Interview: Anonymous Military Mother
–by Kristen Tsetsi
The following interview is with a woman who asked to remain anonymous. She is the mother of a soldier who joined the Army in 2007, and mother in-law to another who joined the Army in 2006.
LIFT: When did your son and son in-law first deploy, and how many times have they deployed?
ANON: My son-in-law deployed to Iraq from 2007 to 2008. My son deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010. So far, they have only deployed once. My son-in-law will not deploy for a few more years, as he was accepted into the Physician’s Asst program at Fort Sam Houston and will be in school or in a clinic for about 3 years. My son is moving to Fort Benning, and as of right now, we do not know of any deployments scheduled.
LIFT: People say it gets easier every time. Do you think it will?
ANON: I can say without a doubt “NO,” it will not be easier. When my son-in-law deploys again, he will be leaving my daughter and 3 children. The first deployment she stayed with us. Next time, she will stay at the base since she will have children in school and wants to keep their lives as normal as possible. Most likely she will be located far from us. I will worry continually about her.
Even when she lived with us, she was pregnant, and it was very hard to watch her miss her husband and see the sadness of her giving birth without him. The support of other army families might be better for her.
As for my son being deploying again… Ignorance was bliss the first time around. I know too much, now, about things that happened during the last deployment. As a mother, I wanted to know everything, but I probably shouldn’t have been told anything. I imagine there was a lot he has kept from me.
LIFT: How would you describe what you think and feel for the duration of a deployment? What do you feel that people you encounter may not necessarily see?
ANON: Short answer: worry, fright, insomnia, irritability, numbness, anxiety–sometimes all at once.
As a parent, I never felt left out as far as the military is concerned. My son is single, so I did not get the phone calls my daughter did from the FRG, I did get some calls. Plus, I was the only one my son would call, and I would relay any messages. My husband or his sisters would talk to him if they were with me.
My daughter shared books with me she felt helped her, and I would just absorb the information as it would relate to my child. I found plenty of information on the internet, as well.
For the duration of my son in-law’s deployment, I pretty much focused all my worry on my daughter and grandson and new granddaughter. I didn’t ask her a lot of questions about her husband and let her talk to me when she felt like telling me details of their conversations. They were both college graduates and 25 when he enlisted, so I felt like they knew what they were signing up for. It was still hard to watch her go through the stress. Even now that they’re adults, I will always worry about my kids.
LIFT: What was your immediate reaction when you learned out your son wanted to join the military?
ANON: My son always told us, from the time he was 3, he was going to be a soldier. In high school he said he would go to college and go in as an officer. I was prepared for that. By the time he was a senior, he changed his plans, but I didn’t. He wanted to see what it was like at the bottom and enlist after graduation. I was not a happy Momma especially after he gave up scholarships. Our agreement was that he would go into a non-infantry MOS. Once I agreed, we talked a lot about it and I did feel better when he left.
When he was at basic training was the time my daughter moved in with us. I was busy with my four daughters, grandchildren, and planning a wedding, so the time flew by. I prayed he would be in the States for a while before deploying so he would get used to army life. My prayers were answered. By the time he deployed, we were getting ready to have two more grandchildren. I stayed up-beat when he left for the sake of our 15-year-old, who is very close to him. We spent a few days with him just hanging out in a motel playing games, eating, swimming and just having fun. We were not actually on base when he left because he said he would be too busy and we wouldn’t see him much. Probably a good decision.
He was so excited to deploy that he made me feel better. I was still assuming non-infantry, so, no problem. We all did great for the first six months. He surprised us on his R&R, and when it was time for him to return to Iraq, that was the moment I’d had enough of the military and wanted him home for good. It hit me hard that I would not see him for nine months. He seldom called, and internet connections were sporadic. The following month I finally went to the doctor after making myself sick with so much worry and anxiety.
When he was on R&R, I asked him about the movie Brothers At War. He bought it for me and we watched it together. I liked seeing some of what his life was like. I watched that movie once or twice a day for the rest of his deployment. I just felt the need to know what life was like for him and what he was going through. I read everything I could get my hands on about the war in Iraq. With four daughters at home and four grandchildren, life did go on, but I found it hard to celebrate any holidays, and it was hard to put a big smile on my face when I was so sad.
When he was back at the base I would call him five times a day just because I could. He came home for a couple of weeks, and he was different, but he promised me in the very beginning that he would talk to me, and if I thought he needed medical help, he would seek it. I was warned that it would take a bit of time for soldiers to readjust. By the second time I saw him, he was back to the same son I had before.
He wants to deploy again, and soon. I am already dreading the day.
LIFT: What bothered you the most during your son’s deployment?
ANON: I didn’t like the fact deployment is so dangerous, and like any mother, I don’t care how old he is – I don’t want him in harm’s way. I didn’t like anything about deployment. My son loved it. He loved the extra money, and being from Texas, he actually loved the climate.
I talked to the wife of an officer who has been through many deployments. She said the hardest thing was everything being on her shoulders. She didn’t always have time for the little things. I wish civilians who are able to help would do simple things to help out, like sending cookies to the children or mowing the yard.
LIFT: What do you think people with no connection to the military think of the military family? That is, how do you feel they’re perceived?
ANON: I was one of the civilians who never thought about it. I don’t live near a military town and very seldom see a soldier in uniform. WWII vets were the closest thing I knew about soldiers. I love my country but could not say I am overly patriotic. I never knew the sacrifices families make. Not just the spouse and children, but the parents and siblings.
I think I assumed most soldiers were young and right out of high school and were paid enough for being single. I was surprised by how many young military families qualify for WIC for their young children. Even if the soldier is not deployed, he often moves before the family can. The paperwork, insurance, housing, and schooling for the kids is so much work for a family. Living off base was so expensive. There are a lot of young couples I don’t think are ready to handle so much at once.
But it’s been easy for my single son. It is always easy to find barracks, and he only keeps what fits in the car. For both of my children, they seem to love it. My daughter has made so many great friends and has become so close to them. She does stress out at times with moves, but the Army did a fantastic job when she had to have surgery, had her babies, and when one of the children became very sick and was in ICU. The medical care was wonderful and they did not have to pay anything.
LIFT: People who find the idea of recognizing the military family as TIME Magazine‘s Person of the Year unrealistic might say the military family hasn’t had its own impact on our culture-not the same way the military has. How do you respond to that?
ANON: I would remind them every soldier has a spouse, child, mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandparent or friend standing behind him cheering for him, supporting him and sometimes keeping the soldier’s affairs in order when he is deployed. Helping him if he is hurt or disabled. Each soldier, married or single, has some kind of support system. Every soldier I know and have talked to has told me they are in the military to make America safer for someone in their family. Especially since 9-11, those who enlist know what is ahead of them and they enlist for their love of America, freedom, and family. It is the family that supports the soldier with the ravages of war. Because of that, everyone benefits, even if you have no ties to the military.
LIFT: What do you wish more people understood about the experience of having a loved one go to war?
ANON: I wish others understood how all consuming the worry became. We had a party with 100 family and friends the month before my son left. I was assured as everyone left that they would all be checking on our family and son. A few people would ask how he was doing in passing. I only had one friend who wrote or called every two weeks, and if I was having a bad day, she would send me a prayer and check on me the next day. One thing we now have that families of previous wars did not have is the internet. I have a group of Army Moms I have never met to support me. They totally get “it”. They understand everything, and I feel I have known them all my life.
My husband’s family is fairly large. They have eight kids and 25 grandchildren, five of whom are mine. Two men married into the family and deployed. When they came home, all of my husband’s family went to welcome them home and made such a big deal out of it. Except for coming to my son’s going away party, they didn’t mention him or ask about him. My son and my husband are not upset at all. It’s petty, but it has bothered me.
My son was in a firefight (so much for going non-infantry) and won an award, but he only had a few seconds to tell me about it. I found out later what the award was for and freaked out. I called my sister very upset, but she had workers at her house and couldn’t talk.
I found out quickly that there are a lot of people out there who don’t understand or don’t care.
My one friend who checked on me was a lifesaver. Her family said the rosary for my son every evening, and I will never be able to repay her for all the kindness she has shown for my son.
LIFT: What elements of being a military family do you most enjoy?
Not really knowing what to expect, I went to family day and graduation from basic training for my son, and I was surprised at how proud I was of not only my son, but all of the men and women graduating. My heart swelled with pride, and although I have shed many tears and lost a lot of sleep, there is such a feeling of pride watching people react to my son in uniform when we are at airports, restaurants, or other public place. They move to let him by and tell him thank you.
I am glad he did start at the bottom, because it is not just the officers that make our military great. Right now his plans are to go to college when his enlistment is over and become an officer, and I think he will make a better officer for what he has gone through.