In 2009, the General Assembly designated August as Military Family Month. One year later, in August 2010, my husband left for training and a year-long deployment to Iraq, and I experienced first-hand what it means to be a military family as a spouse.
I first experienced being part of a military family as a child growing up during the Vietnam War. My father was a career Navy man, and we moved around so much that by the time I was in fifth grade I had attended four different schools. It seemed like I was always the new kid, always packing my room, and always having to leave friends behind.
But, there were definitely advantages to being a military brat, such as learning how to make new friends quickly, getting to live on bases with pools, bowling alleys, and movie theaters and having lots of other kids to hang out with. I also developed an appreciation of service to one’s country, which is why both my brother and I enlisted at 17; he in the Marine Corps for 20 years, and I in the Air National Guard and eventually the Army Reserve.
However, being the spouse of a deployed soldier is a different challenge than being the daughter of a career sailor, especially in the reserves where spouses do not live on bases and do not have the support of their community.
When my husband left for a tour in Iraq, I had three young kids and no family members living nearby to help. While there are various family readiness programs put in place to help reservists cope during times like those, the services vary widely and are often inadequate. For kids, there is a once-a-year camp, the Ohio Military Kids Camp, where young children of service members can possibly bond with other military kids during that week. However, spouses of deployed soldier have virtually no support networks in place. Anecdotally, I knew of many marriages not surviving the stress of a deployment, let alone the two to three deployments that many of our reservists are called on to serve.
Over the years, I have tried to track down statistics on the impact of deployments on family cohesion, but it’s been difficult.
Three years ago, I toured Ohio active duty and reserve bases as part of the Base Realignment and Closure Task Force. During the tour, I asked base commanders whether they track divorces of deployed service members. They do not. Nor does the Ohio Adjutant General’s office.
We should know if this is a problem with our reservists and their families, and if there are programs that could help. And while we have come a long way from the old adage, “If the Army had wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one,” we still have a long way to go.
Recognizing August as Military Family Month is just the first step. The second step should be for us to determine how we can support the military family more. The easiest thing anyone could do is to offer help. An example: the day after my husband left for his year-long tour, our kitchen sink backed up. While trying (unsuccessfully) to unclog it, one of my friends called and asked how we were doing. I grumbled that I was busy trying to fix the sink. She immediately sent her husband over to help, and he quickly fixed the problem. That one small act of generosity still makes me smile to this day when I think of her thoughtfulness and her husband’s readiness to assist.
I am not one to ask for help, and we may have likely been stuck with a clogged sink for the rest of the deployment. But my friend knew to do more than just ask. She acted.
So, when August rolls around every year (or any time really), try to think about a military family that could use a card, a call, or an unclogged sink.