Just as I was carefully negotiating a trade with a German soldier for one of his field ready meals, word was getting around that there was a group of soldiers manning a satellite phone station about a mile outside our camp. I had been overseas for about three months, this was early in the Southwest Asia campaign, we were positioned somewhere in North Eastern Saudi Arabia along the rail line North of the Kuwaiti border, we had a pallet of mango juice boxes, little water, and more sand than many of us had ever seen, not exactly the way I thought I’d be spending Saturday nights before being deployed. I thought I’d be hanging out with my girlfriend, maybe cruising in my old Mercury and making out in the park near her home.
Instead she’s at home wondering where I am. It would be appropriate here to note that back then we didn’t have cellular phones, the media was not embedded and we as soldiers at times had even less information as to what was happening in country than the rest of the nation. We didn’t get to watch the news updates, read any newspapers and didn’t even know that the North Stars were leaving Minnesota. So when I had heard of this little satellite phone operation, I was in. Me and few others snuck out and made our way, and there tucked in between a couple large sand dunes was the camo netting covered satellite station. Darkness as far as you can see, a deep cobalt blue sky above us with no light filtration other than from the stars’ themselves, sometimes at night I would lie back atop my Humvee and stare into the night sky, it seemed as though I could almost stand up and immerse myself in millions of tiny little specs of bright light. Eventually the line of other soldiers’ waned and I had my turn. When I heard her voice on the other end I had realized then how much I missed my girlfriend, her sweet voice echoing in my ear. It meant the world to me that I could talk with her, even just to listen and tell her I was ok. And just as we figured out the timing of the delay so we weren’t talking over each other the line went dead and there was only silence except for the whining of the Scud missile alarms. I quickly closed my eyes tightly trying to lock in the sound of her voice before it was gone, and then it was gone. And as much as it pained me to be cut off like that, I have to think that it must have been even more difficult for her, I would drop back into survival mode, my training taking over and while everything else is shelved for the time being. But back home, in her living room, my girl, Angie still holds that phone against her ear, hoping my voice will return, praying that I will be all right, as tears begin to stream down her cheeks.
This isn’t an uncommon event, this happens all the time wherever our soldiers are deployed, leaving their families behind to wait and wonder. To pray and hope. Even with all of the media at our disposal today and the cel phones and such, there is still the pain that finds itself imbedded in the pit of your stomach as you deploy knowing that back home your wife, husband, son or daughter has that same pain in their stomach as well. I think that the families/military families of soldiers do not get enough credit for the success of their soldier, nor do they get recognized enough for the support they provide. The military family has a tough life, much like their soldier, the spouses/partners and their children are often having to leave friendships they’ve built because they’ve been relocated, moved on to another station. And then they are left to begin again, find and build new friendships, not easy to do.
The spouse/partner of their soldier is often the one to take care of their home, their children, correspondence with kid’s schools and health care providers, any extra-curricular activities, and that’s on top of emotional and physical support of their soldier. And that’s just an average day, not to mention what they are left to take care when their soldier has been deployed on a mission, especially and extended one. And sometimes upon completion of a deployment, especially after an active conflict over seas, the soldier comes home and has to re-acclimate to their family and the down time, this can be especially nerve racking and difficult for family members as well as the soldier to work through, but there is no opting out just then, and to be a successful partnership both parties have to come together and work through it; adapt and overcome. This is where the soldier’s family members and spouse/partner’s shine, and once all is said and done at the end of the day, who will support them, the spouse and partner? After the sun has gone down, the kids are tucked away, their soldier has come home safe, it’s time for that spouse and/or partner to take stock and take care of themselves.
In the end, I knew my girlfriend would be there when I returned, but I would not return the same person as when I had left, however she would stand behind me, she would be there for me and would learn what it meant to be the partner of a soldier. Then she would realize the dedication and the sacrifices she would have to make. It wouldn’t be easy, but she would prevail, she would successfully navigate those waters and form a relationship that only a soldier’s partner would know, one to be proud of, one that would change her life forever.
When we say thank you to a soldier, let us not forget that soldier’s partner, their family and spouse, and remember that behind every great soldier there exists a logistically complex support system; they deserve an earnest thank you as well, our respect and gratitude for their sacrifices’.Thank you.