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Military Spouse Appreciation Day

May 5, 2011

From our friend Slightly Rifted at Smurfoflauge Cafe
The tragic events of 9/11 changed the course of American History on a National level, but also on a more personal level for military families. The War in Afghanistan officially began on October 7, 2001, but the planning and preparation for war began before the smoke had cleared from the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The men and women of the Armed Forces, their spouses and their children knew immediately that the game had changed. I still don’t think anyone could have predicted how radically things were going to change, that after nearly a decade (we’re only a few months shy at this point) we would still be at war.

But the war hasn’t affected all American’s equally, because 1% of the US population is actually fighting this war. They have deployed and redeployed on a schedule that has caused even my father, a Vietnam War Veteran, to express amazement. And as these men and women have deployed and redeployed they have left their families behind to wait, anxiously, daily, for confirmation that they are still alive; they’re still okay. Military spouses have become a new species of spouses who literally know how to function at any hour of the day. Even if they we’re passed out from exhaustion when the telephone rings, we can snap up that phone by the second ring and be wide awake, ready for whatever good or ill is coming on the end of the line. We know that even if our servicemember makes it home, s/he might not mentally come home the same way and that we will be the ones to be their lifelines through PTSD, depression, anxiety, and traumatic brain injuries. We are the ones who will care for them when they are physically injured as well. Even when they come home, our job doesn’t end.
It feels some how prescient that President Ronald Reagan declared May 6th to be Military Spouse Appreciation Day. This say is set aside for the American people to recognize the unsung heroes of our nation, the ones who build communities, even while they wait for their loved ones who are fighting overseas, who quietly provide a sense of stability to our servicemembers, even as these spouses lose all sense of stability in their own lives from frequent displacements, loss of jobs and support networks, and having to always be in control, keeping military families together.
We have tried to explain to Americans what this degree of over functioning feels like, but the truth of the matter is that until you’ve experienced it, you simply can’t understand what this feels like. I remember when my now husband warned me what it would be like. God, I was so young and naive and even said some of the stupid things people say to me now, like: “How much different can it be than if you’re a traveling salesman?” “Well, it’ll give me so much free time to work on my career.” It turns out, after 7 yrs of marriage, all of which have been in wartime, that it doesn’t work that way. There is no way to explain that the stress and strain of a deployment is a viseral event for us. The anxiety can be overwhelming sometimes.
I went through different stages that first deployment. The first was, “Oh my god, he hasn’t called/emailed/etc for [insert # of days here].” The second was, “Shit the phone is ringing, or there’s a knock on the door. Please god, don’t let this be bad news.” The third was, “Repeat after me: No news is good news. No news is good news.” Then he came home. But long after the camera crew that filmed the ship pulling into port had gone home, we sat down in the Ward Room (he had duty that day and had to stay on the ship) and chatted and I realized, “My god, so much has changed.” We were both different than before and we weren’t exactly sure how our new experiences were going to mesh. We had to learn a brand new normal, that was totally different than what life was like before. And every military spouse experiences things differently, a concept that was highlighted in this month’s Military Officer Magazine, where 5 military spouses share their experiences (see pages 60-64).
Despite the fact that Military Spouse Appreciation Day has been in existence for 27 yrs, I rarely hear a peep about it in the news. I rarely hear a spouse be thanked for his or her service to our Nation. I rarely see help offered to those people who are the full-time caregivers of wounded warriors, especially when those wounds are not obvious. What I do hear routinely, and I mean nearly daily, is “that’s what you signed up for.” For a long time my retort was that I never signed a contract with the DoD. Now, I take a different tack. I didn’t know what I was signing up for when I signed the Ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract, with my husband. There was no way I could know. However, since then, every day, I have volunteered to stand with him and by him and every other military family who is in this war. I did sign up to do this. But that doesn’t obviate the social contract America made with it’s Armed Forces and their families. America promised that if our 1% bore the burden for ALL Americans, then America would stand behind us and provide us with all the physical and mental support we need.
And make no mistake about it, WE NEED YOUR HELP. We’re every bit, if not more, war weary as the rest of Americans. We just don’t get the luxury of tuning out when it gets to overwhelming and exhausting. So I am asking, frankly begging you, to pitch in and help us. You don’t have to have a big bank account, or a special skill to help. Believe it or not, a listening ear that says nothing more than “I don’t understand, but I am here” is huge. Whipping up a meal so we can have one hour to ourselves is huge. Mowing a lawn so we can take one week’s break is huge. Taking the kids to a movie or helping them with their homework even one night so that we can take a break from being both parents and everyone’s emotional support, is huge. And failing all that, if you can offer nothing more than a sincere Thank You to a military spouse, please do so. It makes an enormous difference.
We hear so often from people that we don’t deserve help or support that there are times when we quite literally feel abandoned by the American people. You can change that and in so doing, you can reinvigorate and re-energize the men and women who are the mental and emotional supply lines to our service members, helping them do their jobs.
Please take a moment and thank a military spouse on Friday May 6th for all of their sacrifices over a decade of war. It’s an easy way to make a huge difference.

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