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Archive for August, 2010

A retired military spouse just lit a firestorm in the Fayetteville Observer.  Once again, we are being told we are whining.  She starts by telling her readers that “just” because soldiers are in Afghanistan, it isn’t “sacrificing” , that to call it that is “over the top”.   That was just the beginning.  Yes, Mrs.  Sisk, our soldiers DO worry about what is happening to their families in the States, I’ll bet they did during Vietnam too.  But back then, back in the day, it wasn’t something that anyone talked about, now was it?  When they came home, they didn’t talk about their problems, did they?  Now we know that getting help with problems, talking about the nightmares and the night sweats and the inability to handle loud noises, actually helps – we learned that from the horrendous mistakes made with returning Vietnam war vets.

The writer talks about all the wonderful things she did in Germany, as a “Cold War Army Wife”.. I’m one of those as well, I remember the sightseeing, the markets, and all of it.  (as an aside, her neighbours did know she was an Ami, believe me – I learned German from my mother and hearing an American who learns it later trying to speak, it’s the accent.. it’s obvious) .  In those years, we didn’t get paid a lot, but we did enjoy being in Europe.

Her husband deployed for 365 to Vietnam and whether or not she considered it a sacrifice, it was.  I’m very happy she found a job – do you know how hard it is for military spouses near a base to find a job now?  Has she LOOKED at the jobless figures?

I’m happy her children adjusted to change so well, PCSing is tough – yes, I’ve been there, did that.  The multiple deployments that  current military children are facing, over and over and over again, are a whole different problem.  To ask our children to keep doing this, to keep saying goodbye and living with that tension, watching their classmates going through it too, is something I don’t think the author thought of.   Let’s add to all that, the constant availability of news, the pictures flashed on TV news, the internet flooding of information any child can see – the continual pounding on that little brain of images and facts and figures – and Bobby has to imagine his daddy, or Jenny imagines her mommy in the middle of that.  This does impact children – just ask the teachers dealing with the changes in the child, or the grandparents trying to understand what’s wrong. Perhaps, instead of talking to her husband, she should talk to her children, the ones who went through his deployment to Vietnam.

Yes, ma’am, it’s a job.  It’s a job that only a few can do, only a few are willing to do.  We are called the One Percent, because only ONE PERCENT of the citizens of this country are touched by these wars.  Back in the day, ma’am,  about 20% of the country knew someone or had a relative in the service.

Yes, our lives can be exciting and joyful, between deployments, training, TDYs, schools.  Whining?  No ma’am we aren’t whining.  We are strong resilient men and women, and if our country wants to do a toy drive or help a military family, to thank us for our spouse’s service, I think we’ll accept it as the indication of a country’s gratitude.  I’m sorry they didn’t do that for you during your husband’s service in Vietnam – that’s no reason to call us  complainers, less rugged or whiners.  Maybe you could take a moment and actually talk to one of us.

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What’s with the title?  What do you mean Hell?   After all, he’s home, she’s back, we are back to our normal life, all is peachy keen, we are farting rainbows and fairy dust!  For those readers who are milspouses, you can stop grimacing/laughing/sighing now… ok, I’ll wait…..  That, however, has been the perception in the past, in both the civilian and military world.

What’s the reality?  Usually a couple of weeks of tiptoeing around each other, still in the “oh, he’s home/I’m home, I’m not going to say that this (or that, or t’other) is driving me nuts” mindset.   There’s the demolition of the walls we each build up to protect ourselves, trying to remember that this other person does live here, it’s not just R&R leave, or a visit between TDYs or schools; and remembering that we are married; how to talk to each other without waiting for the phone lag, or by Instant Message or Skype!

There’s also a let down.  Let’s be serious here, we’ve dreamed about and planned that reunion, whether it was the quiet meeting at the airport, or the big on base flags fluttering, banner waving, march in, band playing whoo hoo event; the romantic evening or the full on family dinner with everyone laughing and loving and picking up the conversations where we left off.  Whether or not these plans actually happened (and we all have the stories about not meeting where you thought, the traffic; the disaster at dinner or the kids who refused to hug the stranger that just came home), after all that adrenaline, the decompression reminds me of the day after Christmas.  Now, now, the work of re-integration starts.

Work.  Yes, it’s work to reintegrate the family unit, whether you are a couple or have young children at home.   When the first groups came back from deployments – there were no programs for anyone, and in some situations, all hell seemed to break loose.  Tanya Biank wrote about the deaths at Fort Bragg in Army Wives (the book), and there were many reports about the post deployment problems – so many that the military took notice and many post deployment programs for returning troops began to be utilized – including the Minnesota National Guard program “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon” These programs include the families, but I have heard that sometimes they are a “stand in line/check the box” exercise!  I know everyone is trying very hard to make sure that we get the help we need, but really – when a few hundred service members come back at the same time – sheer numbers will tend to clog up that system.

Now is the time we need to make sure we pay attention.  Not just to the returning service member, but to the family; to the spouse and the kids who are trying to reintegrate too.  My question here –    Individual or family counseling – which is best for you?  Do you want to talk to someone in a group,  or one on one?  Do you want someone who has “been there, done that” or do you think that a civilian counselor is actually a better fit for you?

Can we talk?

K

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During deployment  – that’s when more of us will actually seek some sort of help.  Of course, finding time is almost as hard at this point, as it was during the pre-deployment insanity.  Some milspouses will turn to other milspouse friends – although if most of them are in the same unit – that can be difficult, since you are all in that state of heightened tension and very stressed.  Trying to talk to family can be hard as well, especially if they don’t understand what the military is like – and connecting with non military friends is not always easy – they want to help, but aren’t always sure how. Many of us will use blogs, Facebook or private internet sites, partially because it’s easier to talk online.

Talking to  civilian co workers during the four deployments I’ve been through was either a head banging against desk experience, or a complete exercise in frustration – attempting to remind them that there are still troops being deployed, translating what they were hearing on the news, correcting them when they said things like “aren’t you going with him, since it’s peaceful now” (last deployment to Iraq – and this from an MBA candidate!);  and some of them really did mean well, but they just didn’t get it.

I know that  having long deployments compared to 2 or 3 week fishing trips,  being told “you knew what you were getting into” or even worse, to “suck it up” by fellow military spouses – those can cause a lot of stress and confusion.  When you think that you are the only one, that you just can’t cut it, that you are somehow weak – that’s when you need help.

So – does this sound familiar?  If so, how did you deal with it?   If you went to counseling, was it helpful.  Were the counselors familiar with military families?  I had one who had no idea what military life was like, who was a marriage counselor in his regular practice and was really flummoxed at the anger I was feeling because of the Surge and extension – kept telling me that my husband and I needed to talk more – a little difficult when he was deployed for over a year already!

The availability of counseling, the long wait times, coverage by TriCare and trying to find someone who understands – this is all part of the equation as well.

Can we talk?

kesfmm

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Is counseling, either before, during, after deployment of help to you or  your family?  Would counselors who are military spouses, family members, be of more assistance than counselors without any knowledge of military life?

Before I start – a confession.  I’m going to school for psych and plan to get an MSW (Masters in Social Work) to work with military families.

So I have some questions for you, those few, those happy few readers here.  Have you used a counselor in the days before a deployment?  Some military spouses will say that the days before a departure are so difficult, so stressful; that even though you are trying to create memories, trying to spend every second together, you are still starting to withdraw.  Some of us will pull away earlier than our spouse – that leads to hurt feelings.  If we are on our second or third or fourth ride on the deployment train, we are building up that wall earlier and earlier – we may never have taken it all the way down.

Question – would predeployment counseling help?

I’d be interested in hearing whether anyone would want to do any counseling before deployment – after all, we are all going insane with briefings, filling out forms by the barrel load.  I know that before the first deployment, I had no idea what was going on.  None.  The whole predeployment briefing went by in a blur, and we went from one station to another – got bags full of folders and pamphlets – and rode rollercoasters of feelings and tears and anger.  At that time, our son was also deployed with a different unit – so things were definitely tense.  Would I have wanted a counselor at that time?  probably not, I was so busy with all the packing and forms and more forms, and basically trying to run away from this monster in the future.

The second deployment – even more stress… 8 days between his return from a European TDY and leaving for predeployment training in Mississippi.. it was complete insanity, and yes, I would have appreciated having someone calm to talk to – someone who understood what the insanity was like, understood that we had ZERO control over our lives at that point (oh, did I mention I lost my temp job when the project ended, the day after?) and could help me get some perspective, after he had left for training.  In hindsight – I could have avoided some of the stress that hung around the house like a fog. The predeployment fights, the undirected anger that ended up slamming down on each other –  we could have handled it better.

The third – numbness.  The stress of an insane schedule job  and trying to do some other military spouse work – kept me from thinking – good online friends were my outlet.  But I really think that going to a counselor could have helped me then.

Question – would predeployment counseling help.  Would it be more beneficial if you saw someone a few days/weeks later? Can we talk?

Karen.

*next post – counseling during deployment*

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Check yes or no…

There’s a song that has been running through my head for the past few days.  “Check Yes or No” (George Strait) **  It started the ear worm journey when I read a post from Admiral Mullen who wants to do away with a certain checkbox.  During those days and weeks before deployment, servicemembers fill out forms for pay,  insurance, wills, there’s a whole checklist of medical, GI Bill of rights, dog tags… and somewhere in that stack, is  THE  checkbox, a check box that asks if the servicemember’s family wants to be contacted.  Too many servicemembers check – No.   I remember a form that asked for email addresses, and usually the servicemember put in HIS (or her) email address, not the address for their spouse.  As Admiral Mullen said about his effort to get rid of this box:

This effort will be a step toward keeping families better informed, and also will help to close a gap, particularly for Guard and Reserve families who often are far from the support of a military installation…..

I know there are FRGs that only contact the family members when they are fundraising, that do nothing at all for the families or that turn into a Peyton Place –  we all know those.  We all know that there are as many disfunctional  FRGs as there are functional ones.  But.  And it’s a major But.   Without the ability or permission to contact the family – the families miss out.  Not just on the holiday party or the Easter Bunny hunt – but on the  “just for military families” opportunities, the changes in certain benefits and most importantly on the support, the camaraderie, the family that will hold them up and be there at 2 am when they need it, the other men and women who do understand what they are going through and can empathize.

Talking to a former FRG leader, she remembered the young NCO who told her  that his wife didn’t need any help, she had her support network of her family and friends and he didn’t want her to be bothered by the unit.  Since our unit tends to not deploy en masse, we don’t usually know who might be downrange, when and for how long, so we don’t have phone trees or contact lists.  The soldier left, and the spouse called – she was having an emergency and her support network – well –  it wasn’t!   I’ve talked to other family support leaders, who say the same thing – it’s usually the military servicemember who is nervous about having his spouse talking to the rest of the unit, or the spouse who has had to go through a deployment with a dis-functional FRG that soured their outlook, and very often those are the ones who really need the contact, the help and the support.

The frustration of knowing that there are young spouses and family members out there, who WANT to know what is going on, and cannot understand why no one has called them – reading the “please help me, I don’t understand” emails, blog comments or letters to military family websites from the families that need help and aren’t getting that support – drives me batty.   We are a small microcosm of the public – we are that 1%.  We need to support each other – answer that call, be there for that cup of coffee or lunch, send a note, or just hang out together.  If we don’t know who is out there – we can’t help.

So – let’s start a conversation – do you agree with Admiral Mullen?  Do you want to be left alone during deployment, or would you appreciate that phone call or the email from the family support?

KSF muttering

** non country fans – it’s kinda corny but cute.

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Inauguration Post

So what on earth is Milspouse Mutterings? I’ve been blogging for years, under a pseudonym.  Now, I’m going to write as me.  Who’s me?  The name is Karen, I’ve been a military spouse for years and years – and years.  I’m also the  mom of a veteran of Iraq, the  mom in law of a veteran, and an indulgent grandmother  and cat lover.

What will I be writing about?  oh,

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

I will be writing about what matters to me,  military family issues.     Two wars, multiple deployments,  suicide rates going up, exhaustion of leadership in the support network… oh, there is a lot to say!  So I hope you’ll stick around and we can talk.  Because one thing I love – comments!  Some are annoying, and flaming trolls will not be tolerated, but most are a great way to start a conversation.    Let’s talk, ok?

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