Wooo hoo! I’m starting a new series today on Vital Chatter called, He Said/She Said. I’ll talk to two partners about the same topic to get their differing points of view.
For the first installment, I spoke with Robert and Meta, a married couple in their 30’s who have a two year old son named, Bo.
Robert has been in the Army for 19 years and is currently a Staff Sergeant who works as an ammunitions specialist. Robert has served overseas five times, three times in Afghanistan and twice in Iraq, including a 15 month deployment during the 2007 “Surge.” He has been married to Meta for four years, so he was a single soldier for his first three deployments, he was married for the 4th, and had a son at home for the 5th. Robert is retiring next year.
Caitlin: You were a single soldier for most of your career, including your first three deployments. How does that change deployments when you have a wife and baby at home?
Robert: Dramatically. It changed things dramatically. I mean, I have a family, parents, siblings, grandparents, and they care about me, but having a wife and son, it was different. Really different having someone to come home to.
I was surprised how difficult it was to get on the plane and leave. BUT, it also made it that much more gratifying when I got off the plane, coming home.
Caitlin: I think people who aren’t familiar with the military are surprised to hear that soldiers often want to deploy. Did that change for you once you had a wife and child?
Robert: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think wanting to deploy, especially when I was single, is because life is so much easier over there (during deployments).
Robert: It’s the little things. You don’t have to pick out what to wear. You don’t have to worry about cooking your meals or going to the gas station or buying groceries, or any of the little things. That all goes away. Everything is taken care of for you.
And then when you come home, wow. On my first deployments, it was difficult for me. I noticed myself straining to reintegrate back into society, essentially. When I first got back, I remember going to a restaurant by myself and I was sitting there and ordered my food and all of a sudden I just got overwhelmed with people around me and I had to get up and leave. Because I couldn’t deal with it.
Over time it’s gotten better, especially with this last deployment. It was much easier to reintegrate and I think a big part of that had to do with my wife, Meta, and my son, Bo, just being here for me. I had something to focus my attention on.
Caitlin: So, your last to deployment (to Afghanistan) was when your son was nine months old. What was that experience like for you?
Robert: It was devastating. It was pretty rough. The reality of how dangerous a deployment can be really hit me hard when I realized my life with my wife and son was at stake. I was never more terrified than getting on the plane to leave and leaving them here.
I mean, that’s our job. I mean, I’m a jumpmaster, and I’ve jumped out of an airplane 63 times. That doesn’t scare me. I’m a thrillseeker. And on my previous deployments, it never crossed my mind that that I might not come home. This time, it really was hard.
During the deployment, we Skyped every day. I think it helped, but it also stressed both of us out. There were many times we got attacked while we were Skyping. And my wife could hear it and would be like, “What is that?” And I’d just have to say, “I have to go.”
I never worried about it until I had something I really wanted to come home to.
Caitlin: Yeah, the stakes were higher.
Robert: Yeah, definitely.
Caitlin: What was the reunion like? I mean, as hard as the separation is, the reunion has to be that much sweeter.
Robert: I was so emotional. I couldn’t wait to get out of formation and run to Meta and Bo. All I wanted to do was go to them.
I really felt that sense of pride of coming back home. I made it through the deployment. It was the last one and now I’m going to be with my wife and son.
I picked Bo up and he just latched on to me. He wouldn’t let go.
Caitlin: You know, I think people have an idea of what it’s like to be part of a military family, but what is something that you think people would find most surprising.
Robert: I think that the servicemember is at the disposal of the military 24/7. It is not uncommon to get a call at 8pm and have to rush in. We’re soldiers 24/7. I’ve been called in on Saturdays and Meta has had to just grow accustomed to that.
Caitlin: My husband was in the Army for six years and was suddenly deployed while we were engaged and it was unclear whether or not he would be home in time for our wedding. And people could not believe that he wouldn’t just get sent home for our wedding.
Robert: Right, exactly.
Caitlin: So, you’re going to be retiring soon. What are you most looking forward to in civilian life?
Robert: You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s definitely that if I travel overseas, it will be on my terms. Maybe I’ll have to travel for business, that not that kind of business. Not the kind where people are trying to kill you. I am very much looking forward to that, just knowing that I won’t be in that situation anymore.
Caitlin: What do you think you’ll miss the most?
Robert: I’m going to miss a lot about the Army. I’m going to miss leading soldiers, I really am. I have loved being a non-commissioned officer. That sense of camaraderie. That’s something that is born in the Army and that once you make a friend, especially the guys you’ve deployed with, it’s one of those things that lasts a lifetime.
Caitlin: What’s your best advice for balancing work and family and getting through the hard times?
Robert: The thing that I think helps with Meta and myself is that we’ve always had this saying, “Always kiss me goodnight.” So, we always talk it out. Sometimes the talking gets heated, but at the end of the day we love each other and we’re doing everything we can to make it work. So, we have that good night kiss and it’s like, hey, we’re going to get through it.
Stay Tuned… on Thursday I’ll talk with Robert’s wife, Meta, for her side of the story!