As the spouse, we are always aware of the extended absences that we must endure at some point, or repeatedly while our loved is serving in the military. We have to be strong, resilient, self-sufficient, and able to handle anything that comes up. I have personally had to deal with surgeries on my daughter; a psychotic break-down with my son, who was placed in numerous acute care facilities and in a Residential Treatment Facility three hours from home; and my own heart attack on my daughter’s thirteenth birthday. When the service member is away from home the spouse must take on all responsibilities of the home and vehicle maintenance. We take on the role of both parents and must handle everything that comes up as we are essentially a single parent for the duration. Add to this, we must stay strong for our children and other family members.
Truly, I believe that the children have it the hardest. It is different for children depending on their ages. They have to endure not seeing the other parent and not understanding why they are not coming home when they are too young to understand what is going on. As they get older it can get tougher. The older children understand what is going on, they know that the parent may not return the same as they left, or be in one piece, or even alive. These children must endure the name calling of children who do not live the military life and, therefore, do not understand what the child is going through. Older children also often have to deal with being told that their parent is a murderer, baby killer, war-monger, evil person, or even that the parent left because of the child. They can be told that the parent doesn’t love them or want them, it is truly sad some of the things these children must endure from their peers, all while still handling the stress of school, homework, home life and social life. Even as the older child, they still do not truly understand exactly what is going on sometimes. My children have even been questioned by extended family members for information on my husband while deployed that they could not answer.
Whether on deployment, NTC (National Training Center), the field, or other type of TDY (Temporary Duty), such as school or other training, while the service member is away there will always be some sort of holiday or special occasion missed. Members have missed the birth(s) of their child(ren), birthdays, athletic games, concerts or plays, graduations, weddings, and even deaths in the family. Extended family, of course, wants information on their loved one, too. The problem here is that we don’t get information that is considered sensitive, such as where our service member is going while on mission, when they are leaving or coming back from that mission, or even when they are due to return home. There are instances known as a “Commo Black” or a communications blackout that happens when something serious happens while on deployment. This is where we have no contact at all with our soldier due to a death of a soldier, a missile hit on the FOB (Forward Operating Base), an IED explosion, or any number of things that warrant the family being notified by Military Personnel that something went wrong. These can last anywhere from 24 hours up to a week or longer, depending on how long it takes to notify the family. This is a very nerve-wracking time and all you can do is wait for that unwanted knock on your door, hoping it’s not your loved one, and praying that it isn’t anyone you know, and feeling guilty because you know someone, somewhere, is going to be hurting when they receive the notification. During these times, especially on deployments, extended family will try to persuade you to come “home” to be with family so that you aren’t alone. This entails giving up your home, possibly storing your belongings, uprooting your children, withdrawing children from school and enrolling into a new one, leaving behind friends you have made and going somewhere where the people, other spouses and children, may not be dealing with what you are dealing with and will not understand your thoughts, emotions, fears, and uncertainty. And, after all of this, once the service member does come home, the extended family wants to either converge on your home or have you immediately come to their home so that they can see their loved one. While this is understandable in every shape, form and fashion, what they do not always think about is that the soldier has to readjust to being home, readjust to being with his or her spouse and children, and readjust to being around people that are not soldiers that they have just spent the last 12-18 months with while having no other people around. This can be very stressful for everyone involved and more often than not, it cause a lot of hurt feelings and anger, and it is very difficult to make sure that everyone is happy and content at the end of any extended absence of the soldier.
So, as you can see, sacrifice is a very large part of the family, as well as the soldier. We are the “Silent Servers” who keep everything running smoothly at home so that our soldier can focus on their job and not worry about us at home so that they will not get hurt, or worse, killed while gone. We have to keep all things as normal as possible and maintain our strength to get each other through whatever situation arises. It is great when the soldier is shown appreciation for their service; they deserve it, no question about it. But, the next time you see a soldier with his or her spouse and/or child(ren), remember to thank them for their sacrifice and “service”, too. If it weren't for the family of the soldier doing what is necessary, the soldier could not do his or her job for always worrying about what is going on at home; always wondering if things are okay. The family is truly the backbone of the military, we are what keeps our soldiers confident that they can perform their duty and know their family is taken care of and is competently handling life without them.
Submitted by April Riccardino