He Said/She Said: A Military Family, Part 2

Today we’ll get the other side of the story on this week’s He Said/She Said. You can check out Part 1, Robert’s story here.

Meta became a military wife in her 30’s after she was well established in her career, and a home owner. The military took her out of the South and dropped her off in Upstate New York at Fort Drum a few months after her wedding. A few months after that, her husband deployed.

Once Robert came home from deployment, Meta got pregnant and gave birth to a little boy, Bo. A few months later, Robert deployed again.

Meta talks about what it’s like to be the spouse and parent who is left at home during deployments. Although I hope this is obvious to most, I want to point out that each military spouse is different and this is simply Meta’s story. But, as a former Army Wife, I think most military spouses will find something in this story they can relate to. And for those who have never loved someone in uniform, here’s a little glimpse into the highs and lows of being a military family. 🙂

Caitlin: The Army baptises you fast. Your husband deployed just nine months after you got married. I talked to your husband about the difference between deploying as a single soldier and then as a soldier with a wife and kid. What was the difference for you between having your husband deploy before and after you had a baby?

Meta: Completely different deployments. Both were hard in their own way.

His deployment in 2011, we didn’t get to communicate very often. We emailed, never Skyped. We would talk every weekend or every other weekend.  One time we didn’t get to talk for three and a half weeks.  As someone who loves to talk, especially to my husband, work was very important for me. It became an outlet.  I would go to work and talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Because I would come home to no one. I didn’t have many friends yet, so the communication thing was hard.

It taught us a lot about what we could get through. I was miserable at first. I felt a distance from my husband that made me ache. Once I settled in and made friends, it got easier. But, I learned a lot about myself during that deployment.

Caitlin: You learned your strength.

Meta: I did. I also learned a lot about letting go. While I like to have a general plan, the Army taught me you can plan as much as you want, but it’s bound to change. I plan, but I don’t set my heart on it.

This most recent deployment, having a child, I couldn’t sulk. But, we talked every day, sometimes twice a day on Skype. And my husband could see our son, Bo. I think it helped me to be able to have real discussions with my husband. He would get up at 3:30am his time to talk to us on Skype.

Caitlin: That’s so nice.

Meta: I know. He’s such a good husband and a good daddy.

It was really important for Bo to see and hear his Daddy on Skype. It was hard. There were times I would cry because Bo would try to share with Daddy and try to hand him things through the computer. Those things tug at your heart.

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Also, on this last deployment, five days after he left, I had a miscarriage. It just so happened that he called me when I was sitting in the emergency room when he got to Afghanistan. I said, I’m going to have to call you back, I’m bleeding and I’m in the emergency room. So, I needed him a lot. I needed him to talk to. It didn’t even have to be about the miscarriage, I just needed to talk to him.

Caitlin: Saying goodbye before a deployment, what is that like for you? Specifically with a child.

Meta: At the deployment ceremony, I’m trying not to cry, but I’m still crying. I was trying to take as many pictures as possible with them together because I knew he’d be coming back to a completely different child. And at the time, because I was pregnant, we were trying to figure out the plan for where I would deliver, would I work? And I was scared. I was pregnant and I had a nine month old. And I was like, how am I going to do this without him? It was all scary, but I had to focus on Bo.

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Caitlin: What was the reunion like?

Meta: (laughs) Oh, it was fantastic. It was very different from my first deployment. It was all about me. So it was huge difference. Last deployment it was all about me, and this time it was all about Bo.

I told my husband, when you get home, I want you to step back and I want Bo to come to you.

I wanted him to greet Bo before he greeted me, because it was about Bo. Bo was the one who didn’t understand why he was away and why he couldn’t hold him or touch him.

Last deployment, Robert came home in the evening and this time I think I had to get Bo up around 4:30 in the morning because they want you there 2 hours prior to the ceremony which was at 7:30.  By the time the ceremony started Bo was pretty tired and he definitely didn’t understand all the people, the band, the noise but he was pretty interested in all the soldiers.  At 18 months old though, he had no idea what’s going on or that his Daddy is standing in formation.

Once they released everyone and Robert was trucking it towards us, I leaned down and let Bo stand up and backed away.  Bo started to cry because he was tired, but Robert kneeled down on his level and Bo just went into his arms and wrapped his arms around his Daddy’s shoulders.  As a wife who wanted to touch her husband and have him wrap his arms around her and give her a big kiss, being a mother and feeling this need for them to have their moment first was so important to me and I felt that superseded whatever I might need.

When Robert left, Bo wasn’t walking yet and he’d only ever seen him walk on Skype, so watching my husband have his son walk into his arms for the first time was beautiful.  It was all just beautiful.  There were tears from both of us.  We sat for a long time before we left.  Bo just wanted to hold on to him and of course, Robert didn’t want to let go either.

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Caitlin: So, your husband is getting out of the military soon. What are you most looking forward to?

Meta: No deployments! No deployments. He will be home. I do feel a little jaded when it comes to deployments when I see people post on Facebook, “Oh my husband is gone for the weekend, I miss him so much.” And I’m like, “Really?” (laughs)

I’m looking forward to joining the world where I miss my husband when he goes away for only a weekend.

Caitlin: What will you miss about military life? I know, from my experience, there’s a lot of good that comes with the military.

Meta: Yeah, for sure. I’ll miss the camaraderie most. The spouses I have become friends with have been similar to me. There was a group of women that I became close with during Robert’s 2011 deployment and as is the way of the military most of them had a PCS and weren’t here for the last deployment, but most of us still stay in contact. We miss each other. I have wonderful friends and family, but the women you meet in your military life, they tend to become your family very quickly. The friendships happen faster and some of them become extremely strong, it’s a bond you share.

By the way, I’m not saying these friendships are better and that you lose your friendships with other best friends. These friendships just seem different, almost forged out of necessity. They know what you are going through, they are experiencing it or have experienced it firsthand. They know the lingo, they understand the upheaval, they know the truth about what happens to your soldier while they are gone. They understand the emotional roller coaster and how hard it can be, not only when your husband leaves, but when he comes home too!

I’m not saying your family and non-military friends don’t try to understand, they do, but honestly, it’s very hard to explin, it has to be experienced. It’s just different with these women. You are truly Battle Buddies. You step in for each other. That person can lean on you, shed tears with you, laugh with you and when your spouse can’t be there and you are so far removed from your family and other friends, you need them because they lift you up and help support you just as you do for them. Because of the stress and pain of what you are going through, these bonds form.

Caitlin: What’s your best advice for spouses who are the ones left at home during a deployment?

Meta: I was fortunate to get to be a stay-at-home mom during this last deployment and travel. I would advise spending time with your family. That’s what helped me through the last year, too.  My parents flew me and Bo down to see them several times last year. My mother-in-law also flew us to visit her.  I’m very lucky.

If you can’t go to your family, find other spouses that will be your family and get involved and get out of the house.

Also, getting to talk to my husband daily on Skype was huge. Oh, and take lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

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My husband and I often talk about how we wish we had met when we were younger because we could have had more children by now. And we wish we had more time together. But, on the flip side, I’m really glad that I have only had to be a military spouse for a quarter of his career. I’m thankful that we’re getting out and my son and any future kids we have won’t have to go through anymore deployments.

 

It takes a lot of work and a lot of strength to get through military life as a family, in tact. Some of the strongest families I know are military families and I have a ton of respect for the way they do what needs to be done and come out better for it on the other end. Do you have experience with the military? What parts of this rang true for you? If you don’t have experience with the military, what surprised you the most? Leave a comment and make my day 🙂

 

He Said/She Said: A Military Family, Part 1

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).

Caitlin: How?

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.

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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.

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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?

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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!