Thursday, February 17, 2011

Military Week::Thursday - Real Army Wives

So...... I'm dying to know!  What did you all think of the RED FRIDAY product line?  PLEASE ~ let me know!  All the blog posts this week are in RED typeface to kick off the RED FRIDAY product line.  Pretty clever, huh?  You can find all the RED FRIDAY products listed in my Etsy shop right HERE.

The giveaway continues through the weekend, winners will be drawn Monday morning.  Find out in yesterday's post all the ways you can win!

Today we are going to talk about support systems.

There are different levels of support systems for those involved in the deployment cycle.

As a review from yesterday, the four stages in the deployment cycle are:

As members of the military in Minnesota, we are extremely lucky.  We don’t have an active military installation anywhere in our entire state, yet our Deployment Cycle Support program and their staff work tirelessly with the “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program” in Minnesota that other states and federal systems, look to it as a model.  Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is a comprehensive program that creates awareness for the purpose of connecting Service members and their families with community support, training, services and resources.

Beyond the Yellow Ribbon was envisioned by Major General Larry Shellito’s personal experience of reintegration after the Vietnam War and features programs from reintegration events and wellness programs for Service Members and their families to creating Yellow Ribbon Cities.  Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is an example of what every state should offer their soldiers and families through the deployment cycle, and every community should strive to become a Yellow Ribbon Community.  To find out what you can do to make your city or town a Yellow Ribbon Community, click HERE.

"As we rank all of the things that we want to have as priorities in Minnesota, the first one should be taking care of our members of the military and the people who protect our safety and security. They give so much for us, we need to make sure that we match that commitment in our words and our deeds.”   - Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty

During Keith’s Pre-deployment phase (this was December 2009); we attended a Pre-deployment Academy packed with information on everything from financial counseling to locating child care assistance and help with yard work.  There were licensed family therapists and social workers on hand to answer any question you could think of, as well as provide follow-up contact for those who requested it.  There were activities for the kids staffed with Target volunteers.  We were offered free tickets to the Science Museum, the kids loved that.  Walking into the Minneapolis Convention Center and seeing 2000+ soldiers in their digital camo was a bit overwhelming.  Having my husband try to introduce me to every soldier he knew and their wives was even more overwhelming.  I did my best to keep track of faces and names.  Add that to the fact that Keith was leaving for a war zone within weeks leaving me with all of the responsibilities of our home, children, bills, cars, snow removal… my shoulders were starting to feel heavier each day. 

At home, my husband was slowly packing up his totes and duffel bags according to the list he was issued.  Each time I walked downstairs to do laundry or take a shower, I saw those duffel bags sitting there getting fuller and fuller.  The anxiety was unbearable. 

When the morning came for me to drive Keith to the armory in Inver Grove Heights, we got into a big fight.  I don’t even remember what it was about, mostly because it wasn’t about whatever we fought about anyway.  It was about the fact that we were being ripped apart from each other just a few short months after vowing to love each other through thick and thin, better or worse, in good times and bad, until …. Yeah.  As much as I wanted to believe, HAD to believe my husband was coming back home to me safe and sound at the end of all of this, there was this nagging voice in the back of my head telling me otherwise.  I knew how the devil worked, I knew if I gave him one little crack he would spend the next year widening the gap of doubt and worry until my fear for Keith’s life in Iraq consumed me.  My choice, my free will.  Sorry devil, you know there’s no way you’re going to have that power in my heart or in my home.  You know how I feel about you.  When I get out of bed in the morning, you'd better be saying, “Oh crap, she’s up.” 

After Keith left that cold winter day, I did the best I could to surround myself with positive people who could support me when I was falling apart and who I, in turn, would be able to hopefully provide the same thing for when they were having bad days. 

I started going to FRG – Family Readiness Group – meetings which were held at the armory in Inver Grove Heights.  I drove for almost an hour, the meetings would last for about 60-90 minutes, and then I would get home around .  About 95% of the people at these meetings were Army wives.  The time commitment was nothing compared to the fulfillment these get-togethers provided for me.

Talk about a feeling of relief!  There was a place I could go – albeit only once a month – where people knew exactly what I was going through in my life!  I didn’t feel like the only person on a hamster wheel trying to keep up with the responsibilities of my work, driving the kids here and there and everywhere, helping with homework, cleaning the house, shoveling the driveway, getting the groceries, doing the laundry, filling up the car with gas AGAIN (did I mention I was driving teenagers around?), getting MORE groceries (teenagers never stop eating!), trying to figure out if the laundry piles were reproducing themselves while I slept (oh yeah – TEENAGERS!). 

There was also a clogged shower drain that had every intention of getting the best of me.  I had other ideas.  It’s amazing what severe lack of sleep, loneliness, anxiety and frustration can do for you when channeled correctly.  Drano was not working.  During one of my Skype calls with Keith, he explained some complicated situation of pipes that existed below our shower involving a trough and pipes being diverted.  Basically, whoever installed the shower and plumbing (before we ever moved in) was a major dorkfish.  If you would have walked into my house during the deconstruction/reconstruction of my shower floor, I believe I would have most closely resembled Linda Blair in Exorcist when her head starting to spin. 

Here are the basics: 
·       I had the internet. 
·       I am completely literate.
·       I had initiative. 
·       I have tools and know how to use them.
·       I hadn’t had a shower in 3 days. I know. Gross.
·       I am Army wife, hear me roar.

I am now fairly certain I could qualify as a plumbing apprentice.  I’m just saying.

Back to the FRG meetings.  The realization that I was not alone with my feelings of solitude and desertion (hey, I own it) were enlightening.  From the first FRG meeting I attended, I slowly began making friends. 

At this point, I’m trying to decide if I want to use the names of my Army wife friends or protect their identities by using aliases.  It’s not that my friends need their lives or security protected; it’s just that we have done some pretty ridiculous things and once I actually talk about some of them, they may decide to join the witness protection program.

Kidding.  Just kidding.  This is a family show. 

I will tell you this, it was very important to me to bond with women in the same situation as me.  To do that during an FRG meeting once a month would not have given our friendships the respect and attention they warranted.  I wanted to create a more relaxed environment where people could come to relax, share their feelings, get support, laugh, cry, EAT CHOCOLATE!  So, I began having “Army Chick” nights at my house once a month.  Actually, I was going to call them “Army Wife” nights, but then decided that I didn’t want to discriminate against Army moms, girlfriends or fiancées, so “Army Chicks” were born. 

For our first gathering, four people were in attendance and we had pizza and pop and watched a movie.  The only rule: You were not allowed to bring anything healthy.

For our second venture, I believe there were eight people at my house and I roasted a turkey.  We had WAY too much food, but we talked for hours and started some real bonding that night.  We also formed our first actual Army Chick Law:  Where there are Army Chicks, there must be chocolate. 

We did some pretty crazy things during the deployment of our husbands (we had a few fiancées visit from time to time also).  Here’s a little peek at a little video I made of our group of Army Chicks.  I hope you enjoy it!

(If for some reason this video link becomes inoperable, please let me know. Thank you!)

It may have looked like all fun and games, but we went through some tough times together and came out stronger because of it.  On July 16, 2009, I was spending some time out "on the town" with my brother and cousin in downtown Rosemount.  If you are familiar with Rosemount, feel free to chuckle.  The standard "night out" in Rosemount consists of hitting the four restaurants/bars - one on each corner of downtown.  My cousin was visiting Minnesota from St. Louis for a short time job searching, so he, my brother and I decided to make the Rosemount pub crawl our evening activity.  I believe we had made it to three of the four bars and were playing pool in the back room of Carbones when my phone started vibrating.  I hadn't heard from my husband that day, so I was looking forward to his call.  

When I took the phone out of my pocket, I noticed it was one of my Army wife friends calling.  I could hardly hear her in the noisy bar, so I took the phone outside.  As soon as I heard the tone in her voice, I sat down on the curb.  This was definitely not a call to check in and see how I was doing.  My friend asked me if I had heard from Keith lately.  I said no.  She said she did not have confirmation, but an inside story from the base our husbands were stationed on reported heavy fire, injuries and possible casualties.  

If there was a moment when the rest of the world went dark and didn't matter - this was it.  

Trying to describe how we felt in that moment might be doing you a disservice, but I will try.  My friend was frantic.  She told me she had been sick several times and that her blood pressure was through the roof.  She needed to know that her husband was safe and out of harm's way.  It's not until a moment like this that you realize you can have enough strength for two people.  I had no idea what I could do for her, but I told her I would try to find out anything I could about anyone on base and call her back that night or text her if it was going to be too late.  She told me to just call, she wouldn't be sleeping anyway...
During the time I was sitting outside on the phone, my brother and cousin came outside to see what was going on.  They must have determined from the look on my face and conversation I was having that our evening had come to an end.  Without a word, my cousin and brother gathered our things, and my cousin walked with his arm around me as we made our way to the car, then drove the few minutes to my brother's house.  I was on and off the phone with Army wives, I was getting text messages like crazy - mostly people just wanting to know if I knew anything.

You see folks, this technology we crave to run faster and faster in our every day lives did just that on that July evening.  When something like a mortar attack happens on a military base, no communication is allowed in or out and a lock-down occurs until the situation can be assessed.  Well, someone who had details on the incident on base leaked the information back to the United States.  I don't know the details regarding that, but I do know a few details based on information that came out later:

Three young MPs were killed that July evening on that base in Basra, Iraq serving their country.  SPC Daniel Drevnick, 22; SPC James Wertish, 20; and SPC Carlos Wilcox, 27; paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

The amazing part about that evening was that as my phone was ringing off the hook with people calling, worried sick and wondering if I knew anything (which I didn't) and text messages coming and going like crazy - my husband called.  This is amazing because of the circumstances on the base at the time.  When Keith called me, the base had been locked down.  No communication in or out.  Someone, somewhere, somehow blocks the satellite signals or something so the family members of the soldier(s) injured or killed receive word on their soldier FIRST.  With technology the way it is these days, this prevents the family being contacted or notified by other means.  As the wife of a soldier, the thought of finding out something had happened to my husband from Facebook or another person first is unimaginable.  And finding that information out while I was alone would be horrific.  The military has systems in place for a reason.

So, no communication in or out of the base and my husband calls me.  Needless to say, I am astonished.  I have been fielding phone calls all night from people who cannot reach their soldiers at all, and my husband calls me out of the blue.  I learned that the group of soldiers he normally works with has been pulled out of their normal work station and is filling in for the MPs until they can get things settled and back in order.  My husband was talking in his "Army voice" which told me things were under control, but as his wife I was listening for worry or lack of confidence.  There was none of that.  I would later find out (months later when he was home) that my husband was in survival mode that night.  This is going to be difficult for some people to understand, but the Army trains soldiers for this kind of situation.  And somehow, whatever that training involved - worked.  My husband was all business and zero emotion.  In order for soldiers to do what they need to do in combat zones, they have to shut themselves off emotionally.  If they don't, they won't survive.  This system works wonderfully - until they come home and their wives (or girlfriends or husbands or children) NEED that emotional connection they missed from their soldier over that past year.  This begins the discussion of "reintegration" which is the last part of the deployment cycle.  It can last for years.

I asked Keith for general information - Is everyone I know OK?  Is the husband of everyone I know OK?  Without telling me anything that would breach any kind of operational security, he assured me that "everyone" was fine.  He asked me, "Is there anyone in particular you want to know about?"  I said I definitely wanted to know about a certain someone whose wife I had been on the phone with this evening.  She was literally worred sick about his safety.  Keith assured me several times that my friend's husband was completely safe and was nowhere near the entry control point gate where the rest of his group was stationed.  I thanked him over and over again and told him that I loved him about 100 times.  I also made him promise to call me as soon as he could.

I'll tell you this - I have literally NEVER had God answer one of my prayers so fast in my life.  Between all of the phone calls and text messages, I'm not even sure I finished the whole prayer asking for Keith's safety and pleading for him to call me ASAP.  No one else on that base was able to get communications out.  Do I know why everyone chose to call me that evening?  Not really.  What I do know is that God is faithful to those who seek Him.  There were nights during Keith's deployment when the kids were gone, the TV was off, I was alone in the house and it was completely silent.  I won't lie, there were plenty of times I played the "what if" game.  What if something happens to Keith in Iraq?  What if he comes home a different person?  What if he forgets how much he loves me?  The great part about being completely alone in a silent house is that is provides a totally open environment for growing nearer to God.  He is SO amazing! 

Truth be told, we Army Chicks did have some wonderful times together.  I can only speak for myself, but if it weren’t for these women, I would not have made it through this deployment.  I can’t stress that enough.  The friendships I made with the women I now call my friends carried me through some of my darkest hours.  I spent many nights into the wee hours on the phone with one of my Army wife friends, talking about the challenges we were dealing with in our day-to-day lives.  We brainstormed.  We gave each other suggestions.  We took our kids to camp together.  We formed our own support system.  And we prayed.  Brother, did we pray. 

One of the things that comes up during conversations with Army wives is the fact that as the wives of deployed soldiers, we are called to be strong. Not just your average kind of “hold stuff together while the husband is away” strong, we are called to be wife, husband, mother, father, plumber, pastor, lawyer, doctor, therapist, mechanic, landscaper, handyman, the list is endless. Not only strong for ourselves as we face day to day routines with jobs, kids, school, daycare, meetings, doctor’s visits, birthday parties, haircuts, T-ball and camp, but all of the extras that we rely on help from our husbands with like weddings, babies being born, graduations and even funerals. Really, the only way to describe the kind of strong we have to be is Army Strong.

As women we put on brave faces every day and step out into the world. Most days we make it through just fine and the world keeps right on spinning. But there are days – maybe more often than you think – that we fall. You might not hear about it. You might not see it. We might look you straight in the eye and tell you that we are perfectly fine. We have perfected this lie.

When Army wives get together, as we did so often throughout this deployment, the guard comes down. Often one look into another wife’s eyes can bring tears. We have no need – or desire – to tell each other we are fine. We can tell each other how we feel and there is no judgment. There is understanding. There is support. There is community. If you have been part of a military family going through deployment I don’t need to explain this to you. Chances are you have either cried yourself to sleep or heard someone you love cry themselves to sleep. We have learned to allow ourselves those times. Abnormal is the new normal.

If you see military women hugging each other a lot – we do. Not necessarily because we are a big bunch of mushes, but because we long for human touch. If you overhear us telling each other that someone on the street was trying to console us and our response was that “they just don’t get it”, the chance is that they most likely don’t get it. We mean no disrespect by that.
It’s not a secret club or a sorority with an expensive initiation fee. We chose this life when we married these men. We knew what we were getting ourselves into. We did it so you wouldn’t have to. We only ask two things of you.

If you see a soldier, thank them for their service.

And pray. Never stop praying.

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