Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Life of An Army Spouse

USA Today published an article today noting that spouses of soldiers that deploy suffer from a higher rate of mental health issues. I believe this to be one of the more under reported consequences of the past eight years.

This is not the army of 20 or 30 years ago. According to the U.S. Army Research Institute, the percentage of married soldiers was 34.4% in 1954. In 1981, it was 55.2%. It now stands at hovers near 63%. That means, when a 500-man tank battalion deploys (like that of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry), it leaves behind over 300 spouses.

In the early 2000s, the Army struggled with this phenomenon. It was unprepared for this and, I believe, the Army as a whole was lulled to sleep in terms of caring for spouses by numerous Balkan deployments. Nearly unlimited access to phones, Internet, a (relatively) low threat level and short rotations allowed service members to more-adequately care for their spouses.

Now, the dynamic is much different. There are many more spouses to care for back on the home front. The soldiers are operating in a much more dangerous environment. And, while there is significant communications infrastructure (in Iraq, anyway) there are frequent blackout periods for a variety of reasons (operational issues, next of kin notifications, etc).

These unforecasted blackouts (or perceived blackouts) send panic through some wives. Is my husband not calling because he is dead? What is wrong? Why isn't he calling? He said he would call me this evening!!

My last role in the Army was as the rear detachment commander for my battalion. One of my main responsibilities was to help care for the spouses that were left behind. Our battalion was typical of the challenges that soldiers and their spouses face. We averaged roughly one divorce a week. These couples were overwhelmingly young, most with children. They were ill-prepared for the stressors that a deployment places on a marriage. My first sergeant and I cleaned out the government quarters of a wife who had just ... left. Her husband got one last note and that was it. After waiting 90 days, we entered the apartment and began to throw what was left away. We could tell approximately when she left because of the stamp on the milk in the fridge.

There are always the horror stories of the 18-year-old kid who takes the checkbook with him. Or, the young wife who doesn't have a drivers license or who can barely speak English. All of these happen during every deployment. In the Army's defense, they have begun offering pre-deployment classes for spouses. Unfortunately, there is an attitude of backlash against these classes borne out of a mix if immaturity and rebellion against the folks that are taking my husband away from me and our kids. Sadly, I fear that much of the advice the Army hands out falls on deaf ears.

As I have said in this forum before, I am blessed with a large, strong extended family. During my deployment in 2004, both my grandmothers Purvis and Slezak took a special interest in Noel, sending her cards and calling to lend an ear or offer support. Not all families have that and lonely spouses turn to whatever source of comfort they can find. My good friend (who is now a Major) Ted Kaiser always used to joke that the NCO club would host 'Wives of Deployed Soldiers Night' where they all get in free.

The wounds of war don't just manifest themselves in a war zone. The struggles in war time are very prevalent on the home front, as well. Please keep these spouses in your thoughts as you pray of our soldiers' safe return.

1 comment:

Randall said...

Thank you for this post. It is an isue the Army has been dealing with here in Colorado Springs with so many troops being deployed again and again.