sweet girl? Wait, I DO know her! Oh my, she has two kids! They were getting out. This was his last deployment. This was it for them.

Already the women are in action, especially the ladies who are friends with the newly notified widow.

Family is called and family is flown in. Hands are held, hair is held. Friends talk the new widow down, just to listen to her all over again each time reality hits. The kids are shuffled to and from. Friends try to remain calm and normal for their sake when the entire world has just shifted on its axis.

To the affected family, the world has stopped spinning. Their world will NEVER be the same.

For the next few days, time stands still, yet passes in a blur. The wives start to gather in large and small groups, hugging, crying, and doing what is needed to support the family.

And it’s not just the family that needs support. Now the friends who have been there night and day need help.

A casualty in the command is like an onion with many layers. Take apart the layers and we fall apart.

The kindnesses of strangers start to show. Churches donate their time and money. Businesses donate funds to allow friends to fly to the funeral. Neighbors band together as one to protect their fellow neighbor and do what they can.

The phone rings for days. Meals are planned, money is collected, and baskets are arranged. Prayers are said, tears are shed.

One week later the Memorial Service is held and it is a packed house. Always a packed house.

I ride with a girlfriend, sit where they tell me to, and cry with everyone else.

Once again the wives unite as one strong unit. Again, hands are held and hugs are given freely and whole-heartedly. We exchange looks that need no words.

The women of this community are a force to be reckoned with. When told to “stand down,” we react to this inevitable part of our lives with resolve that rivals the strongest unit, team, or command.

We don’t know how to “stand by.” We don’t know how to stand down. We only know that if and when this happens to us, there will be support, we will be taken care of…. in the same manner that we have supported those wives before us.

This is what we do. This is how we STAND UP.

Teresa is a military spouse currently living in Virginia.

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