6 Ways to Save Your Marriage During Deployment

****This post is part of the series Real Army Wives on storiesofourboys.com. This series chronicles the story of our first deployment, back in 2003.****

Once Alan had been gone for 6 months, and we were finally able to communicate regularly, we found that we began to bicker–even from continents away. We were having newlywed problems, whether we were together or not.

Alan was anxious to move us forward towards our goals in the U.S., yet he was stuck in a combat zone, feeling powerless to affect change. He wanted me to go out and buy a $70,000 house. Plus, he thought I should move us in there by myself so we could start building equity……I was like, “Heck no, I won’t go..”

I wanted him to call more. He gave me the actual reasons he couldn’t.

I was disappointed that he hadn’t had a family member send me an anniversary gift.

Granted, my expectations were HIGH, and he was never one to sugar-coat a single thing…..so we had issues….

an Iraqi flag Alan sent me in a package

On October, 1, 2003, I wrote him out this list, half-joking, half-serious, to lay out all of my expectations and avoid further arguments…

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The First 3 Casualties From Our First Deployment

***This post is part of the Real Army Wives series, which appears each Monday morning on storiesofourboys.com. Click here for last week’s chapter. In this series, all names of service members and their wives are changed. However, names of the fallen soldiers are their correct names.***

Preparing for the Worst

We all supposedly knew going into this that they wouldn’t all come home, but I never dwelt on that bit of information. Call it a defense mechanism, I don’t know. Being happy is important to me. I couldn’t let worries over things that may not even happen steal my joy.

Alan’s mother and I used to discuss what we would do if we found out before the other that Alan had died. I certainly did not cherish the thought of telling a single one of Alan’s family members that sort of news.

I knew that if Alan died, a casualty officer would be dispatched to my house to give me the bad news in person.

However, what I now know is that IF your spouse dies in war, there are usually multiple people in uniform that show up at your door. Not only that, but they have to arrive at your door at exactly the same time as they arrive at the door of the soldier’s parents.

So the good news is you should never have to tell your mother-in-law that her son has died. That’s not your job. They do that for you. That’s a relief and something I didn’t realize until I befriended a war widow many years later.

Meanwhile, there is the news.

If you watch the news regularly, they will tell you how many have died and where, and if you know where your loved one is serving (as we did), there is added anxiety until you find out for certain who it was.

Alan’s parents were more devoted to the news than I was, so they clued me in to lots of things that year, both good and bad.

 

Thurs., Sept. 18, 2003

Alan,

I’m SO sleepy. It’s 10:30 already. I got BAD news from your parents today. 3 men were killed and 2 more wounded in a shooting VERY close to Tikrit. We’re really worried. I just have this HAUNTING feeling.

I’m so afraid. I can’t help it. I won’t feel secure until I hear your voice, and that will be a while because I JUST talked to you like 3 nights ago.

Man, Alan, I love you so much. I don’t even want to think of “what if.” It scares me so much. I don’t ever want to lose you!

Fri., Sept. 19, 2003

Alan,

Hey! Well! Only 1 more week of teaching! I went to a 4-42 coffee tonight at the Irish Pub at the mall. It went well. It was another sad one though because there were 3 more deaths and 2 wounded yesterday. But of course, you know that.

That was really hard to talk about. Did you know any of them? Were you nearby there? All I know is that it was a team in support of 1-10 Cav, from HHB.

Other things were difficult too. Holly Marsh got switched to the 4th ID unexpectedly, and will be deploying within a month, leaving their 15-month-old to a relative for roughly six months. [editor’s note: Holly Marsh’s husband was deployed already with Alan’s unit. That left their baby without a parent at home.] Plus, her family’s house was destroyed in Hurricane Isabella that struck the east coast this week.

[Holly was devastated. Yes, her mind raced to find a way to stay home with her baby, but what could be done? This is another of the harsh realities military families face.]

I stayed up after the meeting talking to Sarah and Kayla about what I learned at the meeting. Plus, Sarah said that one of those soldier’s wives is expecting a baby soon. How awful is that? I was okay until they said that, and then I was a mess.

I was so relieved to know you’re okay.

I love you,

April

 

Those of 4-42 who gave all. Photo courtesy of Rachel Jack.

 

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the men honored the friends they lost and were all prevented from calling home until the families were properly notified. And the mission went on.

 

Monday, Sept. 22, 2003   9:05pm

April,

Hey! Today was the memorial service honoring the three soldiers of ours who were killed.

Then, at almost 10 this morning we had our first try at a city council meeting and, well….let’s just say we learned a lot about how we’ll do the next meeting!

They’re talking about moving us to the Brigade Support Area (BSA) which is this really big camp that’s just a bunch of tents in a bunch of fine sand we call “moon dust.” It wouldn’t be fun. Here we have hard shelter, paved areas, and a routine, you know? We’ll supposedly know if we’ll move or not by October 1st.

I hope we get to Tikrit some time soon and are able to use the phones. It feels like it’s been so long since we’ve talked on the phone, but when we went up last Friday, we were restricted from using them because of those guys getting killed and their families had to first be notified.

Those $40 Thurya phone cards are sometimes difficult to find. I’m looking though! I love you. I miss you it seems every moment.

Missing You,

Alan

Oh, and if you’re wondering, they thankfully did not move Alan to the “moon dust” area mentioned in the letter above. He continued to live in his rat-infested building with electricity, in Ad Dwar, where there were many, many adventures left to be had. We were only halfway through this deployment.

The families of those who make the ultimate sacrifice for our country are our heroes. As a part of the military community, our hearts break for them, and we always know that we could be next. Just talking about it leaves me with a heavy feeling.

Don’t live in fear that your service member could be next. It won’t help.

Just live with gratitude, being thankful for what they have done for us.  And be generous with their families, not jealous, when they may sometimes need your or your husband’s help. Hold them in honor always.

I can’t wait to tell you about the rest of our adventures. Come back next Monday for the next chapter!

 

 

 

 

 

My First Colossal Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

***This post belongs to the series True Stories of Real Army Wives. A new chapter appears each Monday morning on storiesofourboys.com.***

My First Great Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

 

My last post was about how miserable I was as a teacher. Alan must have called me the morning after my first or second day of teaching from Iraq.

What he wrote in response to my hardship is one of the most touching, empathetic, heartfelt letters I have ever read. No, he wasn’t physically there, and yet with this letter you can see how he was still obviously there for me when I needed him most.

Tues., 19 Aug., 2003

6:35 am

April,

I love you, April. I just got off the phone with you, and I’m bursting with feelings of grief, sorrow, sympathy….things I’ve never felt so strongly for anyone else before…only myself!!! April, I hurt so bad for you right now, but indeed, I am giving it all to God RIGHT NOW, our Rock, our Fortress, our Comforter, our Lord.

Oh, April, how I wish there were something I could do, there! Aaaugh!!!

But what this has done is it has forced me to go to my knees and begin this battle by asking for help where the most help will come from!

April, I know you can do it (teach) and do it EXTREMELY well….However, enjoying it is a completely different story! April, if it’s still this bad by the time you get this letter then I have no problem with you quitting.

When you feel bad, it really makes me feel sick at my stomach….literally. And when you said you’ve been too stressed out to eat all day long, I could have cried! Now I don’t have an appetite!

Oh, April, I just love you so, so much. I want so badly to be there with you. God knew this was coming all along just like he saw everything coming that’s happened over here. He wants us to turn to Him for strength! He loves us so much more than we can even imagine!

Oh, April, I love you so much. I feel so terrible, but I know God will get us through this and when it’s passed, the three of us will all be that much closer!

1 Peter 5:7   “Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.”

April, I love you…and I am praying for you harder than ever!

Always Yours,

Alan

 

*******

Y’all must think I am pathetically weak to fall apart at such a thing as having a job that I hated. Ha! That’s how it felt at the time though.

Alan took this trial on as his own, not just as mine, even though we were oceans apart. That’s how you support your spouse from overseas. He never once downplayed my unhappiness, even though he was in a WAR zone, and I was simply unhappy at work.

I forged through the first four weeks of teaching.

There was the day I even got to work so early, I set off the school alarm and caused all sorts of trouble. But gracious, why did they give me a key if I also needed an alarm code!?

There were parent/teacher conferences where I faked “happy teacher” as well as I possibly could.

I was an emotional mess. I lost 20 pounds and got down to a pitiful-looking 110 pounds, on a 5 foot 6 frame.

During this time, three soldiers from Alan’s unit, 4-42 Field Artillery, were killed in action in Iraq.

Up until this point, I’d built Alan’s Iraqi world in my mind as not a super dangerous place. This wasn’t anything like the Vietnam War, I figured. Alan was hooking up utilities and working with the Mayor’s office of Ad Dwar. He worked with the local civilians, so he must be okay, right?

Then came the three deaths, and these weren’t faceless names on the news. These were men in our very own unit. Reality once again nudged at me with a pitchfork. “Wake up, April, your husband is in combat. That’s why he gets “hazardous duty” pay. This is real, and anyone you know, including Alan, could be next.”

I didn’t say much about that to anyone, I stuffed my feelings inside…

only to let them come roaring to a head when children in my class made fun of the pledge and danced around making faces and wouldn’t stand up straight and put their hand over their heart.

That was it, the proverbial final straw. I was leading my 3rd and 4th graders in the pledge, and THAT KID kept goofing off and disrespecting the flag, the teacher, the country, in my mind everything, and of course, it had to be the very kid whose mother was constantly bothering me. (Look, I still treated him very nicely. I was professional, but this day his behavior set me over the edge that I was already falling off of.)

So what did I do?…..Well, I went on a tirade, giving the offending boy, his buddies around him, and the entire class, a very thorough lesson on the reason we say the pledge with respect. I reminded them that many of their mothers and fathers, and step-fathers, and cousins, and my husband were overseas fighting for us, and the least we could do was show proper respect. They were passionately instructed on sacrifices made during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. I exalted the importance of respect in general.

The class was silent and wide-eyed. They were like 10. What did they know?

It wasn’t really them I was losing it with. It was me, it was the world, it was everything. That morning I had a high school student in my classroom as a teacher’s assistant. I instructed her to watch the class, and I fled to the bathroom to cry and get my act together.

I stared at my sleep-deprived, red, mascara-streaked, freckle-covered, miserable face in the bathroom mirror. “What kind of a teacher am I? I have got to get out of this!”

Soon after, the administration announced that it was time for us to sign our contracts.

My mind reeled.

Then the moment came. Mrs. W. asked me to come by her office to sign my contract, and I had to tell her.

Mrs. W. was the principal’s wife, but she was also the assistant principal. She was an adorably cute but commanding and accomplished, small African-American woman with super curly hair. If she had asked me to please stay, I might have caved, as she was such a great leader. I looked up to her. It was humiliating to have to confess this to her.

“I can’t sign the contract because…because I don’t think I can finish this job and stay here all year.”

Mrs. W. looked so surprised.

Cue the waterworks. I tried not to cry, but there was no stopping them.

“This is so hard for me to quit, admitting defeat, and leaving these children with no teacher, but this job is too much for me. I cannot do this. I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to admit this. You know Chelsea?”

“Yes, Chelsea, yes,” she listened intently. I know she was in shock. They all seemed to think I was doing just fine.

Chelsea was a student in my class, well known for being capable and working hard. Her mother also supported her well.

“I was Chelsea. I was that girl. Success mostly came easily, and now here I am, and this is it for me. This is my first time to completely fail at something.”

“Oh,” she said, and she said other things, motivating things, and she asked me to please sleep on it, but I knew there was no turning back. I put in my 2 weeks’ notice.

I wanted out of this job as much as you’d want to escape a 0 degree dungeon infested with rats and cockroaches. Teaching was so very not a match for me.

**********

The first week of my notice, I still struggled to get out of bed and go to school. One day I called in sick with a “migraine.” I didn’t have a migraine. I had a bad-life-choices-hangover, the kind you get from regret and confusion.

I felt guilty from lying about the migraine, so I went to work all the other days of my notice.  People there were kind. A replacement followed me around that last week.

She leveled with me, “Why are you leaving? You’re doing great. You should stay.”

I began to actually consider it. That last week wasn’t so bad. Some things actually started to click. It was week 6. My LD kid was learning his own spelling words and reading his own beginner books. Maybe I was making a mistake. Maybe I should stay.

I came in the Saturday after my last day to finalize the 6 weeks’ grades for the report cards. Mr. and Mrs. W. were there going through my class’ papers too.

Mrs. W. talked as she sorted, “All of the assessments are here, April. This is good. You know, we didn’t really believe that you’d quit. We thought you’d change your mind and come in Monday.”

Ever so young and dumb, and still excited about not being a teacher anymore, I didn’t get the hint. She was totally giving me another chance to stay. Perhaps I should have taken it.

I’ve always wondered if I made the right decision that year.

Did I just quit when things got hard? Yes. Yes, in the career realm that is EXACTLY what I did, which sounds weak, wrong, and disappointing.

I re-hashed that decision in my mind for years, but the thing is you can’t go back and fix the past. What would it have been like had I stuck it out, and why didn’t I??

Looking back now, I see so many different things going on. I was immature, and my deal-with-it- tank was already full from the moving away from home and sending my husband overseas in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

There was nothing more anyone could have done for me. It was simply more than I felt I could handle at the time, and I have to make my peace with that and move on. Could I handle that job now, at 36? Yes, it would still be hard, but not the horrible misery it was at 22.

But that’s the thing about the past.

Our mistakes and failures are what make us sweeter, humbler, more merciful people, and sometimes also tougher, more dependable people, so long as we learn from them. I regretted quitting mid-year so much that I have been loathe to ever quit mid-stream again in anything.

You accept the past for what it is and learn from it all that you can.

 

 

 

 

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