Two weeks ago, we passed a milestone. It has now been ten years since the war in Afghanistan started. It’s been a momentous ten years — years of multiple deployments, sleepless nights, life- altering experiences that have shaped the new generation of military families. We have seen our divorce rates climb, we have watched our children require more and more counseling, we have heard terrifying stories from our friends and fellow military spouses of the spiraling depression and dark thoughts of suicide that they feel. The cries for help on Facebook, the e-mails to our blog sites telling us they cannot go on, or pouring out their stories of their children are depressed, showing self harming behaviors, even attempted suicides; the palpable pain weighs on many of us.
The perception of my community has been a series of stereotypes. We are either the stalwart helpmeet who wears a constant smile, along with her pearls and white gloves, perfectly coiffed and attending every luncheon; or a frowzy housewife in stained sweatpants, curlers and fuzzy slippers at the Big Box store; or a constant fixture at the off post bar, trolling for the next one.
I think the phrase “none of the above” pertains to 99% of the actual military spouses. There may be one or two of these stereotypes running around somewhere other than the fictional “Fort Marshall” as seen on the Lifetime TV programm Army Wives.
Who are we, really? We are your sisters, brothers, your nieces or nephews, your best friend from college, your brother-in-law, your neighbor down the street. We are the nurse at your doctor’s office, we are the doctor who treats your children, we are your daughter’s ballet teacher, your son’s piano teacher; we are the cop or the firefighter, the mayor, the plumber, the mechanic at your local car repair shop. We are the less than 1% of the population of the United States of America. We are an Iowa farm girl, New York fashionista, Kansas graduate student or Massachusetts stay at home mom, native born or immigrant. The one thing we all are — military family members.
We have weathered many storms, waved goodbye too many times and learned exactly how many cookies can fill a flat rate box shipping to a unit downrange. We have learned a new vocabulary; we have made friends, battle buddies that hold our hands and give us a shoulder to cry on; we have learned what we are capable of. We are strong, but can always use a helping hand. We are resilient (though many are tired of that word). We are used to bouncing back, we are used to standing on our own; we are used to this “new normal.”
Guest Contributor Karen Francis, a writer at Care2.com, has been an Army spouse since the mid-1970s. After two tours in Germany, her husband left the Active Army and joined the National Guard after moving to Minnesota. Many years later, their son joined the Army National Guard, and after 9/11, he served one tour in Iraq (2003 -04) with the 1st Armored Division before leaving the Army. After 9/11/01, her husband went to Bosnia as a peacekeeper with the Minnesota Guard, and then followed that with a 22-month deployment to Iraq. After returning from that deployment, he went Active Army in 2007 and was assigned to a base in Northern Virginia. After a year, he deployed again to Iraq, and is currently serving in Afghanistan. She is a writer for diverse sites on military family issues; a consultant on military spouse issues with various groups; a volunteers with military assistance groups and has contributed to others by lobbying Congress on military family matters. She’s a proud grandmother of a little girl, currently a psychology student studying for her Social Work degree in order to work with military families, and runs her own business as a Virtual Assistant.