Strangers often ask what my husband does. Depending on the situation and/or who’s asking, my answer might be “He’s in the Air Force,” “He’s in the military,” or “He’s a pilot.” If ever he is TDY (military business trip), held up at work, flying long hours, or otherwise absent, folks have often made comments like, “Well, you’re a military wife, so I guess you’re used to it!” Usually I shrug and smile, and I may make some joke. In fact, I don’t think we ever “get used to it.” How can we?
My dad was military, and I saw what my mom went through. He went TDY, served 7 months in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and deployed to Korea for a year. It was a hard life. I swore I’d never marry military. There is a running joke amongst military wives that “You may be his wife, but the military is his mistress.” Well, God had other plans in store for me, and the first guy I held hands with, kissed, and eventually married, was, in fact, military. I didn’t enter into the life blind. In fact, S and I initially got to know each other via e-mail while he was serving in Kuwait. During our 7 month engagement, we saw each other only 4 times, as he was PCS’d (moved to a different assignment) to another region of the country to attend Test Pilot School. I resigned myself to being a military wife and all that it entailed. I accepted that my duty to my God, my country, my husband, and my family was to be the best wife and mother I could be, and to support my husband, despite the circumstances the military put us in.
I quickly learned the key was to stay busy. Idle minds are the devil’s workshop, and that makes so much sense to a military wife. Over the years, each time I knew he was flying a new, experimental aircraft, testing it’s limits, shutting off an engine in mid-flight to check safety features, and so forth, I worried–and I prayed and made myself busy. Each time he went TDY for weeks or months at a time, I worried–and I prayed and made myself busy. Sometimes, he would have an exhilarating day, come home, and begin to tell me all about it. Most of the time I listened and often times I was even amused. A few times I had to stop him from saying any more about a close call he’d had that day. I just couldn’t handle that picture in my head. I kept busy volunteering–there’s always an expectation for military wives to volunteer in the community. I kept busy finishing furniture while 7 months pregnant during an extended TDY. I kept busy working with horses and training dogs until the children entered my life. Due to my diabetes and S’s frequent absences, I kept busy teaching my 3 and 4 year old (at the time) how to call 911 if mommy didn’t wake up one morning. Then the calls started.
The fact is, there are accidents. Within months of our wedding day, one of our saber bearers (military guys who dress in uniform and hold swords for the bride and groom to walk under) and a good friend of S’s, was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Every time news comes out about a military plane crash, we look up the names of the fatalities to see if we know anyone on that flight. I’ll never forget the first call about a year into our marriage, when I answered and S said, “Hey, I can’t talk right now, but just wanted you to know I landed and I’ll see you tonight.” Over time, I learned that was my clue that there had been some sort of accident on the flight line that day. S could never tell me about it, as accident info is considered classified until public relations releases it the media. His fear was that I would hear about something on the news and not know his status. So, this became our little secret game. He would call briefly to let me know he had landed, and I would turn on the news to hear the details later, thankful he wasn’t involved, and praying that it was none of our friends either. I used to hate when curious folks would find out he was testing the CV-22 Osprey and ask, “OH! That’s the one that crashed and killed all those marines. Aren’t you so scared it will crash with him one day?!” Really? I had to smile and shrug my shoulder at that stupid question so many times. I wish I had a nickel for every time I had to defend the aircraft and my husband’s obligation to fly it. Especially when what I really wanted to say was something to the effect of, “YES! Of course it scares me to death. Not because it’s the CV-22, but because he’s MY husband and he’s testing aircraft that will possibly be used to defend our nation one day. Yes, it scares me to death to think he flies a new aircraft up there and intentionally shuts off an engine, flips the plane, or sees how fast he can push it before it starts to rattle. Yes, I’m scared!”
There were times he would work jobs requiring higher security clearances. I often wasn’t allowed into his building unescorted or unannounced. There were times he would leave for work one morning, I would make dinner and sometimes have plans to go out that evening, and then he’d call and I’d find out he wouldn’t be home for several days. I had to give up my hobbies and outside-the-home activities because these days were so random it was impossible to plan for them. I was forced to began assuming that he wouldn’t be home that evening, and then enjoy it when he was. Can I just say to folks right here that if you encounter a military wife in this type of situation, it does NOT help matters AT ALL to start putting doubts in her head regarding her husband’s faithfulness?! I couldn’t believe it when well-intentioned people would suggest this.
For the most part the military has done a good job trying to care for spouses and families of the troops. There are some assignments though where the family is not included in any way. When S took command, I missed milestone ceremonies in my husband’s life, experiences that other commander’s wives got to relish in. Most pilot’s wives get “spouse flights,” where another pilot (never the husband) will take the wives up in an aircraft their husband flies. Unless they are a test pilot. For safety reasons, understandably, spouses aren’t allowed in test aircraft. To this day, I have never flown in one of my husband’s aircraft.
There is always bittersweet feelings involved in new assignments. With the right attitude, moves can be an exciting adventure. Several times a year, we hold our breath, wondering if he will get picked this time, and if so, where we will be moving next. Will we stay together, or will he be sent overseas or into battle? Either way, it often involves uprooting our family, leaving behind our friends, saying “See you later!”, while knowing we’ll most likely never see the civilian ones again. Trying to make our old curtains fit into the new house. Again. Trying to help the kids meet new friends. Again. Ensuring our carseats are legal in the next state, or if we have to buy new ones. Again. Once, they even sent S TDY when we were supposed to move, and I had to handle the move–complete with 2 toddlers–alone.
Oh, and those horrible planning forms! Every couple of years, we had to sit down and fill out a form with updated info regarding what my desires would be in the event something happened to S. For the record, this is not a military-wide requirement, but most of S’s squadrons wanted their guys to do it to avoid surprises and make things as easy on everyone as possible. It would generally involve S and I sitting down together after putting the kids to bed and him asking me questions like:
- “If I died, who would you want to notify you?”
- “Would you want someone to stay with you and the kids at the house, or someone to take the kids and leave you alone?”
- “Who do you want to help guide you through the military red-tape to take care of our affairs?”
- “Do you want our pastor to be present, and if so, when?”
- “Do you want someone to answer the phone for you, or would you prefer voicemail answer them all?”
- “Do you want to notify our extended family members, or would you prefer someone else do it?”
- “Where would we want the body sent?”
And so on and so forth….you get the picture. As believers in Christ, who are confident in our place in heaven once we go, we are not afraid to speak of death. However, it has never been fun to think too hard on being faced with that situation–to literally have to put myself in a situation I had never experienced, and try to make decisions on how I’d want things to work at a time like that. And to have to do it every few years. It just wasn’t pleasant at all to continually be faced with the idea of not having my husband here with me. As if that wasn’t enough, S has always been pretty careful to try to give me an updated power of attorney to decrease the chance of snafu’s and hold-ups should something happen to him. I guess the risk was often that high. It just made him feel better to know I’d be taken care of.
As a God-fearing, Bible-believing wife, it is my duty to honor and submit to my husband. The military is probably the hardest lifestyle offered to Christian wives in this sense. One day, I have to be perfectly capable of being 100% independent. In the event of an emergency, my husband is not always there. I have to know who to call, when to call, and how to deal with common injuries. I handle appointments, banking, groceries, and cooking. I teach the kids, prepare the curriculum, shuttle them where they need to go. I know how to call a plumber, an electrician, and what to do when the well runs dry. I have to catch escaped livestock and be ready to help neighbors in need. On Sunday mornings, I have to be able to get the kids ready, do the chores, and make it to church on time and with a smile on my face. If I want things done, I have to be willing to use power tools. Then, at the end of the absence, when S walks in the door, I have to totally transform from the independent decision maker to the dutiful and submissive wife, and hand over most of that independence to my husband. Mind you, this is not a bad thing at all, and in fact, it is a way in which I very much enjoy honoring my husband. As a military wife, though, this transformation in roles can sometimes be very difficult. It can sometimes require a lot of prayer and faith in God on my part to ensure I never develop hard feelings or lingering resentments toward the man I love.
Please understand I am in no way complaining here. The military offers a very unique life, and amazing experiences that most people don’t dream of! I have personally flown a Cessna aircraft (which I didn’t crash), and I have flown a CV-22 Osprey simulator (which I crashed during every single simulated flight). I have lived right on the beach, in the desert, and in the mountains. I have traveled all over the United States. As a diabetic, I have had great insurance and dental care. Most areas we have lived support military by offering many military discounts and incentives around town. We know people around the world, and have experienced incredible community relationships. The military life has forced me to be independent and push myself to do things I may not have tried otherwise.
My whole reason for even thinking of this tonight was because this was one of those days where S just simply didn’t call me like he usually does while at work. I haven’t seen him in a while, and I look forward to our phone calls. I knew he was flying today, and I knew he was biking to his temporary home, an hour-long trip. As the day progressed, I couldn’t help but think of the experiences we had been through over the years. The close calls, turning on the news to hear what might have happened, the late nights or days of not returning home, the sudden and unexpected TDY’s, and the “what if’s?”. Funny how something as simple as not calling as expected, after all these years, and I found myself once again picturing the military car, with 2 uniformed officers, driving up my driveway to deliver the news. Wondering when we last updated that “what if?” form. Thinking yet again how I would handle such news; how I would react; how I would tell the kids; how we would go on because we had to. Of course, as always, I was worried, but I prayed and made myself busy.
I thought, too, about that comment I’ve heard so often, “You must be used to it by now.” Sure I smile and shrug and joke. But the fact is, I don’t think we ever do get used to it. The danger, the excitement, the mystery, the known, the unknown, and the “you’ll never knows.” The kissing him goodbye in the mornings, praying he’ll return safely that evening, and that God will bless you with one more day together. No, we never get used to it. We worry, then we pray and count our blessings, and then we make ourselves busy so we don’t think too hard about it. That’s the life of a military wife.