Last week, my wife, Jill, left for Europe and she is to be there for nine months. She and I are both in the Army. July will be 20 years of active duty service for me and she has been in for a total of 22 years.
I’m not writing this to get a bunch of folks to say “Thank you for your service.” I appreciate that, but it really isn’t necessary. I’m only writing this because I haven’t really written much about how military separations are, at least from my standpoint. After so many of them, I’ve grown somewhat skilled to throwing on the emotional “armor,” I work on being strong for our children and for Jill so she can focus on what she’s doing over there, not having to worry about what’s going on back here, and I just don’t talk a lot about it. Even when people ask, I don’t mention a lot.
When I say “extended” separation, that just means more than a few months. I’ve deployed to Iraq twice, Afghanistan once and served a tour in Korea. Jill has deployed to Israel, served one tour in Korea and is away now.
We also have two children. While I never take her for granted whenever I’m away and what she does back here for them, I think I do take for granted my role in all this. I’m always thanking her for this and that, but when she thanks me, I’m quick to say, “Don’t thank me. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing.” I don’t know why it’s tough for me to accept thanks, even for what I feel is my job, but I’m starting to understand that it’s okay for me to do so.
My wife I will have been married for 18 years in July. We are best friends. And no, that is sadly not a given with married couples. Speaking of the Army, we both know so many senior-ranking soldiers who have been married for long periods of time who seem to not want to spend much time together. My fellow service members, those of you with some time in could probably relate to that as well. These are the ones who seem to want to stay at work abnormally late and often unnecessarily.
As for the separations, well, there’s not really a lot to tell. Of course, they’re hard on all those involved. Contrary to what some would think (mainly women, as they’ve not hesitated to tell me whenever my wife has left like this), I don’t just spontaneously combust having to take care of the children while she’s away. No, the laundry won’t sit for nine months and we won’t be having pizza every single night.
Mac and cheese…maybe.
But seriously, I would say that the toughest parts, at least for me, are probably at the beginning and closer to the middle. I say those, because in the beginning, of course, she just left, so that’s when the kids and I spend the most time and energy adjusting to her being gone. I say closer to the middle also, because that is the combination of BOTH when she has been gone for the longest AND when there is the most time before she is back, if that makes sense. Again, it’s the combination of the two. Of course, six months into a nine-month deployment means she’s been away longer than that midpoint, but there’s also less time before she’s back. Sort of how Wednesday morning feels on a full work week compared to Thursday.
We’ve had many smaller separations in there as well. I’ve honestly lost count of those. A week here, few weeks there, maybe a month or two. After the long ones, they seem pretty…”easy,” if there is such a thing.
When my wife and I first got married, the first few times I left home for whatever reason, I developed a mantra that goes like this: “We can’t talk about me coming back until I leave. The sooner I leave, the sooner I get back.” This basically just came from the fact that whenever I left (it was me the most often at first), beforehand, we would talk so much about what all we would do once I returned and the plans and trips we would take, but then feel down because after all, I hadn’t left yet. Also, we eventually realized that time moved on rather quickly once either of us left and were gone for a little bit. Once a routine was established (and this could be on either end), then things seemed to move along much smoother.
Emotionally, of course I miss my wife very much. We don’t spend a lot of time apart when we’re both here if the Army doesn’t say we have to. We don’t have friends that we leave each other to hang out with or anything like that. So when we’re practically joined at the hip like that, separations can be a little tougher.
One question we often get is, “When will you both be done?” The good thing is that I could submit my retirement any day now, even though I probably won’t be doing so any time soon. I said above that my wife has a total of 22 years in, but as far as active duty time is concerned (which counts most toward retirement), she is a couple of years short of 20. While I will obviously remain in past 20, when she decides that she is ready to do so, I will likely do it with her.
Military life is something that we’ve gotten very used to, as tough as it remains to be each time. I don’t believe it ever gets “easier,” but we just become more efficient and handling it.