We've all heard the joke... "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one!" But the state of military families today is no joke. The divorce rate among post-deployment military members is staggeringly high, officers even more than enlisted. Not only that, but it is an all too common occurrence for a soldier to be abandoned on the home front while he or she is overseas on deployment, and helpless to do anything about it. Deployments are stressful for everyone, but with the lengthening of Army deployments to 15 months, and many soldiers facing repeated deployments with only a year (or less) in between, the stress level is rapidly increasing.
It gets even worse. This trend in military family disintegration is being partly blamed for the rise of suicides among military personnel. This article by the Associated Press mentions new information put out by the Pentagon, and is worth taking the time to read. (And not only because I got to put in my $5 that was condensed into $ .02.)
Why do I feel compelled to bring this up? First, because I have tasted the stress they are talking about. I feel it every day. Kevin and I have been married 17 years, and I thank God for the stability He built in our life before we embarked on our Army adventure -- I know with certainty that we can weather these things. Even so, as we brace ourselves for another deployment soon (yep, 15 months this time), it is indescribably difficult. I can't even imagine how hard it is for some of these young couples who marry at 20 years old (or less), and immediately launch into all the pressures of married life AND military life, with a deployment thrown in the mix and the marriage set teetering on top of the whole wobbly pile. These young families need support and encouragement. They need your thoughts and prayers.
Second, I mention all this because I feel there is something that everyone reading this blog can do, whether you are connected to the military in any way or not. I want to ask you to look for ways to encourage our military men and women and their families. Offer your shoulder if you know a spouse with a deployed loved one. Tell them they are doing a great thing by supporting their spouse, even though it is sometimes overwhelming. If you can, offer to babysit, or take them out to lunch for a quiet hour to chat. Mow their lawn or wash their car. Send them a quick note or phone call, and mention how you appreciate the way they keep the home fires burning. Don't just ask them, "How are you holding up?" They get that question more than you can imagine. Instead, come alongside them and walk with them as much as your situation allows. Pray for them every day. The military has programs in place to support the families, such as Family Readiness Groups and Military OneSource; but sometimes the very best medicine is simply a listening ear and a hug, a prayer and a gentle encouragement to stick to it with all their strength.
If you are a military wife, whether your husband is deployed or not, I want to tell you that your role in your soldier's life is crucial. I believe with all my heart that God picked you for your husband, and your husband for you. There are no coincidences. You have a place in his life that no one else in all the world occupies. You make a huge difference in his world, and his ability to go on day after day in that dreary desert, or that training exercise, or that PT test. Knowing that you are by his side gives him something to hang on to. Let him know you are there for the long haul, no matter how hard it gets. Help him be certain that a sweet life tenaciously waits for him when he gets home at the end of the day, or week, or 15 months. Make that commitment and stick by it, and remind him of it often.
And if you need help of any kind, don't try to do it alone. Find an uplifting friend and spend time with her. Attend church, read the Bible, and pray, pray, pray. Tend to your physical, emotional, and spiritual self. Minister to other people to remind you that you're not the only one. Keep yourself busy and try not to let your thoughts dwell on the "What-ifs" or the "If-onlys." (Read Loving God With All Your Mind by Elizabeth George for excellent help on keeping your thoughts at bay.) Focus on the good things about military life, and remember the happy times. If he is home, have a weekly or monthly date night. If your unit chaplain organizes a marriage retreat, be sure to go. Make a list of all the things you love about your soldier, and read over it often. Avoid people that drag you down, and try not to drag anyone else down in return.
Please listen to my heart -- God will help you through the sacrifices that are part of being a military spouse, if you look to Him for strength and make the commitment to follow Him and stick by your husband. Whatever you do, if things seem hopeless, please don't make any major decisions while he is overseas...let him come home, and give yourselves time to decompress, then try to work it out before you take any life-changing actions.
I would love to hear all military wives stand up and loudly proclaim, "I know the Army didn't issue me to you, but God did, and he outranks them all!"