Friday, August 12, 2011

Out of the Blue. . . . .

My husband made a woman cry this week. The fact that the woman was not me should come as no surprise to my friends. After this long as an Army Wife, I no longer possess the capability (nor capacity) to cry.

First, I should rephrase my opening statement. My husband did not make a woman cry. You can't make someone cry. They may cry as a response to something you said, did, or failed to do, but you cannot go in and open up their tear ducts and let the water flow. So, in a more accurate description, a woman, listening to my husband speak this week, shed tears over what he had to say.

What did he say? He was giving a speech about some of his more recent experiences in deployments and, given the audience, it was a gripping and intriguing tale. Unbeknownst to him, a woman in the audience is married to someone who will be deploying soon. For her, it is the first deployment and, to be blunt, she is scared. In defense of my husband, a couple of things to note. The fact that someone that close to his scenario was in the audience came as a surprise. He was not speaking to a military crowd. . . .not even a crowd that was necessarily that sympathetic to the military life experience, let alone empathetic. So, her presence was a surprise to him. You really can't condemn him for speaking inappropriately.

Second, deployments have been a part of our lives for so long that we no longer remember the "first time." And, over the years, it has been made clear that neither one of us is capable of expressing how challenging those deployments have been for each of us.

I am sorry that this woman cried. I really am. I wish that I could explain to her that I once was able to cry about such things, but that your resilience begins to kick in after the first pieces of bad news. . . .in the rear or downrange. Your skin gets tougher, your tolerance grows greater and your survival instincts sharpen.

However, the title of this post actually relates to the conversation my husband and I had AFTER the speech (I wasn't there. . . just heard the gist of it from him and the resulting tears). Out of the blue, my husband asked me how I got through deployments. In what could only be described as an innocent and earnest voice (not his normal voice, believe me), he asked me how I got through deployments.

Stunned silence. . . . . . .on my end.

Really? Four hellish deployments in seven years and he is just asking now how I get through deployments? Over 160 notifications, countless wounded and Purple Hearts, dozens of children left without fathers and he wants to know how I got through these deployments? For the first time in a very long time, I felt emotion flow through my body.

More important is that I didn't have an answer for him. At least, not a good one. I still don't. Each deployment has been so different. . .different locations, different units, different sources of support, different missions, different times during the wars. . . I haven't a good overall answer for him.

Quite a few things have changed this week in our home. All of them exceptionally great. Channels that I had once thought were closed have opened in ways I could not have ever expected. One of them has been triggered by his question. So, while I savor the changes and look forward to what is happening in our lives, I am going to spend some time mulling over my answer. For now, I think I will have to just stick with what an old friend once told a reporter, and I am paraphrasing this. . . .'to get through a deployment, you get up every day, you feed your children, you go to the grocery store, homework gets done, the house gets cleaned, and the laundry gets folded. Then, you get up the next day and do it again.'

I guess that is where I will start to craft my answer to my husband.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rights or Privileges?

As an academic, one of the approaches I have believed in for decades is systems theory. By understanding the inputs that can be provided, the processes that can be applied and the outcomes that can be measured, analyzed, and evaluated, over the years, I have found that understanding "systems" gives me structure as I deconstruct the world in which I live. In other words, I like to believe that the phrase "the system works" is not just a cliche, but a proven and reliable perspective.

With that written, there are many times that I revile the systems of the military. Years ago, when I was a "new wife," I imagined that, somewhere in that big five-sided building, there was someone or some part of the organization that was responsible for looking at the big picture. While I have yet to meet that "someone," I now have enough experience to believe that there are SOPs, systems, if you will, that really have been developed with the goal of the greater good. I may not like the systems, I may not always agree with how those processes are applied, but I do believe in the systems approach.

On a greater scale, one could suggest that even our Constitution represents a system. We are given the Bill of Rights, the thoughts of our Founding Fathers, and a structure that has served us well for over two centuries. In this post, I want to narrow that focus to the First Amendment: Freedom of Speech.

As our ability to communicate outside our own circles has grown in the last decade, the application of Freedom of Speech has been a staple of our society. The fact that I, and others, can blog our thoughts, our feelings and our beliefs without government intervention is a right that I take very seriously. But, over the last couple of years, I have often wondered when some things that have been said or written are really someone else's right or are they taking advantage of the right to their speech without realizing that some of the things we think are our right to know really represent, in fact, the privilege of an open society.

What brings me to this topic today (and, yes, it has been a very long time since I posted anything. . . .give me credit for acknowledging that, as a blogger, I am a bit on the lazy side of the equation) is the recent mass casualty event in the Wardak Province in Afghanistan involving Special Operations Forces.

Like most Americans, I awoke Sunday morning to the news of a helicopter down in eastern Afghanistan. For the first time in many years, I admit that no one dear to me is deployed, so I was able to view the coverage in the way all but one percent of Americans can view it: somewhat from a personal distance. Through the day, I followed the coverage, scant as it was in the beginning. Over time, details emerged sufficiently for me, in my own mind, to put together the story. As such, names and faces of people I did know began to emerge in my mind. . . .not necessarily in terms of concern for their safety, but rather, the understanding that their day was not going to be an ordinary Sunday.

Now, several days later, we are being given names of the dead, we are beginning to hear of their life stories, their faith in God, who they left behind. Mind you, all of these details are being released by the families of the fallen themselves. It is their right to freedom of speech. For many, it appears, the constraints of the world in which their loved ones operated included not talking about what it was that they did in service to our country. From the perspective of these families, I can see how important it is for them to share their grief, demonstrate their pride in the covert work of their loved ones and offer another perspective on who their son, father, brother, husband or best friend was. It is their right.

And, while it is my belief that we, as Americans, should be told what is going on in the world in which we have chosen (or been forced) to defend our country, I feel it is our privilege to know who these heroes are or were. In other words, I don't believe that we need to know which "platoon" of which "group" was hit the hardest (see some of the statements made by reporter Sean Naylor in early reports for the Army Times). We don't need to know which unit these fallen heroes were headed to aid. And, to be truthful, we don't need to know their names. It would be a privilege to have known them. Personally, I have had the privilege of crossing paths with a SEAL or two in my life as a military wife, but it is not necessary to publicly dissect the decision-making, the application of blame or the intense scrutiny under which those remaining will have to face. If applied blame is necessary, there is a system that will be imposed that can and will apply it. If mistakes were made, there is a system that will evaluate and correct them. Clamoring for the minute details of the situation only clouds the reality of what happened. There was an operation, it was, in the eyes of those responsible for managing missions, critical. The inputs were assessed, a decision-making process was applied and an outcome occurred. Expecting the Department of Defense to release all of the names and details only puts others at risk.

In sum, there is a system that paved the way for these men to reach the positions that they did. There is a well-developed system that has been followed that has trained leaders in the world of the military, especially special operations, to make good, strong, and informed decisions regarding troops. And, there is a system that will evaluate where mistakes might have been made or decisions that might have been made differently. In the end, the lessons learned will be studied, conclusions drawn and adjustments made. We don't need to know the details.

It is our right to freedom of speech. However, it is our privilege to live among men who are willing to do the hard work that protects that freedom of speech. Giving us (and the bad guys) too much information, just because we believe it to be our right, is simply wrong. Sometimes, we need to take a moment and think about rights, privileges and where we, as a society, should draw the line.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Amazing Women

Spouses married to senior Army leaders have been described in many ways. To most people, we are the women who get to live in the big houses on the post, with the luxurious yards, and the free-from-fear plaster walls. We supposedly “wear our husbands’ ranks” and suffer from few, if any, of the challenges felt by other Army wives. The perception that we are somehow treated differently by housing, ACS, the various medical clinics on post, or just about any other agency offering benefits to Army families by virtue of the identity of our husbands is not only false, it is malicious. It takes away whatever vestiges of whom we are as women by assuming that anything that we achieve has been on the coattails of our husbands.

Let me clear the air on this one.

First of all, the big house? It comes with big responsibilities and we, like any other resident on a military post, are expected to meet the requirements set by the privatized company that runs the housing for that particular post. For example, we are expected to clean up the poop left by our dogs. We are reminded to weed our own flower gardens (or face a monetary fine) and we are held accountable for any damage done to the home by us, our children or our guests.

Want grass in your yard? If it isn’t your turn to get new sod, then expect to pay out of pocket for that thick green carpet. Flowers are lovely. . . .but, for most of us, that loveliness comes out of our hearts and our own pocketbooks. We tease each other about putting money into gardens that will flourish (or wither) long after we have spent our two years or three years on the post. One year, while living in such an area, I spent nearly $1000 on creating a side garden to our house. Ridiculous? Probably, especially to my husband who couldn’t imagine why I would spend that type of money on any project. But the joy in creating something that others would enjoy in the years to come was worth it (and it did bring me pleasure, despite the fact that it put a crimp in the budget for a couple of months).

Damages? Trust me on this one. The private company does not care who you are or what rank is your husband, damage to their property is damage. This attitude would explain why I am paying to replace the $105 blinds in my home on a monthly basis. My child found that hitting the blinds would garner my attention. I found that that blinds that have been hit consistently can 1) break or 2) suffer aesthetic damage. In any case, I get to replace at least ten of them. I can either pay out something in the range of $1200 over the course of the year or I can pay it out when we leave. It is my choice to make, but somehow paying it out over the course of the year seems a lot less painful.

No matter what our living conditions, the real purpose of this particular blog entry is to introduce you to some of the incredible women upon whom the title “senior spouse” has been hoisted. Without writing another word, I would be remiss if I didn’t begin this section with the following statement: The women I know who fall into this category are simply amazing.

Demographically, in terms of age, they fall in the age cohort of 30-50 years of age. Their lifestages are tri-polar. . . .about 1/3 of the families in the neighborhood have school age children (under the age of 13), about 1/3 of the families have children who are in high school and the early years of college. Empty nesters account for the final third. My numbers may be off somewhat, but the gist of the story is that no one stereotype could capture who we are.

We are educated. Many of us gained our education before we met our husbands or during the time when we were dating our husbands. In some cases, many have gone back to school, an experience that was often interrupted by a PCS or, worse, a divorce. Having this education doesn’t make us any different from anyone else who has gone to college or gotten an advanced degree. The difference is that, for many of us, we have been, implicitly, asked to put aside our own career aspirations while our husbands pursue theirs. What doesn’t change, however, is our skill set. Our circumstances dictate that we multi-task, become homework and project management experts, financial managers, caregivers, essentially, CEOs, COOs, and CIOs, all in one body. Whether we managed the operations of a manufacturing plant, dealt with sensitive negotiations at the highest levels of our government or planned a kindergarten classroom’s yearlong lessons and activities in our previous lives, we have the skills to handle a crisis at home, establish family goals and develop the plans necessary to achieve these goals.

Those of us at the upper portion of the age spectrum are now falling into that category that has been labeled the “sandwich generation.” We are the women who are still caring for our own children in a multitude of ways: whether it be toilet training, chauffeuring our children to playdates and after school activities, or being the sole parent available to make college visits. At the same time, our parents are aging and requiring more and more support from us. The role reversal in “who is the caregiver” in the relationship prompts a jolt. The power in the relationships has shifted and it takes a great deal of scrambling to be sure that all needs are met. The worst case scenario is the loss of a parent. Often, the death of a parent puts even more pressure on the spouse to take on additional responsibilities (will execution and probate, mediation between and among siblings, contending with the dismantling of a life long-lived, or making the difficult decision on how to care for the remaining parent). In many cases, my friends not only face this situation with their own parents, but find themselves responsible for the same activities for their husbands’ parents while the husband is deployed). The women whom I have watched perform this delicate dance are more akin to the athletes who perform for the Cirque de Soleil than sharing a likeness to June Cleaver. Their ability to be flexible, bend at the will of others (to include their husbands’ organization) and maintain their sense of humor, discipline, and focus is commendable.

Special acknowledgement goes to those women who are doing it all: taking care of their children, supporting their deployed husbands AND sons or daughters, and still finding time to be good friends and neighbors. As one of my friends noted, it is one thing to send your husband off to war, but sending your son or daughter is completely different. Such strength is not a given, but earned through many years of practice. You expect your husband to handle the challenges, but even the strongest of us still wants to protect our child from the inhumanity of the world around us. Yet, these same women don’t hesitate to look after one another in times of crisis.

What makes our lives so much different from those of the young wives? After all, they have to balance many of the same situations we face. The difference is age and responsibility. Many young wives also have a great deal of education, but they have yet to be faced with the decision to set aside their career while supporting their husbands. More and more, I hear these young women remind anyone who wishes to listen that their husbands joined the Army, they didn’t. From that point of view, they didn’t, but without supporting their husband and making his career the priority during some of those long years as a major or lieutenant colonel, they won’t have to worry much about their husbands’ jobs in the Army, because he probably won’t be in the Army for that long.

Age-wise, they are, simply, younger. Growing older has many benefits from the life-experience perspective, but aching joints, higher blood pressure and recognizing the need for reading glasses can take its toll. I had to confront this reality recently when the mother of one of my daughter’s peers announced that I was the same age as her mother. Not a good place to start a relationship, but we managed.

Some would argue that the monthly paycheck is a great payback for all that we endure, something that those younger wives don’t have. It is true, the paychecks are bigger, but so are the responsibilities, the requirements and the expectations. The paychecks may be bigger, but they come at a much higher cost.

Someone recently asked me if I could change what has happened over the course of the last nine years, would I? Like every other answer I tend to give, my response began with the “it’s complicated” phrase. I wouldn’t change the friendships that I found, nor under what circumstances those friendships grew and flourished. I doubt that I would be the person I have become (by the way, I am very happy being the person that I have become. . . no regrets there) without the challenges imposed by the Army. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wish the Army wasn’t so pervasive in my life. Like many young wives, there are days when I wish that I had simply said “he joined the Army, I didn’t.”

Monday, April 12, 2010


Tomorrow (April 13), there are a number of people in the United States Army for whom life is going to change dramatically. With a release of the Command Select List for battalion command, brigade command, and command-level billets, the lives of hundreds of families are going to take ninety degree turns. It reminds me of the Mary Englebreit card where the young girl is at the fork in the road. The road signs at the point indicate two directions: Your Life and No Longer an Option. For many who are waiting for “The List,” the pathways they expect to follow for the future will change at 7:30 in the morning.

For those readers who are not aware of this system, the process of selecting commanders for battalions and brigades is the result of a board of senior leaders who assess the packets that have been submitted. Officers are categorized by their “year group,” typically the year they were commissioned. Those who have been a below the zone promotion move away from their commissioning year group, but all officers track their below the zone, primary zone and above the zone looks for promotion and the years that they are “up for command.” Along with the submission of their packets (a combination of information, including their annual “report cards,” their official DA photograph, among other things), the officer in question must list his or her preferences for the units where they would like to command, given the opportunity. Never having been a member of any such board, I can only hypothesize what happens when the board meets, but suffice to say that decisions are made that will affect the direction of the officer’s career for evermore.

When the list is released, people up and down the chains of command will flock to the appropriate website to see if they (or whoever) have been slated for command. In recent years, the list of primary “selects” and their slated commands have been released simultaneously, thus, ending the anxiety for those selected of “where” they will be moving.

For those who are selected, the accolades feel great. Gone is the stress of job-hunting for the assigned two years of command, allowing spouses to begin the process of looking at that post’s housing options, thinking about schools, checking calendar dates for transportation appointments and generally offering a sense of stability for the near term. The onslaught of congratulations is immense, coming from all directions: peers, mentors and subordinates. Often, names from the past will pop into your email in-box, offering congratulations and the overall “catch-up” email. Notes on stationary bearing one, two or three stars arrive in the mail as former bosses congratulate you on a job well done.

Being selected for command is the achievement of a goal that has been pursued for years. It offers the validation of all of those ridiculously long nights, the weekends worked, the birthdays missed. Married officers graciously share the joy with their spouses, without whose support that goal might never have been attained.

Along with the command select list, a longer list is also released: the alternate list. Being put on the alternate list is a lot like being assigned to Purgatory. It is a place where your future is predicated on the decisions made by another group of people: the primaries. As individuals choose to turn down the opportunity to command, individuals from the alternate list are “activated” to take their places.
As impossible as it is to convey the joy that accompanies command selection, it is equally difficult to understand the magnitude of disappointment faced by those who do not make the list. The first feeling is resignation. . . .well, that opportunity has just floated away. The second feeling that hits the individual is anger. And, because so much of Army Life is the result of intertwined efforts of husband and wife, that anger is also felt by the spouse. Frustrated at having been so supportive in years’ past, the spouse feels indignant. We sacrificed for this result?

For those of you who are waiting on “The List” this year, I have a few thoughts to share with you. I, too, have waited on lists (early in my marriage, I had no idea the impact of these lists on my life, but I knew they were important). And, like many tomorrow, I have felt the joy that comes from “making the list.” The release of the list is like a weight being lifted off your shoulders. You celebrate, you share the news with loved ones, and the world as you know it feels good and safe.

There is a much about command that is inviting. You have the opportunity to truly help families, support soldiers, and develop relationships with peers that will follow you through the rest of your life. It is a lovely feeling.

Good luck with that sense of security, because it will be the last time that you get to feel it for the next few years. I may be a bit jaded (ok, I am seriously jaded, but after eight years of war, it happens), but having had a spouse command in combat at different levels, I have experienced what is in store for you and, believe me, it has the potential to be either very good or very, very bad.

First of all, no matter whether your spouse is an O5 or an O6, the concept of a house waiting and open for you upon your arrival is a fantasy. The privatization of Army housing has taken that security away. Coming into command moves you to the top of the list, but be prepared to wait for something to come open.

Second, that reception that is held to celebrate your command after the ceremony? You get to pay for it (the first of many events where you will be asked to open your checkbook and pull out a blank check). Oh, and be careful. . . .who caters the reception is up for debate. Depending on the post, the top JAG officer’s interpretation of what’s legal, protocol and tradition at that location are all going to impact exactly how that process occurs. Get used to having the JAG officer around. . . you are going to need him or her for even the slightest questions for the next two years.

After the reception, you get to go home. Alone. Your spouse goes to work where he or she will be, everyday, for the next two years. If you were second to the Army before, get ready to fall a bit further down the list of priorities. Be prepared for the phone to ring all night long from the Staff Duty NCO, each call indicating some type of crisis that will require a SIR (Serious Incident Report) to be generated and briefed to the next higher command in your food chain the next day. Too many DUIs? Falls on your spouse. Suicides? Your spouse will be under the microscope for how well he or she implemented the Army programs after a deployment. Death as the result of something other than suicide? It will be investigated for months to determine if it should be categorized as a suicide. This, all before the unit even deploys.

Deployment? Good luck with that one, too. While I sit on the fence about many topics, on this particular one, I have a very strong opinion: having an entire year’s notice about deployment helps NO ONE. All it does is drive up the anxiety of families and soldiers to the point where everything else is relegated to a “lesser issue.” In other words, getting to think about a deployment, preparing the FRG and families for the deployment over the course of a year prior to actual departure turns a twelve month deployment into a twenty-four month deployment.

One final note on being part of a command team with your spouse: no matter what level of unit your spouse commands, his or her unit will be a part of something larger. Understand that concept now and life will be a great deal simpler and less dramatic. Realize that your team stretches up the chain of command, as well as down, and your overall experience will be more positive.

As for those of you who, when 13 April rolls around, are not on the list. Take a breath. You cannot see it right now, but you have been given a gift. It may not feel like a gift and I know that living with your spouse is going to be rough for a time period. But embrace it. The board people have spoken and now it is up to you to explore what that other direction looks like. Everything that it took to get your spouse in a position to be considered for command is going to help you in the future. Nothing has been wasted and a great deal has been learned. There is no doubt about it: rejection, in any form, hurts, and this rejection has been made and is public, at least to you. However, remember no one else is tracking your spouse’s career nearly as closely as you are.

Here is what you will be missing: as a commander, people will either love your husband (because they hated the last guy) or hate your husband (because they loved the last guy). If they hate him, chances they (or their spouses) won’t like you much better. You won’t have to endure the role of “the commander’s wife,” because, no matter how well you do it, how nice you are, or how positive your intent. . . .you will simply not make everyone happy. Everyone has an opinion over how this should be done and they will be drastically different. Trying to find your way amidst varying opinions is like moving through a field of landmines.

On a more comfortable note, you will not have to sit next to a pregnant spouse who has been told that her husband was blown up by an IED. You will not have to hold your head up high while everyone around you is second-guessing your husband’s performance. The press will have no interest in you. Parents of grown men and women will not track you down to ask why you have not kept them, personally, apprised of every last step taken by their son or daughter’s unit command. You won’t have to act perky every moment you are in public. And, you won’t have to endure people taking anything you have to say completely out of context and then adding your name to it. That is, if they even bother to listen to you. . .sometimes, they make up stuff and just add your name for the fun of it.

The final piece of advice to everyone looking for a list is this: one of these days, a list will come out and your spouse’s name will not be on it. It happens to everyone, but a very small handful. Sooner or later, the Army will send you packing to the land of retirement. Just remember, there is an amazing life outside this Army Wife Life and whenever you get to that place, you will have earned it. Enjoy it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wear his rank? Think twice before you accuse. . . .

Many years ago, a colleague reached a big milestone early in his career. It was the kind of achievement that usually takes most of us years to accomplish and the sacrifice for the entire family is significant. In my field, fewer than one percent of the professionals who practice even achieve this result. Upon seeing his wife at a party a few months later, she was still gloating about “their” accomplishment. I was stunned. Their accomplishment? Really? From my vantage point, she had had nothing to do with it. She truly knew nothing about our craft, what it took to formulate the question, how to develop the plan and execute the mission. Why was she taking credit?

I was young and very naïve.

Two decades later, I get it. It was their accomplishment. She may not have had the skill set that “achieved” the goal, but she certainly had a role in the setting the conditions that allowed him to complete the mission. That insight has served me well as I continue to navigate the intricate and sometimes convoluted pathways of the Army Wife Life.

What is the connection between this insight and the wearing of rank? More than you might think.

As an Army Wife, one of the cruelest insults one wife can levy against another is that she “wears her husband’s rank.” There are a number of ways that the wearing of the rank is manifested. It might be the wife who gives you her husband’s resume without you having asked anything about him. It could be the wife who drops the names of all of her husband’s former commanders (all of whom probably are wearing stars on their shoulders). A wife who begins each of her sentences with “my husband, ____, is the commander/command sergeant major/1st sergeant” is often tagged with the insult. There are even those women who “wear the rank” by espousing their family’s lineage in the United State Armed Forces. To be truthful, these women are annoying, but their behavior may be manifesting deeper feelings of insecurity or lack of personal identity.

However, there are many others who never exhibit these behaviors who get tagged with the “wearing of the rank.” It is these women whom I want you to consider as having been made victims of a much larger situation. Are they wearing the rank or has someone “placed” the rank around their shoulders? Consider these three situations.

How many times has a wife encountered a situation where, seemingly, she just cannot get the goal accomplished. Maybe it is the spouse who quietly (and kindly) asks for something to be done about the yard in her housing area or the speeding in her neighborhood. Time after time, she gets the not-so-subtle brush-off. Have her husband make the call or merely mention that it is important to him and, suddenly, the task is completed seamlessly.

How about the event attended by the spouse while her husband is deployed. She is moved to the back of the section. . . .she may even not have received the invitation. Have him appear and suddenly, she is greeted with open arms. One of my acquaintances refers to this as the “chia pet theory”. . . just add her husband and she has form and fashion.

Finally, the most basic situation is the one where the wife is introduced as the spouse of “COL So and So” or “General Thing-a-ling.” She has, through no fault of her own, been tagged with the rank of her husband.

My point on all of these situations is that there is a distinct difference between the spouse who is nakedly ambitious and uses her husband’s name and rank to insert herself into some level of the pecking order and the spouse who merely is “cloaked” with the status of her spouse. Does the latter wear the rank of her husband or is that something that others have placed upon her? Too often, with the cloaking situation comes preconceived notions of behaviors that are not only generalized myths about the wife of a particular rank, but also incorrect.

More important, though, is this fact: he didn’t make that rank on his own. It took an understanding and very capable spouse who often put her own career aside to maintain a home and sanctuary for her husband. Whether she chose to volunteer with his unit (and, one of my favorite friends contends that volunteering is nice, but if he doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader, you can volunteer until the cows come home and it won’t make a lick of difference) or she raised the children, handled the home and finances and, essentially, offered him a “no ties” ride through life, she allowed him to be successful. Like my former colleague, it is “their” accomplishment.

Nakedly ambitious wife who plays a zero-sum game (for her to win, you have to lose) or someone who is merely wearing the coat that has been placed upon her shoulders? You decide. But I will think twice about the situation before I assume that another spouse “wears his rank.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Christmas Apart

This Christmas marks the third Christmas in the last six years that my husband has been deployed in support of the Global War on Terror, the Long War, or whatever name has been appointed to identify it. For me, it almost feels a bit embarrassing to even mention that it is his third time away. There are many others for whom this is the fourth, fifth or possibly even the sixth year. And, for the young widows whom I have met over the course of the last year and the children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, this Christmas is not only the second time they have had their loved ones gone, but it also marks the first of the rest of their lives without their loved ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice. So, perhaps from that point of view, a fifty percent rate of attendance for Christmas might not seem so bad.

As a seasoned Army wife, I have a front row seat for the impacts of the war at home. My visits with families of deployed soldiers, whether it is across a table during a conference or a chance meeting in the commissary, I see and hear a great deal about the impact deployments have on families. For those for whom this is the first deployment, I see them climbing the learning curve. They are learning new vocabulary (what is an FRG? what is a FOB?) and discovering new things like the true benefits of beef jerky, baby wipes and toilet paper in a care package. Young spouses and families search for information through the internet, connect through chat rooms and attend meetings to get to know other spouses who are feeling the same things or have the same questions and concerns. Those of us who have multiple deployments under our belts tell war stories, compare notes and dust-off all of our old tricks on managing the process of living day to day with a loved one in danger.

If you stick around long enough, you can begin to include in your war stories the names and tales of friends who have lost husbands or brothers, spouses or sisters. At my age, I can also add to the list the pain of loss as I watch my friends whose sons have died in the service of their country. Sending your spouse to war is one thing, but watching my friends who have done that multiple times face the prospect of sending their own sons and daughters into the unknown is something exponentially different.

For the first time in my husband’s many deployments, I am truly seeing the impact these deployments have on parents. My own children are still too young to serve, but I have made a pact with myself to expand my horizons and to get to know the parents of those young soldiers who serve with my spouse. There are too many for me to ever meet one on one, but those ones with whom I have had the privilege to speak are truly great Americans. They are filled with gratitude for the information provided by their unit, they bond over Facebook discussions with others in the same boat from across the country and they wake up every morning wondering if this will be the day that a team of Army representatives arrives at their door in Class As bearing the worst news possible.

In addition to keeping the home fires burning, many of us work outside the home. While so many American dread the thought of getting up and going to work each day, we embrace the opportunity to return to the world of normal. . . .our work becomes our respite. For a certain number of hours each day, the bad news of the world in which our soldiers are living doesn’t have the opportunity to invade our lives.

When asked how she felt about hearing bad news from overseas, one of my close friends reminded the individual that our lives just go on, good news or bad. We still have children to get to school, homework that must be done and ballet recitals that must be attended. The war overseas, like it or not, is pervasive in our everyday lives where it becomes simply one more element of what we experience. It isn’t new or even newsworthy for us. For six to twelve months at a time, our minds, hearts, and souls live in two time zones and two different cultures.

I would like to say that it is tougher during the holidays, but that would be taking away from the difficulty we experience every day. Every day is difficult, but the holidays do present an added degree of difficulty. Choices have to be made about where we will spend the week of Christmas, we take note of mailing deadlines that occur in November in order for our loved ones to have a small element of Christmas, and we have to explain to our children that, indeed, Santa Claus won’t forget Daddy or Mommy during his travels, no matter what hinterland hosts his (her) tent.

For our children, Daddy will have been gone exactly one-half of the Christmases of their young lives. This is their “normal,” but it still fills me with sadness. We have decided to leave up our Christmas tree this year until Daddy comes home, a first for us, but a decision that many families make year after year. It becomes our “light in the window” designed to show our soldier that someone waits patiently for him.

For our soldiers overseas, I hope they feel the love that we push their way. Family Readiness Groups, church groups, schools, and other community organizations send care packages, make stockings for each and every soldier serving in harms’ way. Regulations make it nearly impossible to do, but these volunteers find a way to be sure that no soldier serving in a foreign land goes without some indication of love and gratitude. Most of the time, these volunteers provide from their own pockets to be sure that no one faces an “empty stocking” on Christmas morning.

So, while the rest of the Christian world celebrates Christmas in their homes and with their loved ones, those of us who send our soldiers to protect the freedoms of all and to provide the security that was shattered after September 11, 2001, will wait for our true celebration: the moment we know the aircraft ferrying our loved ones back to the United States is “wheels down.” On those days, we get to remember birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and other marks of celebration all rolled into one.

In sum, during this holiday season, no matter what your source of faith, I wish to leave you with one final thought. While I speak for no one other than myself, this year, I want you to know that my family has given you one extra gift. Whether you find it tucked in your stocking or underneath your tree or receive it during the Festival of Lights, there is something extra just for the millions of you who do not have to share my life experience. It is the gift of love, sacrifice, security and freedom that our Armed Services provide to you each and every day. I’ll pass on Christmas with my husband this year, if only because you can share it with yours in a safe and secure environment.