My husband deployed to Iraq with the National Guard in 2008. It was the first deployment of our married life (his third. My first time as a National Guard Wife was the loneliest time I have ever known.
Start on the life raft.As a National Guard Wife, I often felt like I was floating alone on a life-raft in the middle of an ocean of unknown. He had just moved to the unit. We didn’t really know anyone yet. Most of the families lived at least an hour and a half away from us, so it wasn’t convenient to form friendships.
I told myself that the life-raft would do for the 16 months and that everything would be fine. Then, my life-raft sprung a leak.
Halfway through the deployment, my marriage was falling apart and my mom passed away. I had allowed myself to become so isolated that there wasn’t a single army friend at the funeral.
By the time my husband returned home for a challenging reintegration, it felt like the sharks were circling. The journey wasn’t over just because the uniform was off and the civilian clothes were back on.
Swim to the row boat.That December, I attended my very first military winter ball. I was able to put faces to names and finally feel like a part of my husband’s military life. The connection and camaraderie was almost therapeutic. As I made friends and listened to other people stories of struggle, my leaky life-raft started to feel more like a rowboat. We weren’t alone, and I felt like I was part of the club.
We found out a few months later that the unit would be deploying again. We spent the year strengthening friendships, researching benefits, saving our marriage in counseling, and embracing our military life in general.
Tour on the party boat?My rowboat became kind of a party boat in a way. My husband’s service in the Guard became a source of pride for me. I stopped feeling mad all the time, and I stopped pressuring him to get out.
Friends and family are important, but there is no substitution for military friends who understand your struggles. It is possible to be surrounded by people, yet extremely lonely when you feel like no one understands your pain.
I realize that family fun days always land at an inconvenient time, and it is easy to compartmentalize your spouse’s service to a tidy one weekend a month and two weeks a year. However, if the time ever comes that your spouse’s unit is activated, you will want to feel connected and supported
.So if you are out there, floating around in your leaky life-raft, send up a flare. Connect with those who understand and who are in your shoes. Military life isn’t easy, but it’s much better on the party boat.
My advice to any National Guard spouse:Attend family events when they are offered and talk to people. Exchange contact information and make an effort to communicate.
Pay attention when information is being offered. From personal experience I can tell you that the time to learn how to send a Red Cross emergency message is not when you need to actually send a message.
Take advantage of email and social media if geographic distance is an obstacle.
Attend the military.com Spouse Experience if one is held near you!!!
Get connected! Your spouse may never deploy but you could still find yourself with some lifelong friends!
Anne Townsend lives outside Austin, TX with her husband and daughter. Her husband has been in the service for almost 15 years and she has been along for the ride for the last 10. She is a former high school physics teacher and current stay at home mom.
U.S. Air Force photo by: Airman 1st Class Melanie Bulow-Gonterman.