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March 14, 2011

Interview with an Anonymous Air Force Wife

by K. Tsetsi

–by Kristen Tsetsi

The following interview was conducted with an Air Force spouse who asked to remain anonymous.

LIFT: How did you and your husband meet?

ANON: I was in the Air Force for eight years. We met at my first assignment, where we worked together and became close friends. He joined the military 8 months before I did, and he’d been at our first base for 9 months by the time I arrived. After about a year we began dating.

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 military families/the military community is perceived based on what you see in the media and hear from others?

ANON: We’ve never been received badly by strangers for being a military family. In fact, if we’ve been treated differently at all, it was appreciation. My civilian friends and family often tell me things like, “I don’t know how you do it,” or “Do you worry constantly when he goes?” I think they wonder how connected we are, as a family, when we have to separate so often.

The news I can recall seeing on military families has been from sources like ‘The Stars and Stripes’ or ‘Military.com’. I don’t remember hearing much about the military family from other news sources in quite a while. The feeling I get from other news media is that there are plenty of people opposed to the war, but I hope they’re not blaming the military members or their families.

LIFT: Probably the most well-known representation military families receive – on screen, anyway – is the program “Army Wives.” What do you think of the show?

ANON: I’ve never watched it. I really want to, though. It’s on my Netflix queue.

LIFT: You’ve been able to experience both sides – service member, and now the spouse of a service member. What do you, as someone who has seen the military family from both perspectives, say to people who argue the military family hasn’t had its own impact on our culture?

ANON: When I was in the military, I participated in many volunteer activities within my community. They were programs like ‘Habitat for Humanity’, ‘Adopt-A-Highway’, and helping to feed families or runaways. Whenever I helped at those events, I always saw military family members (including children) helping out, too. Military families want to have a positive encounter with the communities they live in.

Now that I have my own family we continue to contribute to our community together. Presently, my family helps by representing our culture in a foreign country. We always remember that the eyes that see us are those of people who are very likely forming a perception of all Americans, so we behave in friendly, positive ways that we hope will impress well upon our host nation. We do this by learning all that we can about the foreign country we live in, to include learning some of the language and participating in some of their traditions. We also participate in home-stay programs, which offer further opportunity for families from both cultures to learn from each other.

Overall, I believe you are very likely to find tolerance among military families, and that should reflect positively on our culture. We once lived near a place where my husband was stared at hatefully because of his race. We were briefed on the lack of racial tolerance in the area by the military. Military families of many different backgrounds and beliefs live concertedly, and why wouldn’t that impact our culture nicely?

LIFT: You’re together now, but your husband somewhat recently returned from a deployment. How many times has he deployed in x number of years?

ANON: My husband has deployed seven times in the thirteen years that we’ve been married. Before we were married, he took a year-long remote assignment in Korea. He was my boyfriend then, and we hadn’t yet talked marriage. We’ve always dealt with separation.

LIFT: What did you do for the first hour after he left for his most recent deployment?

ANON: I cried on the drive home and missed my exit off of the highway, so much of it was spent sitting in my husband’s truck. I was hoping it wasn’t the last time I’d see him and that he’d be as comfortable as he could be wherever he was going. When we got home, my kids and I sat down at the calendar to make a weekly countdown to his return, and to plan our vacation to my parents’ home for the summer.

LIFT: People will often say, if you marry someone in the service and they later deploy, “You know what you were getting into.” Is it true?

ANON: I don’t think that’s true. I was in the military and didn’t know what deploying would be like until I actually bounced my way across the globe to Turkey, and moved into tent city. You may have ideas of what it’s like, but without personal experience you don’t really know. I imagine it would be even more of a mystery to a spouse who has no personal military experience. People go into a lot of things they think they can handle. Sometimes they find that they can, and sometimes they find they can’t. People shouldn’t make generic, judgmental statements like that.

LIFT: What did you find would have been the most difficult thing to explain if you were asked, “How are you doing?”

ANON: I’m pretty independent so I don’t need a lot of outside help when my husband is gone. There were times that I wanted to talk to someone about my fears and sometimes that kind of conversation is more than people are really offering when they ask, “How are you doing?” Luckily, I have some amazing friends I can count on in times like that. We’d drink wine over the phone together and look up news on his location. I think you have to have someone you can be completely honest with when you don’t want to tell your husband, “I’m worried you’ll die,” over the phone. I attribute a great part of my sanity to the loving comfort of my best friend and sister.

LIFT: How would you describe what you’re thinking and feeling during a deployment? That is, how do you sleep/how does an average day feel/what do you experience that people you encounter may not necessarily see?

ANON: I tend to stay up later to read or work on projects; it’s my break from the day and the kids. A numbness creeps in where my husband used to be so I don’t think of him constantly, but I’m aware that he’s missing. Each day is another day with the usual things that must be done; there’s no pause button, even if I want one. I try to break the monotony by planning special outings with my kids, reconnecting with friends, and signing the kids up for activities or sports. Sometimes I feel great frustration and anxiety when I take on too much. People don’t see when I’m sitting in the dark wondering how my life could have been different if… Obviously, I don’t continue to feel that way. I usually follow those episodes with moments of harmless self-indulgence and then things even out.

LIFT: How, if at all, have deployments affected (either positively or negatively) your relationship with your husband?

ANON: I have positively become more independent since marrying him. I take care of everything while he is away and I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself. I realize more now, that I enjoy being with him by choice and not in need, and that makes me more appreciative of the time we have together. Another great thing is we tend to communicate more when he’s gone. I don’t think we mean to take each other for granted when he’s home, but sometimes we just sit in the same room and don’t pay attention to each other. When we’re apart we talk about how we love and value each other. We discuss our lives and make plans for the future, and that helps us to see how our lives will converge when he returns.

I’ll also tag communication as a negative thing during deployments. Sometimes we don’t communicate well when he’s away because of his location or everything that we have going on at home. When that happens, it can have an extremely negative impact on our relationship because we become disconnected emotionally, and that is difficult to recover from. We experienced that during his last deployment and it really was the death of what we knew together. I don’t think we’ve ever gone through a deployment unchanged, but we’ve always figured out how to keep on going. Maybe we’re both just military brats at heart, but it’s sort of a natural thing to spend time away from someone and accept that there will be adjustments when you’re reunited. We really care strongly about each other and we know we’ll have to deal with difficulties throughout our lives together. To me, that is what families do.

LIFT: What bothers you the most during deployments?

ANON: Stupid complaints bother me. I’d like for people to realize they don’t have so much to complain about unless they’re dealing with something like a fatal disease, a community tragedy, or a lost job.

LIFT: What do you like about deployments?

ANON: I like having a bit of separation from my husband. I wish it were for a number of weeks, rather than months, but deployments have actually become longer than they used to be, and more frequent. I like that in the time my husband is gone, I can spend some time working on personal projects, and I take leave from cooking grand meals long enough to look forward to it again when he returns. The kids and I spend more quality time together talking, playing, or falling asleep together after a movie marathon. I especially like to connect with my friends and family. If I can manage it, I’ll visit with, or receive visits from people I don’t get to see very often. I usually look forward to deployments at first, with exception to worrying about my husband’s safety, and then somewhere around the middle of the deployment I long for his return.

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

ANON: I love, love, love to travel. I yearn to move after living in a place for a few years, so following my husband to new places is an adventure. For military families, there’s the added comfort that even when we’re going somewhere new, there’s always something familiar around. Whether you are stateside or in a foreign country, you tend to see the same things on military bases, so it feels a little bit like home no matter where you are. Also, military people are usually willing to help each other out whether they know each other personally or not. So, you’ve got friends almost as soon as you arrive—and often even en route to your destination.

LIFT: This question assumes a part-answer, which is, “I want my spouse to be happy doing what s/he does.” That said, without knowing how much longer we might be in the Middle East and how many more deployments could be in your family’s future, do you ever wish your spouse would separate from the military?

ANON: No. The military has always been a way of life for both of us, and we appreciate it. If he separated now, I think we’d feel like wandering strays. He even speaks of continuing to work with the military after he retires, and I fully support that. We don’t always agree with what government does, but we continue to believe in service to our country. I hope he does not lose his life to it.

LIFT: What piece of advice have you heard regarding how to behave during deployments that you absolutely disagree with (that is, that would in no way help you or apply to your situation)? And what piece do you most agree with?

ANON: The advice I’ve heard most is ‘stay busy, it makes the time pass faster’. I understand that thought, but you have to put limits on how busy you make yourself. You’re already under stress from the separation and you don’t want to add a great deal more… I think a better version of this advice would be: take this time to do something you’ve wanted to do that you’ve been putting off. Make it something really enjoyable.

The advice I’d agree most with is that you should take time for yourself. If you’re going to be without your spouse, make the most of it. Your spouse should rather hear that you are happy than hear that you are depressed.

 

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