Love to Hate It
–Guest post by Val Sinclaire
We’re living in a peaceful season. But it kind of sucks.
My husband and I met during our senior year at college. We were English majors and we both loved a good story. Little did we know that our “story” was just beginning.
My husband joined the Army a few years later, and we’ve been living this military life for almost 12 years. As I think back over the years, I have to be honest. I have mixed feelings about the Army. Although I know some women who can say they love being an Army wife, I can’t echo that sentiment. Having said that, there are certain moments and even seasons that have been amazing. But even so, this Army life wrecks my heart on a regular basis. For the last twelve years, I’ve wrestled with whether this is the life for me. A part of me wonders if I’ll always wrestle with it, til the day my husband hangs up his uniform. So why do I wrestle with it?
Well, I wish we didn’t have to move so often (eight times in twelve years). I wish we could stay with the same unit we know and love, and never leave it. I wish my kids could be closer to their grandparents. I wish my husband could have been present for all three births (he was there for one). I wish, I wish. I wish there were no such thing as war. I wish we could walk away from this Army life and never look back. Oh, I wish. . .
All the wishful thinking aside, here’s the terrible irony: This is a volunteer Army. We could have left the Army at year five, year eight, year ten, year twelve. But we decided to stay in every time.
There are lots of good reasons to get out. More money on the outside. The flexibility to live where we want, to stay in one place, to do what we want. Stability for our kids.
So why have we continually chosen to stay in?
Army life comes in seasons. For about six years, we lived a long season of deployments. In 2003, we were stationed in Italy when my husband’s unit deployed to Iraq for a year. In 2005, his unit deployed again, this time to Afghanistan. In 2007, he deployed to Afghanistan AGAIN, this time for fifteen months. I went into the first deployment with an infant son and wide-eyed expectations about what Army life should be like. Six years and three deployments later, we moved back to the states with three kiddos. And I was wrecked. I don’t remember the first year we lived back here in the States. I was so tired, I felt like I could sleep for days. My husband was tired, too. We were both exhausted: physically, mentally, emotionally…
It wasn’t just the deployments and pregnancies that wore me down. It was the lack of space to process the changes that we’d been through. When my husband had the opportunity to leave the tactical side of the Army for a few years and take a teaching assignment, we jumped on the opportunity. We needed the break. Now we’re twenty months into that break. We’ve spent extended time together as a family for the first time in years. And for once we aren’t recovering from a deployment (or preparing for one). Life feels pretty… normal.
My husband has not deployed in a few years now, and he’s been “around” more than ever. Our oldest son is 8. His dad’s been away for almost half his life. But I see how their relationship has grown and deepened over the last 20 months and I’m grateful. The same for our daughter, five, and her younger brother, three. They aren’t old enough to really remember their dad being gone. But my oldest does. He told me a few weeks ago, “Mom, if Dad goes away again, I know you and I would be ok. But the little kids would really miss him.”
My husband and I have spent hours and hours talking. Actually my husband says I’ve been talking, and he’s been listeing. In any case, we’ve been communicating.
Although this assignment has provided tons of family time, in some ways, it’s been the hardest stretch of our Army life so far. We jokingly refer to this season as purgatory, because it’s been “good for us,” but utterly mundane. Nothing dramatic like jumping out of an airplane into northern Iraq. Or giving birth to a baby with an Army sister by my side. Or kissing one another on a parade field after fifteen months apart.
I’ll be honest. ‘Normalcy’ can be difficult for an Army family.
It was easy to make friends when my husband was stationed with a tactical unit overseas. But, since we’ve been back in the States, I’ve found found it very difficult to get to know people. We aren’t a part of a tactical unit right now, and that’s hard. I’ve been lonely, and so has my husband. After a long season of war, I guess we’re living in a peaceful season. But it kind of sucks.
It’s crazy, but I miss the hard parts.
Tough circumstances create unbreakable bonds between people. And our long season of deployment involved plenty of sacrifice. And many families sacrificed much more than we have. Friends whose husbands never came home. Mothers who lost their only sons to this war. These are the finest people I have ever known.
One of the greatest gifts we can give another person is to listen to his or her story. I’m grateful to the women who have asked to hear my story (both Army wives and civilian friends I’ve made along the way.) When we arrived back in the States almost two years ago, I desperately needed someone to listen to my story. I needed to process a painful personal matter that had shadowed my life for too long. I’m thankful for the women who listened to my story and loved me as I came to terms with pain from the past. By listening to my story, they helped me gain the strength to move on.
Over the last 20 months, I’ve longed to be part of a unit again that fosters unity and pride and loyalty. I know that season will come around again. From time to time, I think about our civilian friends, and their lives that look so stable and good when I see glimpses of them on Facebook. I remind myself that all families face challenges–even those who raise kids in their hometown with grandparents just up the highway. But that’s just not the life we are called to right now.
Part of me wishes that we were. And a part of me is glad that we’re not. This Army life… it’s not a safe life. But I don’t think life is meant to be safe and predictable. That would make for a pretty boring story, and that’s not what I want. Rather, I want an interesting story, one that’s exciting and fulfilling. I want a story with adventure. I want a story worth telling.
Maybe that’s why we haven’t gotten out of the Army yet. We like the story.
You can follow Val Sinclaire’s story at www.girlwithanotebook.com.