– Original Work by Catherine Soto, MS/AJS – Copyright 2007
I would like to start with an honest confession and a prayer: normally, when I think about deployment, tears come to my eyes and I say to myself “God, let me be an instrument of Your Peace”… Then, I came to understand that my reaction was not a sign of weakness; I believe that the justification for this reaction lies in the heavy and overwhelming emotional burden of receiving the news that your husband is to be deployed in Iraq. The day I started my “duty” as the spouse of a deployed soldier, I realized that it was not just about me alone. From the first moment of the deployment, it was clear to me that the feelings where a kind of “group experience” for all military spouses, and that we would have to “carry-out” for a year as a whole body. Then I prayed: “with God’s rules in my heart, I will walk without hesitation”.
The “goodbye morning” came, and as I was standing and observing the military formation, I felt comfortable crying because as I looked around I saw hundreds of women bound to my heart by a similar pain. Even children were present, having to experience the traumatic farewell. While sobbing in our desolation, we were also proud as well as anxious about the future and strong regarding our role in the cause of our country; and, when the soldiers left on their ride towards the airport and the unknown, we stood in the same place, with an arm over each other’s shoulder, and listening to the deepest silence I have ever heard in my existence. No members of the media were there to portray the moment, but I often think that the U.S. people should have the opportunity to see such farewells in order to appreciate the sacrifices we have made, in the same way that the American people are exposed to other real life discouraging episodes.
Since July 31st 2006, my life has become a cycle of packing mail and waiting for a phone call. As a result of my new responsibilities, I decided that military spouses can be adept at administration and continuity showing superb organizational skills, considering that we have ensured the functioning of our homes and household economies throughout all the moves, changes, and losses we have experience. At the same time, we foster a culture of suffering in our pain silently, because we refuse to victimize our children and society. In my case, with no children to protect, I sat down by my mother and, after three days of crying, I decided that I wanted to take the experience in a constructive way as God and my husband would want me to.
As I treasure my memories today, I would not lie to my “sisters and brothers in duty” and will openly admit that this year has been the longest year of my life. I learned from my peers the difficult task of standing by my husband even though he is physically far away, and as the time went by the twelve months became fifteen, and we kept holding on anyway, thanks to the HOOAH spirit driven by pride and patriotism that we all have in these challenging times.
My most significant lesson to share with readers is my conviction in the power you can find in empowering yourself with a goal – any type of goal. My work and persistence to achieve a graduate degree provided me with the best form of therapy. I completed each one of my classes, and went through every work day designing pages for my husband’s “Deployment Book” and talking with other spouses. I faced my husband’s re-deployment with many things to share and take pride in about myself.
At this point in time, I feel that I can collect the fruits of my discipline. I also firmly believe that I have made my marriage stronger as a result of the emotional assurance my husband has provided through his daily emails and phone calls. I realize that from a distance we have spoken about matters that we never normally spoke about in our daily lives, and that we are committed to maintain our emotional contact despite the challenges posed by distance and the realities of war.
My experiences as a “military spouse” have also brought out many concerns regarding our future. I have understood that the community of military spouses does not fit the traditional stereotype of house-wives. During this time of introspection, I observed that every day we attempt to unveil the passive image traditionally given to us by observers. In fact, military spouses are socially proactive individuals in our communities, and we have earned considerable political and social influence because of this. In addition, we are slowly becoming more self-appreciative. In reality, military spouses are an important element of the strength of the Army, capable of overcoming tests such as loneliness and economic constraints with the minimum help. During the last few years, we have decided to go public and share our exemplary moral values with society.
Military spouses are not a fragile social entity. We take the lead in dealing with our family issues, and do not pass on our worries and anxieties to our soldiers. As partners to the soldiers, we are helping to lift our country’s future alone with remarkable power. We can also say that our creed should be “I take control over everything myself in order to allow the wheels of liberty to roll freely.” It is sad that given these sacrifices and responsibilities our society does not appropriately acknowledge us and our contribution.
My graduate studies commencement day came, and I was able to enjoy my achievement…
Throughout the years, I have waited for my turn. As an immigrant, I had to adjust to so many things as well as married life. As a foreign attorney obligated in the name of love to be an obedient house-wife, I had to deal with my frustration as a regular fact of my life. I was unable to obtain financial assistance for pursuing my intellectual dreams because the Army would not pay for the graduate education of spouses, limiting funding to undergraduate study. It is as if we have no rights to obtain a graduate degree as far as the Army is concerned. Consequently, my graduation day was a personal triumph, and I express my gratitude to the work of the University of Phoenix which is dedicated to the military community, and where I have always found understanding and support to achieve my goals.
On my graduation day, I walked in the graduates’ procession certain in the knowledge that my husband in Iraq was deeply proud of my persistence in attaining my goal of a graduate degree, even though he was not physically present to share the moment. The graduation was the greatest honor that I had received in my life for many reasons, the most important of which was because in my speech I took the opportunity to speak about and honor my “sisters in duty”.
I had held my breath for so long, but on the 24th June, 2007, I was able to say out loud the words that had been burning my soul over the last several years of working with many remarkable women on military assignments in Kentucky, Belgium, and Hawaii. I still listen to the echoes of the speech in my mind, and recall the auditorium’s reaction when I dedicated my achievement to “the latest all for one and one for all team”–“the supporters of true patriotism and living loyalty”–“the new century minority group”–“the military spouses around the world”. I felt I owed my peers the public acknowledgement that we rarely receive, and went through my speech with anticipation, while explaining the challenges of relocating from place to place, and being regarded as a foreigner everywhere, in order to reach an academic goal with minimum support, while overcoming so many pragmatic issues and emotional disadvantages.
I expressed how I learned from the persistence and examples of the persistence of other military spouses to become disciplined, and earn a degree and develop proficiency in the English language I had to learn mainly through self-instruction, while moving around the world all the time. I wanted to emphasize that military spouses can achieve great things, despite the disadvantages faced by military spouses we still creating, crafting, gardening, working, taking care of our families, and dreaming that in the future our husbands will build every second of their deployment with their own hands and lives.
June 24th was a sunny and beautiful day in Hawaii…
After that day, at least the people gathered in the Blaisdell Concert Hall in Honolulu understood the social role and moral values required by military spouses to stay on our chosen path in life while at the same time maintaining our mental sanity. The TV series “Army Wives” became irrelevant in defining us out of context in a sensationalist approach, and I voiced the deep reasons why we are prone to behavioral lapses in the same way that any human being would be prone if subjected to similar challenges to those faced by us.
Currently, as has always been the case, military spouses have a challenging task in society. In modern times, moral values are increasingly important for us to keep our focus on what really matters to improve our lifestyle. We might forget our social security number after we have been treated as being our husbands’ shadows for so long. We are still asked when we are going to relocate when we have a job interview even though everybody knows that relocation is inherent in the nature of our lifestyle. We put up with the fact that our families are authorized to move with just one car in every relocation, when we all know that it is very inconvenient and challenging to work and manage daily responsibilities with just one vehicle at home. The only reason why we endure all this is the purest form of love and loyalty.
During a time when the Army is becoming increasingly administratively streamlined and implementing modern practices, such as Lean Six Sigma and the New Personnel Management System for the Department of Defense for civilian employees, the deployment experience has taught me that there are many wars we have to win as military spouses within our own communities if we want to honestly engage the waves of change. Our first mission should be to eliminate the pretentious and unrealistic speeches about our circumstances which have gaining public acceptance as their only purpose. Claiming accountability from our community, military officials, and political representatives will empower us to pursue a meaningful assessment of our benefits and community resources in order to promote equality of treatment with respect and dignity.
I strongly believe that military spouses have no choice but to struggle between choosing a career path, and keeping our families together. Individuals have the natural right to decide what they want to do for a living based on their interests, instead of being required to perform a job that is unrewarding for the individual. I believe that opportunities for furthering our professional development will create the appropriate foundation to undermine the current difficult economic and psychological circumstances affecting military communities, and that this will improve our public image as a participative population, while mitigating the conditions for divorces.
During this year of following the news, I have realized that everyone has an opinion about the war in Iraq, but nobody knows for sure the causes and consequences of the war in the way that the military community understands them. Television series are entertaining, but we need to be careful of misleading messages. This is because we are responsible for raising a generation of children resplendent in the image of a complete family with their hearts full of pride for the sacrifices their fathers and mothers are making, instead of sowing the seeds of social resentment. Military spouses face the critical task of raising children, and we deserve to be listened to, for our opinions to be considered, and to be acknowledged as a group with special characteristics that make us a minority group.
The day my husband left, I committed to making my voice heard about the special man I have in my life, and the many others I know as my friends. As the test is coming to a temporary end, and the 25th Infantry Division is preparing to say a big Aloha to the soldiers coming back from deployment and host another farewell for the soldiers leaving, this journal is a testimony to the strength we possess to survive in challenging circumstances, and to our integrity in upholding our high moral standards and values.
I believe that formality is the greatest form of kindness. After the long year, I must be formal and voice my appreciation to the women in the flower shop, in the PX, in the Commissaries’ lines between grocery shopping and confessions and many others. Thanks to the military spouses’ magazines and the encouraging information of the Army Times, and thanks to the Army Chaplains and the understanding and tolerance of co-workers towards unexpected tears. At this point, we are not alone in this mission and we can point out a job well done, because we are available to each other as the perfect “all for one and one for all team” we learned to be, and that our future depends on how honest we can be in evaluating our situation, finding alternatives and making decisions for improvement.
May God bless our friends, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives coming back from deployment, provide comfort to the families of those lost during the rotation, and grant the strength to the “sisters-brothers in duty” who have their upcoming turn to say goodbye on this occasion. We are with them because we know what it takes to survive the test, and come out the other side wiser and empowered.
The Writer is a Military Spouse born in the Dominican Republic and currently residing in Hawaii.