Interview with Rachel Wenger
–by Kristen Tsetsi
Rachel Wenger, 20, started dating Jeramie in junior high school. The two maintained an on-again off-again relationship over the next several years, eventually marrying in 2009, two months after Rachel’s 19th birthday and two years after Jeramie had joined the Navy. They have a 3-year-old son and live in Virginia Beach, where Rachel runs the facebook page “The Military May Have My Husband, but I Have His Heart.”
LIFT: So, Jeramie was already in the military when you married him. People will often say, if you marry someone in the service and they leave for extended periods – whether it’s for training or a deployment – “You knew what you were getting into.” Is it true?
RACHEL: No, you absolutely DO NOT know the full extent of what you are getting into until you live it on a day to day basis. I knew I loved him and would support him, regardless, but didn’t realize how many emotions come with being married to someone in the military. It is not easy. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade all these emotions or ups and downs for the world. It makes us, as a couple, stronger.
LIFT: What impression do you have of what others – civilians with no connection to the military – think of the military family? That is, how do you feel, based on what you see in the media and hear from others, military families/the military community is perceived?
RACHEL: I think civilians don’t really understand what it is like for us, as military families. My papa is a retired SGT for the US Marines, my step brother is Air Force, my brother in-law is retired Navy, my step-sister is going into the Air Force, my step-dad is retired Navy, and I have friends in all branches, on top of my husband being a PO for the Navy. So, I am surrounded by the military and know to an extent what to expect.
In my opinion, Civilians think we are high and mighty, up tight and gold diggers. That is what I have experienced since day one of being married to Jeramie. We are in it for the long haul, to make sure our husbands and wives have a clean home to come home to, a loving and caring string of support, and help them to remember we are ALWAYS going to be here, we’re not going anywhere.
LIFT: How many times has your husband deployed in x number of years?
RACHEL: We are coming up on our third deployment since Fall of 2009.
LIFT: We hear most about Army or Marine deployments in the news. Now and then, there will be a story about the Air Force, but it seems we hear the least about the Navy. Do you have an opinion about this?
RACHEL: I’ve noticed for many years I hear the most about the Army. I asked my husband about this subject recently, actually, and he said the last big incident to happen was more than a few years ago. But in my opinion, I think there should be coverage on all these branches. I never hear about the Air Force or the Navy. It hurts me because I have family, friends, and my husband in the Navy and I believe without the Navy, the other branches wouldn’t survive. Like I said, strictly my opinion. Our Sailors send ships with supplies other branches need and they work on birds the military needs, just as much as any other military branch. We are overseas doing the same duties as everyone else and Sailors lose their lives daily, also.
LIFT: Again, because we hear most about Army or Marine deployments, there’s little most of us know about Navy deployments. How does a Navy deployment compare to what you know of the deployments other branches experience?
RACHEL: A Navy deployment is just as heart-wrenching as any other deployment, but I noticed I can talk to my husband more than other wives can. It could depend on the locations where they are all deployed, though. There’s no significant difference because they are doing the same things as fellow men and women. I also noticed Sailors go to different locations than the typical Soldier or Marine goes.
LIFT: Do deployments get easier every time?
RACHEL: No! They do not get easier, you only learn what not to do or what to do better next time. Not one single deployment I have gone through has been easy, it has been heart aching and a complete and utter roller coaster.
LIFT: How would you describe what you think and feel for the duration of a deployment? That is, how do you sleep/how does an average day feel/what do you feel that people you encounter may not necessarily see?
RACHEL: I barely sleep. I am lucky if I can get about 4 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. I cannot get comfortable unless he is cuddled up with me. An average day is crazy. Deployments take a lot of strength to survive. I am one hot mess. I have to stay busy or I break down and cry. I can truly say I hate when he is gone but I love it at the same time because I can be independent and do my own thing. My whole life, I’ve learned to put on a face. When it comes to deployment, that is exactly what I do. I wear this face of happy and calm… that is not true. I am dying on the inside knowing he is overseas doing his job and I am trying to hold the fort down back at home.
LIFT: What bothers you the most during deployments?
RACHEL: “You knew what you were getting into.” Yes, I knew I was marrying a Sailor, and I knew I was in it for the long run. Don’t ever sit here for one minute and think you know how I feel. I am the reason my husband does his hardest while overseas and on land. My son is the reason he strives to do his best. Just like any other active duty Soldier, Sailor, Marine, etc.
I also cannot stand grocery stores. I realized, when he is deployed, I hate grocery shopping. I am only buying for my son and me, not my husband, too. I still cook too much and have to save loads of leftovers because he’s not home to eat them.
Lastly, the media. I am so sick of seeing news about Lindsey Lohan and all those other crack and alcohol addicts. What about our loved ones? Don’t they deserve a salute?
LIFT: What do you wish more people understood about the experience of having a loved one go to war?
RACHEL: We are the backbones to our service men and women. The experience of a deployment is horrid. You never can get your mind off what could happen. There are always swirls of emotions and the ride is hard as hell. There’s no getting out of it.
What I wish people understood is even though I have a smile on my face, inside, I am hurt and sad. I miss my loved one. So don’t say, “I don’t know how you do it” or “This is what you signed up for.” No crap! But I am human, I have feelings and emotions just like you! I don’t know how I do it or how anyone does it, but we just do. It’s called Military, they put their life on the line for our loved ones and everyone’s freedom. Support them and pray for them and all of us who are home awaiting their homecoming.
LIFT: People who find the idea of recognizing (not honoring, but recognizing) the Military Family as TIME’s Person of the Year unrealistic might say the military family hasn’t had its own impact on our culture. How do you respond to that?
RACHEL: If we haven’t had an impact on our culture, then where is everyone? I cannot stand how people “worship” actresses and actors. What about recognizing and honoring the fallen and the families who stick behind them, who push them to do their job, help them remember we are never going anywhere, and we are holding down the fort while they are away?
I see the world a different way because I am a military brat and am married to a Sailor. I have so much respect for my fellow military families. What about us? The reason our men and women are over their fighting and do their best is because they know they have family and friends back home, waiting for them. It drives them to do their best.
LIFT: What elements of being a military family do you most enjoy?
RACHEL: I hate the sight of him leaving for deployment, but love the homecoming. When he gets off the helicopter or boat, that is my world coming home, my everything. I also love seeing him in uniform. I don’t think any wife or husband doesn’t like seeing their S/O wearing the uniform. I enjoy knowing my family will take this as a learning experience. I never knew how strong I was until I married a Sailor. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!