My childhood friend of 31 years visited my home on base, in Quantico, Va., a few months after I gave birth to my first baby. As we took a leisurely stroll one evening through the lingering humidity of early September, I explained to her how different military life is from the world in which we grew up in San Francisco. We passed rows of colorful houses on the tree-lined, manicured blocks and gazed at the playgrounds around the neighborhood, ready to welcome the children of the officers who live there. American flags hung from virtually every front door. The occasional "My daddy fights for your freedom" bumper sticker adorned some vehicles. As we looped around the bend toward my house, my friend turned to me and asked, "How do you accept what your husband does for a living?"
I glanced at her, startled. "What do you mean?" I asked.
"I guess I just don't know how to accept it. I don't believe in war," she responded, matter-of-factly.
My husband is an infantry captain for the U.S. Army. This week, he left on his sixth combat deployment with the 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker Brigade. He is to be gone for one year to launch Stryker vehicles into Afghanistan under President Obama's new surge. My husband served with the 1st Ranger Battalion in Savannah, Ga., for 2 ½ years before attending the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Warfare School.
We have been married for three years; he's been deployed for half that time. My husband loves his country and serves it proudly, and for that I love him. Is being an Army wife easy? Not at all. The moving, the worry, the separation, the danger, the evening news and the politics of having your spouse risk his life for wars that most of us don't understand or don't accept certainly does stir something within me.
Since we married, I have been introduced to and lived in a community of honorable people. Do I have everything in common with them? No, but I learn from them every day. Military life and married life have been an adventure; overall, they have most definitely taught me to truly value the vows I took on my wedding day. As an Army wife, I've learned the meaning of the expression "HUA" (heard, understood, acknowledged). I can now recognize an improper salute. I basically understand rank and protocol. I am beginning to know the acronyms, even though they seem to be endless. I've watched my husband parachute and fast-rope out of planes while training. I have attended military balls. I have hugged him goodbye and wondered way too many times if I would ever hug him again. I have seen soldiers break down. I have seen wives break down. I have made several friends and left several friends. I have been to an award ceremony at which a young Ranger received a Purple Heart; he lost a leg, but he stood proudly in front of the audience. I have heard horror stories about wives receiving word that their husbands were killed in action and I have thanked God that it wasn't my husband. I still get butterflies when I pick him up after each deployment.
So how do I accept what my husband does for a living? Quite easily. He serves his country and does so courageously, next to other respectable men and women. He represents America with the utmost dignity while overseas. The Army is lucky to have him, and so am I. While people sit back and criticize what soldiers do, my husband risks his life over and over again. Let's be honest: It's a job that most people don't want. Many don't think about it because other people do it.
Other people do it.
Instead of trying to figure out how to accept or justify or understand what my husband does because you don't believe in war, I'd beg you to know that no one wants war; no one likes war. We'd all love a perfect world, but we do not live in one. Our country is at war; two of them, actually. Soldiers, my husband being one of them, have to deploy. We, as families, have to worry and wait and hope.
I believe that the next time somebody asks me how I accept what my husband does for a living, I will simply tell that person to appreciate my husband's service and to enjoy his or her freedom while my husband does what his country asks of him.
The writer, an elementary school teacher, lives in Virginia.