While service members are off fighting wars their spouses stay behind, often overwhelmed by the whole ordeal. Here, military spouses tell their side and give advice to the next generation.
Between 2001 and 2010, 2.15 million soldiers were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Today, the conflict in Afghanistan continues and claimed an American life as recently as Saturday, November 3. The fallen leaves behind a wife and 7 children.
As a licensed therapist for families and marriages, Dr. Shanna Puels, has dealt with military families. As the spouse of a US Air Force veteran, and mother to an active duty veteran, she knows first-hand what these families go through.
“Long separations can impact families in various ways including feelings of isolation, loneliness, sadness, and fear. These feelings may occur before, during, and after the separation.”
Carmen Anhorn is a Korean War spouse. Her husband served in the US Navy and deployed in 6-month intervals. This is how she remembers his time away: “It’s very lonely, even though I did stay with my mom and my brother…we did have a child. But it was very lonely.”
“Children experience the effects of deployment and can manifest symptoms such as behavioral changes, sleep disturbances, crying, and regression in previously learned skills,” says Dr. Puels.
Brandi Weber is an Operation Iraqi Freedom spouse and was a mother to 2 children when her ex-husband deployed.
She remembers how the deployment affected her then 12-year-old son: “We had a window seat that you could see the driveway…he had seen other families on post get the news that their military member had passed, and he would sit in the window seat and do his homework so he could watch the driveway.”
As of November 5, there have been 4,410 military casualties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The trauma of war can have severe effects on the soldiers and families.
Spouses sacrifice in other ways as well, especially professionally.
For military spouses in professional fields: “There are jobs offered, but they are not always in the same field of interest for the spouse, or with the same rate of pay they may have had in the job at a previous assignment,” says Dr. Puels.
This is a problem that doesn’t seem to have a solution.
“I think you just have to sacrifice that area of interest or pursuit,” says Dr. Puels, about finding gainful employment in specified fields while being a military spouse.
While not married to her husband while he served in the US Marines during the Vietnam War, Jan Bazylak knows what its like to live with a veteran. “I think they have a little bit of moodiness, a little bit of PTSD…you pick your battles and wait for the right time to approach them.”
Brandi remembers vividly how one night her ex-husbands PTSD turned into physical violence. “We went to sleep touching and we came apart at some point in the night” she explains with tears forming in her eyes, yet still maintaining a defiantly tough posture. “Well, when we touched again he swung.”
Out of 100 veterans, an average of 8 suffer from the post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms can be quick to anger, overly guarded or vigilant, alcohol abuse, and poor sleep.
In Brandi’s case, she did not get back the same man that left to war. But this is not the case for all of these spouses.
Carmen says that she did get back the same man that left, and Dr. Puels says she got a better man.
These military spouses have a message for the next generation.
“You need to learn how to be independent,” is Brandi’s advice. “You need to learn how to cook dinner with a baby on your hip…you need to learn how to fix your own flat tire. How to change the oil, you know, do all those things because when he’s gone he expects you to be able to handle it.”
“Seek out support,” is Dr. Puels advice. “There is support there, and sometimes they don’t always know that you are in need of it.”
The military crisis line is one such place where support can be found.
“If the first place of support doesn’t provide you with what you need, don’t give up.”
Carmen wants future military spouses to know this: “You should always believe in the military, believe in your spouses, and pray that they all come home safe and sound.”