Military Spouses: Same War, Different Fight

As America's soldiers go off to war to protect their fellow citizens, their spouses are left to fight another battle.  As the soldiers' immediate family becomes their unit, the family left behind has to live with many sacrifices.  American Thinker thought it would be interesting to interview a few spouses to get their perspective on the war effort. 

Although the wives interviewed had their own unique stories and perspectives, what became evident was that they were in complete agreement regarding certain aspects of their lives.  They do not want to be seen as victims, but they do want Americans to understand that in a sense, they have enlisted as well.  During their husbands' deployment, they experienced the simultaneous feelings of anger, stress, fear, and resentment.  Stress for not having their spouses around when times got tough; after all, the raising of a family, as a single mom, becomes overwhelming.  Resentment as described by Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who wrote the current New York Times best-selling book American Sniper: "I knew my guys a whole lot better than I knew my wife.  I spent a whole lot more time with them.  I knew their every move, their every thought.  I could not say the same about my wife."  Anger because their husbands, when returning home, interrupted the established routine by trying to play the role of "man of the house."  Fear that every time the doorbell or the phone rings, someone might be on the other end saying that their husbands had been injured or killed.

Mary Jo Myers, the wife of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, has "served" over forty years with her husband.  She joked, "He started pilot training on a Monday, and we were married the following Saturday.  I missed only five days of his military career."  Because she did not want to be miles away from him, after he was deployed to Vietnam, she packed her bags and moved to Bangkok, Thailand.  This enabled her to see him about every four to six weeks.  However, there were other deployments where she had to stay in the States.  These times were tough because they could not communicate regularly, since a letter took about ten days to arrive.  Unlike today, the spouses were not able to get immediate responses through the internet.

Regardless of the rank of her husband, Myers remembers very clearly that "there were tensions when he would come home.  But there was also tension when he was leaving.  You always seem to have some argument that makes the separation easier.  It's how the stress manifests itself.  It's not always peaches and cream.  The dynamics change with deployment."

Mary Jo noted that a commander's wife had additional responsibilities.  Before the 1980s, a spouse could be mentioned in an evaluation report and, good or bad, could affect her husband's promotion.  She would take on the role as the "military spouse leader."  Mary Jo planned activities for the base's wives and children.  She always wanted to make sure that they were all right, and she would check up on them.  During those days, the spouses would "take each other's children and trade off to allow for chores.  We shared babysitting.  There was a lot of family community." 

When General Myers became chairman during those dire times, "we had very little quality time together.  I would get him when he was taking his morning shower since he could not be on the phone or reading the briefings.  This way I could get his undivided attention for a few minutes.  However, we did travel a lot together.  Although we did not have a lot of personal time, there was real comfort in just being together."  She viewed his and her military times "as very positive.  I would never wish that time away."

Taya Kyle in many ways had a different experience.  Her husband, Chris Kyle, was a Navy SEAL fighting the War on Terror.  She did not have camaraderie with the fellow wives because of the belief that they were sharing too much information about their husbands and the units.  Being a SEAL also meant that Kyle was on constant duty.  She became frustrated that he appeared to never have time off.  Even when he came home, the SEALs were training out of town.  The Kyles were never able to make plans since most of the time those plans would have to be canceled.

Taya lived with the fear that something would happen to Chris, whom she loves and admires.  She told American Thinker two chilling stories of her experiences to show how spouses live in constant fear.   There was the time she was on the phone with him shortly before a firefight started.  Unfortunately, he did not hang up, so she heard everything.  Her reaction: "I went into a little bit of denial, like surely that is not what is happening.  Then I became scared and terrified, but I kept trying to believe that everything would turn out okay.  Eventually we talked to each other, but the stress and fear was unbearable."

The second story was of a worse experience.  Chris had told her that he was going on a helicopter training exercise and would be out of touch.  While watching the news, she heard the report of a "helicopter training crash in which everyone on board had died.  When I finally talked to him a few days later I started sobbing and could not get any words out.  What came of this was that I stopped watching the news."

SEALs have a 95% divorce rate, mainly because many wives reach their breaking point.  After Chris's four deployments and 11-plus years of serving as a SEAL, Taya felt that she had sacrificed enough.  She told him, "I will respect what you need to do, but since you are never home anyway, I and the children are leaving to live with my family if you decide to re-enlist.  I had changed as a woman, and we were going in entirely different directions.  I knew he loved me, but not as much as he loved being a SEAL."

While a military spouse, Taya experienced a dichotomy of emotions.  She commented, "I felt two emotions simultaneously all the time, a lot of polar opposites.  Once we had children I lived in constant fear but knew I needed to make a happy and warm environment.  There were the concurrent feelings of anger for him being away constantly and guilt for being angry, knowing that I loved him and did not want anything to happen to him.  The guilt came about because what I wanted to feel, complete support and encouragement, did not coincide with what I was actually feeling."  She sees Chris and herself as one of the lucky couples since they survived physically and emotionally, and they have kept their family.

Samantha Hegseth's husband served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has recently retired with the rank of captain.  She endured the sacrifices by believing, "We are a team.  Both of us needed to be committed to the military.  It helped me to know that I was as passionate as Pete.  I am doing my part by giving him to the military."  Unlike Taya, Samantha had to endure a deployment timetable of ten months at a time.  However, every time he would be redeployed, she would "start the countdown, knowing when he was gone, I was the captain at home.  I always think of the end in sight.  Its always one day closer."

Now that Samantha's husband is retired, she says that the two of them must get reacquainted.  For her the most important attribute is communication.  "We were on a first date last night -- no calls and no e-mails.  We don't hold back and always are honest.  We both know its okay to have the feelings of frustration and being upset." 

Lisa Haig's husband Brian was a platoon leader in Germany and later a special assistant to the commander-in-chief of the U.N. in Korea.  She traveled with him on many of his deployments.  Because of this she became accustomed to not being tied to materialistic objects like cars and houses.  Being overseas, she missed many family and friends' events.  She also missed not having the support of friends and family and felt that this was a huge sacrifice.  She told American Thinker, "My dad died while I was in Korea with Brian.  I could not get back to the States in time."  She was glad when together they decided that it was time he looked for something else -- that "something else" being a completely new career as a best-selling political thriller author.  Unlike most spouses, Lisa always felt that she was Brian's number-one priority, maybe because they were together on many deployments.

Dawn Mann was the former wife and is now the current wife of two of the original SEAL Team Six members.  She did not face many of the hardships that today's SEAL spouses have to endure.  For her, the spouses were "a tight-knit community where all the wives and girlfriends hung out.  We speculated and figured out together what was going on by watching the news."  Dawn was envious since they "had camaraderie with their buddies and we were left at home with all the responsibilities."  She is the third wife of her current husband, Don Mann, author of Inside SEAL Team 6.  He noted, "As much as I loved all three of my wives, I enjoyed going on the missions.  Being away 300 days a year from home says something about your priorities."  Dawn saw a lot of relationships suffer because of infidelity.  "Everywhere they went, there would always be groupies who went after these rough-and-tumble guys.  There were lots of opportunities for them to be unfaithful, until they retired."

Samantha and Taya want Americans to know that it is wonderful that individuals are always trying to do something for the soldiers.  However, they want people to understand that there is a lot that can be done here for the families.  They can always use someone to talk to, a meal, or a babysitter.  Mary Jo Myers said it all when she described military spouses as "strong, proud, resilient, and flexible."  Americans appreciate those who serve their country, but that should include the spouses and family as well.