A Tribute to the Military Spouses

In the past, I’ve written at length about the sacrifices made by American service members, but I’ve neglected to address another essential group of American heroes: our military spouses.

In the Bible, when God creates Eve, he calls her Adam’s “ezer kenegdo,” a term scholars have translated as “help mate,” “other half,” and even “life saver.” God intended for Eve to be a powerful ally, who would work through life’s struggles in tandem with Adam. The incredible bond between a service member and their spouse is a reflection of that first alliance. One spouse works at the beck and call of an organization he or she cannot refuse, and is often called away on hastily-scheduled, short-term absences, and on longer-lasting deployments to distant locations. All the while, their other half does the constant work: keeping the home fires burning; taking care of finances; preparing for moves to new duty stations; nurturing their own careers and aspirations, and raising children. Maintaining a military marriage requires tremendous amounts of loyalty, independence, and fortitude.

Seven years ago, my good friend, Gabby, and her husband, Mitch, got their first set of orders to Japan. Mitch, a Naval aviator, left for a six-month deployment the day Gabby set off from Virginia, ferrying their beloved dog, Doozer, through four different airports in three days. Within twenty-four hours of arriving at NAF Atsugi, Gabby had rented a house in nearby Zama-shi. She set up the utilities, bought a car, and, when the shipment container that held all of their furniture and the artifacts of her and Mitch’s life together was delayed for four months, she camped out in her living room with a few Ikea pieces and some aged furniture on loan from the base.

That was only the start of Gabby’s journey. As she settled in, she took Japanese classes, and taught English to the locals. She did her shopping in town, and learned about Japanese culture from the locals who became her close friends. When the three-year tour came to an end, Gabby had made more than a home; she had created a place for herself and Mitch in a new country.

Gabby’s years in Japan showed me that military spouses are diplomats. Their lives reflect our most treasured American values: honor, perseverance, and service above self. Everywhere they go, military spouses are the face of the powerful love that motivates American men and women to serve their country.

Military spouses know that their time in the role is limited, whether their partner plans to serve for just a few years, or to stay in the full twenty years, and retire with a pension. Anyone married to a service member also realizes that fate may have different plans.

On a Sunday night in 1981, my father was nearing the end of his first cruise when my mother got a call from his commanding officer’s wife. She said my father was alive, but there had been an accident. She came to their house on base to deliver the rest of the news: my father had suffered spinal cord damage, and there was no telling whether he’d walk again. The next days were a confusion of evolving plans. On Monday, my mother quit her job as a paralegal; she knew nothing for certain except that every aspect of her life would soon change. After six months of rehabilitation, my father would spend his life in a wheelchair. My mother had become a veteran’s spouse.

There is, of course, a worse possibility. We’ve all seen the movies: the black car in the driveway; the solemn stranger with the worst kind of news.

I asked Gabby how she copes with the uncertainty. “Every crash or mishap,” she said, “is a gut-wrenching reminder of the cost of military service, for both the service member and their family.” Fear affects all military spouses, she explained, but over time, she’s learned to compartmentalize it. “It’s an honor to be part of the Naval aviation community,” she added. “Our friends are real-life heroes.”

The men and women who hold down the fort while their spouse serves are a driving force behind America’s military. When their loved one is home, they spend hours washing layers of mud, sweat, and blood, or the stench of jet fuel, from dirty uniforms. When their loved one is away, they bear the immense weight of wondering when, and even if, they will arrive back safely. Military spouses see the person who leaves for battle, and the one who comes back. They watch their children meet their mother or father — again, or for the first time — after a lengthy deployment. May we always remember that, behind every married service member, there is a spouse handling all the work on the home front, with their heart in limbo as they await their loved one’s return.

Freelance writer working on a novel about love and the war in Afghanistan. You can find my work in the Washington Examiner, the Federalist, and the Detroit News