When I got the call that I was being invited on the holiday tour to visit the troops with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, I had a mini panic attack. How do you tell your spouse, a service member, that you have been invited by the highest strategic leader of military defense in the world on his plane for a week to the Middle East? I had some idea that this would change me, but no one could have anticipated to what extent.

Military couples tend to accept the gap that exists between them due to unshared experiences during a deployment. At some point and without knowing it, I had stopped trying to understand my husband’s experiences and just accepted that I would never “get it.” (check out the Hangout I did recounting the trip!) Doing my research before the trip, I realized most spouses had also adopted this mindset as part of the deal.  I immersed myself into this experience to prove that empathy, the effort of imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes, was still powerful enough to change marriage. Refusing to be a tourist, I went in like a mad scientist to understand my husband: why he sometimes misses deployment and why he felt fulfilled there.  Maybe I would see the mountains that took the innocence from his eyes and replaced it with a thousand yard stare. He is a better man for it all but perhaps this would give me the perspective I needed to be a better wife….

Day 1. The Air Force in Turkey

I had no idea how many mental images I had created that were inaccurate or incomplete based on my husband’s descriptions. I believe I had glazed over when he used to describe deployment and now I hoped no one would do that to me. The rumble of fighter jets taking off from the air base in Turkey loaded with bombs made the front lines seriously real. The adrenaline of the C-17’s take off was exhilarating just like he said. I whispered, “Who wouldn’t love this job?” as I looked at the crystal clear green clouds over Saudi Arabia through Night Vision Goggles from the cockpit window. The crew explained what it meant to have a “No Fail Mission.” When they bragged on their wives, it occurred to me we are all part of that mission.