Standing at the altar holding his hand, I remember his ribbons gently resting upon the bold green blazer symbolizing an oath of service. Proud and honored to become his wife at the young vibrant age of 20, I became a military spouse. At the time, he was serving in the National Guard and duty requirements called for one weekend a month and two weeks a year. That first summer away from him while he attended an 18-day annual training period seemed like an eternity. In reflection, that short time away from him pales in comparison to the absence I now endure.
I did not realize at the time, but standing at the altar and the taking of my vows twenty five years ago, I became a military spouse and a military caregiver.
Standing beside my soldier over the years, I have watched in awe at his service and dedication. Throughout those early years together, I watched my husband stand up for his right to have dual roles in service to our nation and as a civilian. Often times I watched as he defended his service to employers who bucked at the requirements of two-week annual training periods and weekend drills.
Despite being held back in a career as a result of his dedication to service, he always put his love of community and country first. Proud of him, I stood alongside him. When duty called with a sudden phone call or even a loud knock at the door over the years, I became very well-rehearsed in going shopping for necessities and giving my soldier a haircut all within two hours! I learned very quickly that I could have been a barber. Each of these experiences became chapters in a book that encompasses our story.
These are small pieces of a story that began many years ago when a young man who embodied a passion and answered the call to serve took an oath. A young man who at the age of 17 enlisted in the United States Army. With the taking of his oath, the first words of our story were placed upon the paper and today I consider myself the narrator of a wonderful story of bravery and courage.
In a sheer breakdown one late night a few weeks after my soldier returned home from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, shouts rang out and panic of fear lined the walls in our home. I rushed to find a place to call for help. “Hello, my husband is a military police officer and just returned home from Iraq, he is having an emotional outburst and I do not know what to do, I need some help.” I cried in panic. “What unit does he belong too?” asked the lady at the other end of the phone. “He is no longer in the military, his enlistment ended when he arrived home.” I explained. In sheer shock, I heard the words “Oh honey, I cannot help you. He is out of the military.”
At that moment, I realized that I was standing alone at the frontline and if I was going to win the next portion of this war, I had to find the weapons.
Many years after our vows, I often find myself sitting alone lost amid a mound of emotions in a surgical waiting room anxiously watching for the sign of the doctor to come update me on his status. Situations like this are what I soon learned to be the new normal. Doctor visits, surgical procedures, emergency room visits and never-ending medical tests have become the front line in the new battle for our family.
This new battle ensues sleepless nights, emotional outbursts, nightmares, periods of panic attacks, cognitive challenges, management of chronic pain and various others symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.