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February 13, 2011

Interview with Melanie Smith

by K. Tsetsi

–by Kristen Tsetsi

Melanie Smith married her Navy husband, Jay, when she was 27, blending together two families: she and her daughter, and he and his son and daughter. She recently welcomed her husband home to Troy, Penn. following his year-long deployment to Iraq.

LIFT: How did you handle your husband’s recent deployment?

.MELANIE: I shut down. I shut the world out, including him. I went to visit him where he was training before he deployed to Iraq, and we got pregnant. So I also went through a pregnancy entirely alone. Or, at least, I thought I was alone.

Sleep…there wasn’t any. I was a total insomniac. I’m sure the pregnancy didn’t help. I’d lie awake thinking the worst every night, but I told no one, not even him. He’d ask how I was, and my answer was always, “I’m fine.” Not true at all.

The days went by so slowly…waiting for his phone call or for him to get on skype. My life was lived around his schedule. It was horrible. Again, I shut everyone out. But I always pretended I was “fine.”

Where I live, there are very few people in the military, so most have no clue. He is a reservist and his NOSC [Navy Operational Support Center] is two and a half hours away. I wanted so badly to be a part of a base where other military wives live so we could hang out and compare our feelings, but that wasn’t an option here.

To see on facebook or to hear wives or girlfriends complaining that they haven’t seen their husbands in 14 hours and they miss them so much…they have no clue how a deployment rips you apart. They think they can compare, but they have no idea.

LIFT: People will often say, if you’re married to someone in the service and they deploy, “You know what you were getting into.” What’s your response to that?

MELANIE: Not true! I had NO IDEA what I was about to get into. It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through or will ever go through.

LIFT: We hear most about Army or Marine deployments in the news, and very little about the Navy. Do you have an opinion about this?

MELANIE: My husband, being a Seabee, builds for the Army, Marines, and the Air Force so they can do their jobs. Still, it doesn’t mean the Seabees aren’t in any danger. They are where the “heat” is, too. They risk their lives every day too…just like everyone in the military.

LIFT: How many times has Jay deployed in x number of years?

MELANIE: This was his second deployment. His first was a non-combat deployment to Spain.

LIFT: Many have said deployments get easier every time. Do you think it will be easier for you when and if he deploys again?

MELANIE: My husband has 14 years in, so he plans to retire, and we are having a hard time with the fact that he will deploy again before he retires. I NEVER want to deal with another one. I don’t see how they could get easier…you’re still losing the person you love for months, and to scary places where you don’t know if they’ll ever come back.

.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?

MELANIE: From what I perceive, I think they think none of us work, we all have a million kids, and we are whiners… all not true. I think everyone should have a taste of a deployment, of losing your loved one for months, of not being able to talk to your loved one for god knows how long. Maybe, just maybe, people would have a better understanding.

LIFT: What do you wish more people understood about the experience of having a loved one go to war?

MELANIE: How hard it is, how bad it messes you up, how you get no sleep, what goes through your mind every day, the feeling of when the phone rings, the letdown when it’s not him, how long a day is, how much longer it is when you don’t hear from him, how alone you feel, how strong you really are, how much you handle on your own, how you only have 15 min to talk and the phone usually cuts out before your time is up, how you have to pay for internet to talk to your family (if you have a choice to get internet), how long you wait to touch him, how long you wait for a kiss, how you wait to smell him again, how you try to hang onto everything and be okay for him, etc…

I wish more people understood because I think there would be a whole new kind of respect for the military and their families.

LIFT: What bothered you the most during his deployment?

MELANIE: It was all elements, from everywhere…the people in my town, the news, the military in general, my husband, ME being pregnant :) I’m sure it didn’t help.

How I shut down and gave up on my husband. I don’t know why, and I can’t explain it. I wouldn’t let him hear my voice and I wouldn’t let him see me (via skype) for the last 5 months of the deployment. I didn’t want to see him or hear him until he was home, because then it would be real and I could really touch him, smell him, kiss him and hear him, and he would be here to stay.

I was so mad at him for leaving me, for going away and making me so sad and so angry. I can’t explain why I shut him out. I didn’t do it to punish him…he was my hero and I was so proud, but I couldn’t show any emotions, whether happy, sad, or hurt…I never showed him anything but anger, and I don’t know why. This deployment messed me up so bad. But we are going to counseling now and trying to get back to normal…whatever that is….

LIFT: What elements of being a military family do you most enjoy?

MELANIE: I most enjoy how the military, no matter what branch you’re in, is one huge family, and I didn’t realize that until it was too late for me. But there are so many sites online and places for support. Really, if you’re a part of the military, you are not alone.


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