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I Wish I Was This Wise 50 Years Ago

I recently completed a walk across America to raise awareness and advocacy for our veterans (you can find more of the story in my AWTR appearance here). It was a 110-day walk, from May 15 to Sept. 1, from my home in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to San Diego, California. I took only five days off to rest. You’ll undoubtedly hear more about my walk in the following months, because it was the one of the most meaningful events in my 72 years of life.

But, today, I want to talk about women who are supportive of their husbands/partners during times of deployment. (I ‘m well aware that many women are also on active duty and have partners supporting them, and I’ll write about that topic in the future).

I was only 23 when I went into the United States Air Force in September 1970. Two months later, little Jennifer arrived. My wife at the time, Diane, was very close to and probably quite dependent on her mom and dad for support. But, in a matter of weeks, Diane had to unload our mobile home in Batavia, New York, sort through a menagerie of accumulated stuff, pack up, and find her way to Bioloxi, Mississippi, where Jennifer was born in December. I can remember how very pregnant she looked when she arrived in Mississippi, not having seen her for three months while in basic training.

Though one month from delivery, she was given little rest.

For the next three years, while on active duty, now stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, my wife was 1,500 miles from home, and our next child, Valerie, arrived while we lived in Montgomery. I’m not proud of this, but I wasn’t even slightly aware of the challenges and struggles my wife dealt with.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t loving or attentive, but I was a young enlistee coping with the enormous stress of military demands. I told people I “made $100 a day, once a month,” which was what I brought home from my Airman First Class pay. It wasn’t enough, and during most of the time I was on active duty, my wife had to work, arrange for day care for our little girls, take care of an apartment, go shopping, cook meals, occasionally entertain, rarely go out for dinner, and once a year saw her parents.

I was working 12-15 hours a day on base and part time to bring home much-needed money.

Yes, I helped out whenever and wherever I could, but quite frankly, looking back, my wife bore the brunt of tremendous responsibilities.

And seldom did she ever complain, even when I sometimes stayed out late or played golf on weekends.

So, my dear military wives and military partners, I salute all the women who spin magic out of all of this stress. You are the ultimate Rumpelstiltskins, spinning gold out of misery. 

You’re the real backbone, the ultimate strength in this deployed family, no matter where you’re located.

You aren’t surrounded by the comforts of home: Your friends, your parents, your old job, even the car you loved. You’re often in a culture that isn’t easy to adapt to, trying to translate a new language and navigate the unknowns on a daily basis.

And, all the time you’re tending to the home, often your children, you’re most likely not getting the positive accolades you deserve.

So, take care of yourself. Reach across the table and ask for support and tell your mate what you need. This is a partnership, and you don’t deserve to be marginalized.

You aren’t invisible.

You’re the heart and soul of this family, and please do all the things you need to do to be healthy. Go for a run, take time to read, stay connected with those back home, and by all means, develop a circle of friends that become mutual allies.

I’m more and more aware that we must develop a cohort of support to make military life successful and joyful. This is a particularly stressful time to be aware. The holidays add additional stress. Be good to yourself.

And, thank you.

I wish I was this wise 50 years ago.



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