How long was your husband serving in the military?
My husband served for about ten years and as a military couple, we spent the entirety of that together. The interesting thing about service in the military is the impact it has no matter how long someone served. When I look back to that time, it seems as though we lived under a magnifying lens. In some ways that was such a small chunk of our lives as a whole but yet so much life was packed into that time that it’s as if we lived it three times over.
Can you summarize the struggles you faced as a military spouse and how you were able to face those?
This is such a common question and one that in some ways is difficult to explain because it takes understanding what it means to be a military spouse. The military isn’t the sole source of struggles, our civilian friends go through challenges where they encounter similar emotions too. But, the biggest difference is the unique role we serve with our spouse in service. Unlike any other job, the military requires an unconditional level of support through very challenging situations in a repeated fashion. We support our spouse through deployment, which means we struggle through loneliness, fear and personal strength. We support our spouse with constant moves, which means we deal with picking up our lives and rebuilding them more often than not. We offer support through the military’s constant demands of ‘his’ time, which requires missed holidays together, even missed births of our children. But, when we support each other like this we learn communication, trust, and flexibility. The struggles of military life keep us growing because it’s never-ending. When I recognized this call of support which was required of military wives, I was able to trust the Lord with my husband’s and his fellow service member’s lives. I was able to enjoy the time we had together so much more and I was able to face personal battles that grew me as an individual more than had I never been a military spouse.
What do you think is the most common misconception when it comes to military families?
The media is probably the biggest culprit to the misconceptions surrounding the military. I don’t think they’ve done a good job of showing the reality of war’s effects. It’s also often portrayed that the military as a whole is an active fighting power when not all who serve go to war or even fight the war in its true sense. The military is made up of many different jobs and some of those jobs don’t require direct action. However, for either party, military service is romanced and portrayed in a neat little package that ends when the solider comes home. The American people understand the cost when a soldier doesn’t come home but for the returning solider there are so many other parts of that reality. If I had one word to sum it up, it would be ‘demanding’. War demands physically, mentally, relationally, spiritually, both as an individual soldier and then as a family. For those of us serving Post-911, it has been an almost unending battle of demands.
In your opinion, how can we close the gap between civilians and our military families?
Truthfully, I don’t know how anyone can ever understand the military’s toll unless they intimately experienced it. But, I can tell you that to bridge the gap is to realize that even among all the demands brought by the military, the men and women who serve don’t want symphony, they love their job and the purpose and would do it over again if called upon. They don’t want the hero treatment that often gets passed their way. To them, the heroes are those brothers laid to rest before their time. As civilians, we can give back to our fighting men and women with a demonstration of; “Now, how do we serve you?” This is honestly so practical if put into action, it would mean that employers look at the veteran’s skill set they honed for over a decade and give them the opportunity to put those skills into action. It would mean, that we engage our veterans and their families in our communities and help them share with us their talents. Those are two examples that would go far to bringing the divide closer for our vets, giving them purpose and comradery once again.
How can we help our veterans transition into civilian life?
There’s the big question! The military, which has spent a countless amount of energy preparing soldiers to go to war, is less focused on making sure they are equally prepared to reintegrate back into the civilian world. General David Petraeus said the following in an address at an ROTC dinner in 2013; “We should also note that America has never had a group of men and women who, on average, have served so long in combat or have spent so many tours down range.”
We have to do better at helping our veterans transition successfully into civilian life. One way we could do this is with something I discuss in my new book “Leaving War, Finding Love: A Veteran’s Transition”. When a veteran transitions into the civilian life they can experience behavioral changes often shown as anger, depression, or no motivation. If they seek help for any of this at the VA, it is common to be given pills and rolled into the category of PTSD. But, their behavior lacks the significant PTSD qualities. These servicemen may not have nightmares, specific triggers, or the other more overt and extreme symptoms often pegged to PTSD. Yet, they are still suffering as they transition away from military culture. After continued research into this specific transition, I began to recognize the substitutional differences between what a veteran might experience when not faced with a true form of PTSD. What I discovered is that there are two different conditions, yet most people associate PTSD with a more routine military transition. These conditions should be categorized distinctively. What is vaguely referred to as transition issues have not been clinically defined, so with this in mind, I coined what I believe to be a more accurate and specific definition in my book called; Military Separation Anxiety (MSA). By understanding the differences and similarities we can begin to help our veterans transition appropriately.
Can you tell us about your new book Leaving War, Finding Love?
Leaving War, Finding Love was born out of my own personal experience as my family transitioned and as we witnessed the transition of our friends. That transitional stage is far from easy and often unfairly abandoned due to a lack of hope or guidance. I felt alone just as much as my husband did during this time and so I wrote. As I wrote, I realized just what an important task I had begun. There was little to no material about the transition of military to civilian and even less that is written specifically for the spouse. Learning and understanding the whys behind many of a veteran’s misgivings, needs, and thoughts is vastly important to how marriage is sustained through this fragile stage. The more I discovered, the more I felt compelled to encourage these women through what can feel like a very isolating process. Thus, we have the finished product, Leaving War, Finding Love.