An IED by any other name, by Sara Konish

12 Jul

Sara is an Army wife of a 3/1 Soldier, working mom, and grad student, currently reintegrating after a year long deployment.

I was watching the news last night with my Soldier and they were covering the situation in Syria.  The reporter was talking about the rebels making explosive devices to take down the enemy (the government).  They even showed them making the bombs, cooking the explosives, and what the bomb did to a truck when hit.  The reporter called them explosives, but they are IEDs (roadside bombs).  We are sitting there watching these people be justified in blowing someone up.  This is crazy to me!  I started thinking about my husband in Afghanistan and IEDs and what it really means when he says “they got blown up.”

War is a terrible thing!  There is no doubt about that.  But what are some other IEDs in life?

I had lunch with a girlfriend some time back and we talked about our reintegration experience.  She was saying things that sounded just like us.  She was talking about how her husband would be angry and moody.  He would say that it was her and she was the one unhappy.  She was talking about the drinking, more than normal, or at least more than before.  She was talking about not sleeping, or not going to bed together.  I knew exactly what she was talking about.

I remember listening to the ladies who had been through re-deployment  talking about the “honeymoon stage” and about when it wore off and the rubber meets the road.  These were just words to me…I didn’t think of them as anything but a possibility.  When Rick came home, we were awesome; things were great.  I thought, “man, we are awesome, we totally skipped all the stuff they were talking about…we must just be that good!”  Yep, as with most things, I was wrong!

Reintegration is hard.  It is even harder to explain to someone who has never been through it.  Civilian wives do not understand what it is like, and they can’t really imagine it either.  Our neighbor and I talk about the deployment (her husband was deployed like Rick only on a main base, didn’t do firefight missions, and she had regular communication with him via Skype, etc.), however, I do not want to discount their deployment experience; he was deployed and she was without him.

Anyway, we do have some very similar experiences.  For one, the guys left when we were both pregnant, and we had the babies alone (well with our moms).  So, both of our Soldier’s came home to a new baby.  Her sister was asking us about it this weekend.  She said that she just couldn’t imagine it, going through what we went through, alone.  I told her, we didn’t have a choice.  That was what we had to do.

I think about those who say I am so strong.  I don’t personally think so, but ok.  I have to admit, it was terrible.  I hated Rick not being here.  I remember being in the hospital, thinking I was in labor when the nurses were telling me I wasn’t.  I was crying and my mom was comforting me.  I remember saying “I just want Rick!”

So, (as far as) the IEDs in life?  When the guys come back, little things will trigger each of you.  Last weekend we were at a cookout and a wife made this “cardinal sin” comment;  she said “I don’t understand, you spent a year with these guys, why do you need to spend more time with them?”  Well, don’t ever say that to a guy back from deployment!  She lost the fight.

Another thing, I was thinking of putting my daughter’s room into the bigger room (currently the spare guest room).  Rick didn’t like the idea.  I told him it was easier when I was making decisions by myself.  Don’t say that!  It can be very hurtful.

Talking about how much they smoke now, when they didn’t before, is probably not a good idea.  This goes for drinking too, I think, unless it is out of hand, or he is violent [in which case you might need to talk to a chaplain, or a trusted friend].

I know it is going to be just words to someone else, but they are true.  You really have to get to know each other again.  You have to compromise.  You have been two separate people living two lives for a year!  You have NO idea what he went through, even if you think he told you a lot.  And he has NO idea what you went through.  Don’t compare, don’t complain, just listen and work hard to communicate.

Marriage is hard all by itself.  Marriage in the military is that much harder.  Be committed to each other.  Know that there is more than just love, so if you aren’t feeling the love, work harder.  PRAY!  I know that prayer has gotten me through both the deployment and the reintegration.  I know we aren’t perfect, but I know we will be ok and our life will be as great as we make it.

Strength and love to all my military wives out there,

Sara

My name is Sara Konish, I am a wife, mother, full time employee, and graduate student.  My life is crazy, but I love it.  My husband, Rick, is a medic attached to 1-26 IN of 3/1.  He returned from a year long deployment in January 2012.  We have a daughter, Halaina, who is our pride and joy.  You’d never know she was born while he was away because she is a HUGE daddy’s girl.  We live at Fort Knox, KY, where I work as a Civilian Human Resources Specialist for the Army civilians.  I am working toward my masters in HR.  Life is crazy, but that is what makes it worth living. 

For more about Sara, visit her blog at http://mrsdoc.blogspot.com/

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Why We Celebrate: Three Americans to Remember

4 Jul

This is my husband’s platoon during their deployment to Afghanistan in 2010.

On this very special 4th of July in 2012, I think of the ladies of the 3/1 whose Soldiers were serving in Afghanistan this time last year.  It is for them, that I write this blog.  Even for those whose Soldier did not return, yet gave the ultimate sacrifice.  And also for Megan, whose dear Ollie came home with two mangled legs and a heart in need of mending.

For all of you, I share these three “whys”, which always seems to be the unspoken question in time of hardship.

Why do we celebrate?

“Why?” is for Ms. Lou who came from Korea as a refugee by way of a raft from the Philippines, where she said people chose not to marry or have children hoping for a better chance of being selected for a space (to the states) that was “won by lotto”.  She wanted a better life for her children and her children’s children.  Ms. Lou came to the United States of America with nothing but hope for the future.  Today, Ms. Lou is a U.S. citizen, with two beautiful children who have gone on to establish and distinguish themselves as educated professionals with families of their own.  She and her husband own a home, working hard, and living the American dream in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Ms. Lou is the first of three generations of Americans, and one answer to the question “why do we celebrate?”

Why do we serve?

“Why?” is for Ms. Kay, who arrived in the United States in 1976 from India, speaking no English, with a mere $8 to her name.  Ms. Kay worked for cash cleaning hotel rooms, pursuing opportunity and the American dream.  Now nearing her 60th birthday, she and her husband own one of the top-rated hotels in Albuquerque, NM.  She says, “In America everyone has opportunity if they are willing to work hard”.

Ms. Kay is a first generation American citizen, whose two children have gone on to careers in engineering and medicine.   They are one answer to the question “why do we serve?”

Why do we sacrifice?

“Why?” is also for an unnamed spouse, whose sweet young husband was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the 3/1, and the two children he left behind.  Because these two boys have the opportunity to grow up in Lou and Kay’s America!  To be whoever and whatever they want to be in this great land of opportunity!

This spouse and her children are one more answer to the question “why do we sacrifice?”

And we are grateful.

Why do we celebrate our nation’s independence?  Why do we serve our country?  Why do we sacrifice for this, our nation?   Because here lies HOPE!

Happy Independence Day!

Jill Bozeman is a committed, 17 year Army Wife, and the founder and dirctor of Operation Faithful Support, Inc, a grassroots, pro-marriage educational support program for the spouses of deployed service members.  She and her husband, SFC Wade Bozeman, and their two children are stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky.  For more information about OFS, please visit www.operationfaithfulsupport.com.

The Flip Side of “His” Deployment

3 Jul

Melissa Bennet, Army Wife, and blogger is pictured here with her Soldier and their two beautiful children.

There is no disputing that what Soldiers do on the front lines is hard. Depending on the situation, they may literally be dealing with life and death. I have yet to hear anyone say “being at war isn’t really a big deal”, but I have however, heard people refer to the home front side of deployment as a “vacation.”

I think my OFS (Operation Faithful Support) group facilitator, Jill Bozeman, put it best when she told us to imagine deployment as a coin. There are two sides that make up the coin, just as there are two unique parts of a deployment; downrange and home front. She reiterates that neither is better, but both are necessary. Instead of thinking of my situation as waiting for my husband to get back from deployment I started viewing it as a sort of deployment itself.

My experience will never be the same as his downrange experience. It just won’t. In most ways, I cannot relate to my husband’s experience from the past year at all, but in the same way he cannot relate to my home front experience. So of course the rational thing to do is put my experience in army terms.
Our house may just look like a house to him, but to me, this is where I survived and did what I had to in order to keep things running smoothly. This is my bunker. My troops are my kids. They look to me for guidance to lead them through the confusion of having daddy gone. They look for my steady gaze and my “everything is alright” smile.  We have systems in place to keep the “troops” in line. Above all, I must never lose my head or panic. We have morale boosters in the form of a few select dance songs. We go on missions to the playground and the grocery store. Sometimes they are uneventful, but sometimes we need to call in some backup in the form of a lollipop, band-aid, and an extra shot of espresso. His nights freezing on the mountaintop are my nights with a screaming toddler in the ER. He gets jolted awake by explosions nearby, my heart jumps awake with the hellish scream from my two year old having a nightmare. I have my giant diaper bag with me everywhere (whether I will need it or not), and he carries his gun.

Reading this, you may be thinking “how in the world does a mission through enemy territory compare to a trip to the grocery store?” Well, it doesn’t really. But this is my reality. These are my trials and sometimes I really feel like I might not make it out alive (or my kids for that matter). Having my keys in the correct pocket of the diaper bag is as important to me as the ammo being in the correct spot for him. I learned about the keys from accidentally locking my two kids in the car in a strange city in the middle of a road trip, because, you guessed it, I forgot to put the keys in the diaper bag.  The panic I felt at that moment still gives me nightmares. It may just be a key put it a particular place, but for the past year, the keys being in that spot has saved me time and time again. It has become a necessity in a time where I couldn’t count on much and didn’t know what problems I may have to go through alone. So, “why do the keys have to go there?” They go there because if they don’t, I will lose my mind and you will lose your balls. OKIE?

To an outsider, it may just be a brand of coffee, or a pair of shoes, or a key pocket, but you never know what those little things mean to a deployed-at-home spouse. Still don’t get it? Guys?

What would happen if instead of him coming home at the end of deployment, I went to Afghanistan? Would he let me near the equipment? How much training would I need to go through? What would happen if I tried to change his system? What would he do if I asked “Why do you have to bring your gun with you everywhere”, or tried to convince him to leave it behind? What if I decided to “help out” and re-organize the supplies? It’s no laughing matter. It’s not something you can just walk into and take over. There is serious stuff going on. It is very much the same when the Soldier comes home.

We can value both sides of the deployment coin without making our experiences a competition.  The home front role is also deserving of respect while the Soldiers are away. We are not sliding down rainbows and picking daisies. This is real. This is terrifying. This is surviving.

Melissa Bennett is a talented, and extremely busy Army wife of three years, as well as being a mother of two extraordinary children, ages 1 and 3.   She and her family are currently headed to Vilseck, Germany, after a tough deployment with the 3/1 IBCT of Fort Knox, Ky.  For more about Melissa, visit her blog at www.infantryhomefront.blogspot.com .

Building a foundation of support, even from planks of uncertainty

2 Jul

Jill Bozeman, Founder and Director of Operation Faithful Support, Inc.

I’m going to try to hit as hard as I can to get your attention, without over-dramatizing the home front battle.  Firstly, I’d like you to look over your life and think of all the unexpected hardships you’ve faced, as a child or as an adult.  Then I want you to ask yourself if there was a way you could have planned for any of those hardships in advance?  More than likely the answer is no, because for the most part, you couldn’t have seen them coming.

So now, I want you to imagine those same hardships coming unexpectedly during a deployment, when your main line of support, your partner, is in a combat zone.

If you had nothing to do but take care of your daily duties and responsibilities on the home front, the continued stress of concern for your Solider is enough to make you weak in the knees.  Add to that even one single additional hardship and you have a cocktail for emotional exhaustion.

What happens when Mama is exhausted?

What happens when Mama is depressed?

OFS (Operation Faithful Support) welcomed home an Infantry Brigade last January.   Some of those we sent did not return.  And of those that returned, some did not return the same.  At least one Soldier returned as a single parent due to a home front suicide.  Yes, this Brigade lost a spouse.

She had friends that loved her and supported her, but the truth is that she needed more than what one or two friends who were in the same boat could offer her.   She needed an entire framework of support, because we can’t foresee the struggles and joys the deployment year may hold.  We need a whole community.

I believe a spouse’s number one resource is her (or his) FRG (Family Readiness Group).  I’ve heard enough negative commentary about FRGs  to write a gossip column, but my first-hand experience literally changed my life.  It was so supportive and so empowering that I was inspired to do my part; I started OFS (Operation Faithful Support, Inc.) which as a program, has now supported three unit deployments since, earning lifelong friends and contacts all over the world.

All I had to do was reach back to the hands that were reaching out to me.  Even though the outcome was uncertain, and the rumors about FRGs were compelling, when the hand was extended, I took it!   And I thank God!

For the spouses and families serving on the home front, don’t throw those pamphlets and flyers away.   Don’t delete the emails without engaging the sender.  Answer the phone when you see it is your “Key Caller”, as she is a lifeline extended to you for contact and resources.  Behind the acronyms are real people who live to help, support, and love those belonging to our military communities.  Many times they are spouses, or former service members who are working for those programs, services, and non-profits.  If anyone knows the burden of deployment, it is them.

The only thing that is certain before, during or after deployment is that you are loved, and you will need that love to make it through.

Ask a friend to attend an FRG meeting with you.  And if you don’t have a friend, call your FRG leader and tell her the truth….that you are nervous about coming.  I believe, before you hang up you’ll have found a friend.

Jill Bozeman is a committed, 17 year Army Wife, and the founder and dirctor of Operation Faithful Support, Inc, a grassroots, pro-marriage educational support program for the spouses of deployed service members.  She and her husband, SFC Wade Bozeman, and their two children are stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky.  For more information about OFS, please visit  www.operationfaithfulsupport.com.

“Our relationship was not built on separation, so why am I going to throw in the towel?”

31 Jan

I am surrounded by newly integrating families…

But behind that façade of supreme happiness, I see sadness, frustration, and sometimes even anger. I recognize these emotions because I’ve experienced them. I know the turmoil that potentially lies in the wake of reintegration.

My advice is to avoid ridiculous love songs, well-meaning family members, and your “in-denial” neighbor:  love is hard and reintegration can be even harder.

But, I am here to tell you that it is worth it.

I’ve spent years wondering if this was the right life for me,… for us. It’s his job, yes, but am I really meant to be his spouse? These are plaguing thoughts for a spouse whose husband is deployed.

After our last deployment, we experienced a rough reintegration.  I spent 2 years seeking to reconnect on an emotional level from which we could grow.  We had exactly 3 weeks of bliss before he was whisked away, again. Oh well, it’s still worth it.

You see, our relationship was not built on frustration, so that’s not going to be what breaks us.  Our relationship was not built on separation, so why am I going to throw in the towel?  Our relationship was built on love, understanding, friendship and a little bit of teenage rebellion.  Those are each important things for which we can remind ourselves as we face the difficult process of reestablishing, or  maintaining our emotional connection as a couple. Each marriage is different, but usually there is something that intuitively and initially attracted you to your spouse.  Something pivotal that you may lean against in times of trouble.

If you are having a tough time, try to find or remember those things.  Finding common ground may help.  What is your “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (for all of you ‘90’s children)?

The growth we made as a couple during the year we were reintegrating will enable us to grow during our current separation.  Like most things, relationships are a process. Whether apart or together, all relationships ebb and flow.  Careful not to think your current “ebb” is permanent!

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the process, especially during the chaos we call “reintegration”. Each of you has experienced unique challenges during your year apart. I am here to tell you, again, that it is worth it.  Every frustrating episode, each tear shed, even the grumpy moods, they are all worth it in the end.

What reintegration experiences have surprised you, and which have been “a breeze”?  Please share your comments and experiences with Moriah in the comment section below.   

Moriah Horn, Army Spouse, mother, student, and OFS facilitator for the 3/1 IBCT spouses, will be married to her high school sweetheart, Josh, 9 years March of 2012.  They are the parents of two amazing children, River and Ember, plus one crazy cat, and three dogs.  Two of their three dogs participate in various pet therapy programs, welcome home ceremonies and wounded warrior therapy events.  Moriah was part of the original OFS group during Josh’s most recent deployment with the 502nd from Fort Knox, Ky, in 2009-10, and has been an integral part of the program’s development and longterm success! 

Army Wife Says, Second Deployment R & R Presented Unique Challenges

30 Nov

Aprille Donaldson, Army Wife, mother to Ezra, and Operation Faithful Support Spouse

Aprille Donaldson is an Army wife to her Solider, Russ, a stay-at-home mommy to their bright and active toddler, Ezra, and an Operation Faithful Support spouse.  While Russ is wrapping up his second deployment to Afghanisatn, Aprille commands the Donaldson homefront.  She enjoys Facebook, coffee, sweets, playing the piano, writing music, photography, and hanging out in the military wife blogosphere. She has been actively involved in the 3/1 Operation Faithful Support chapter at Fort Knox.  Check out her blog at  http://www.beautifulinhistime.com/blog.php

Prior to our mid-tour leave, I attended many meetings about RnR and reintegration. They warned that RnR could be a difficult time and that we can’t expect perfection. I heard it, but I didn’t really comprehend it. RnR during our first deployment was amazingly easy and I didn’t think that this time would be any different.

But it only took a few hours into my husband’s time home for me to realize the truth behind the warnings. I didn’t realize quite how much our family had changed until we tried to do something simple like watch a TV show. We used to watch TV with the computer on the coffee table while our baby Ezra would lay or sit quietly next to us. Now TV watching involved a noisy kid crawling all over both of us, messing with the computer, and clamoring for attention. It was a little thing – but it was an adjustment. I had adjusted gradually over the last 8 months but Russ had to adjust on the spot. Something neither of us expected–and it caused stress.

The first few days, Russ was in “go mode”– full speed ahead, take charge. It didn’t matter what it was, it was a task that needed accomplished and he was going to accomplish it. His anxiety levels were high, he was defensive, and he couldn’t relax. As we struggled to adjust to this highly dynamic force in our lives, Russ often felt like he was doing “everything wrong.” I responded by being stressed and anxious, which made Ezra fussy, which made Russ even more stressed. It was a horrible cycle. I kept thinking was “WHY IS THIS SO HARD!?!?!” It took lots of tears before I realized i needed to change my attitude. I was expecting perfection and when things weren’t perfect, I became so fixated on the problems, and trying to fix them, that I was missing just enjoying that Russ was home! I had to let go of my expectations, relax, and just focus on the good things–to set aside the problems and realize that 14 days isn’t enough time to fix everything. I took my hands off and let Russ take over as he saw fit – even if it was different from my way. I focused less on my husband’s anxiety problems and spiritual struggles and more on the love he was lavishing on us.

One of the things that was crucial for us was getting baby-free date time. Every time we had a date we came home feeling so NORMAL and in love. We also got some counseling. For some couples, doing this over RnR might not be the best option – but for us, it was. Having more freedom to talk about things in an environment that felt safe to us helped us so much.

As the two weeks progressed, our time together went from being difficult and stressful to being wonderful, amazing, and just plain old normal… and trust me, if you are feeling normal, you can count your time together as a HUGE success!   

A more detailed account of our mid-tour leave (with pictures) can be found by visiting my blog: http://www.beautifulinhistime.com/blog/-so-how-was-your-rnr-

The Dangers of Anticipatory Grief, by Megan Hughes

13 Nov

Megan and Oliver Hughes have a moment together at Walter Reed after Oliver sustained serious injuries in an attack as he served with the 2-2 of the 3/1 last spring in Afghanistan. His unit will be returning in the weeks ahead. (Photo taken by Marsden Media, http://www.marsdenmedia.com)

 

Anticipatory grief is a very common experience for many military spouses.  It is a phenomenon that sometimes starts before the deployment even begins.  Maybe it sets in when the family is sitting down to make wills, fill out SGLI forms, or make a “legacy book” that contains funeral arrangements.  Especially as infantry families, we know the stakes of sending our soldiers to war.

After a deployment (or two… or five…) you would think that we would be used to it and be able to manage it better.  But the truth is, the more they go, the more we think the odds are against our soldier coming home.  The worse the odds, the more efficient the anticipatory grief.  During a deployment with multiple casualties–deaths and severe injuries of friends–the stress can break the strongest among us.  In an effort to come to terms with the unrelenting fear of the doorbell, we detach.  We convince ourselves that we are ok without our soldier.  And when we go too far, we convince ourselves that we don’t really want them back anyway.

This is harsh and it hurts, but it is REAL.  It may not be right and it’s certainly not pretty. It’s real.  The idea of losing them violently is enough to make us check out mentally and emotionally on our own terms.  As though it would somehow not hurt so badly if we have already let them go.

Be wary of what you use to fill the void of your missing soldier.  Some ways are healthy, some ways are not.  Personal development–education, exercise, hobbies, etc–are generally healthy.  Building positive relationships that encourage you to stay faithful and provide opportunities for personal growth are also a good outlet.  Beware of friends that feed your fears, that steal your focus from your longterm goals, or start replacing your relationship with your soldier.

Be careful, ladies.  This last month of deployment is the absolute worst for mental and emotional stability.  Our unit has experienced so much hurt and loss.  This has been a horrible year for us.  I know you are afraid.  I know you have found new strength and independence this year, and you are worried that you will lose it when they come home.  Please hold the faith–remember why you love your husbands, honor your commitments, and don’t let the home fires die.

No amount of anticipatory grief will save you from the devastation of your soldier’s death or injury, but it can absolutely kill your marriage.

Hold strong.  You’re almost there.
 

Megan Hughes, veteran Army spouse of the dashing, U.S. Army NCO, Oliver Hughes, mother of four incredibly resilient and playful children, OFS spouse, and friend to many, has stayed connected to her unit sisters throughout a very tough deployment in which her own Solider returned seriously injured last spring.  Although the clan now resides in San Antonio, focusing on Oliver’s recovery, Megan remains a voice of experience to those awaiting the return of their own Solider in the weeks ahead.