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March 05, 2008

What The Lamestream Media Taught Me About Deployment

Well sports fans, this is it. The Princesses' year long Sojourn in Heck is officially finito. Kaput. So over.

As rosy finger'd dawn (the slut!) traipsed across the western Maryland sky this morning, yours truly sprang from betwixt the marital sheets and shuffled down the hall to rustle up a steaming mug of liquid stamina. But this time a quietly amused smile could be observed upon her lips. The year ended much as it began; more a droll procession of minor inconveniences than the tidal wave of tragedy so often depicted in countless lurid news stories as we Desperate Military Wives heroically Take Yet Another One for the DeciderTM**. Now that it's all over, I have to say I'm not sure I could have survived this year without the comic relief invaluable guidance provided by the mainstream media. It was sort of like being given your own personal copy of What to Expect When You're Neglected by a Reckless and Uncaring Bush Administration.

But that's military life, isn't it? The ups and downs are accepted with equanimity, if not without the occasional grumble or two. But the media quickly seize on that grumbling and blow it out of all proportion to whatever trivial nuisance caused it in the first place, because to them we're all damaged souls teetering on the edge of a complete mental meltdown. This is fortunate, however; because if we can somehow manage to get professional psychiatric help (preferably in a remote residential facility with secure locks on all the doors and windows) before our psychotic PTSD-addled spouses return, they won't be able to murder us in our sleep!

Life is full of fluffy, comforting thoughts like these.

The thing is, the myriad natural shocks to which all flesh is heir aren't that much easier to deal with when your S.O. is stateside. Though it's great to have someone with which to share the joys of the connubial estate, military men work long hours whether they're deployed or at home. Honestly, when was the last time your paladin-in-shining-armor left work and raced hell-for-leather to your side simply because the plumber was a rude pig or the cat threw up in the toe of your brand-new Manolo Blahnik pumps?

Yeah, I thought so. But don't tell that to Dana Priest. It plays all hell with that compelling narrative.

One of Al Gore's aptly-named inconvenient truths is that daily mishaps may drive us nearly to distraction when they occur but - if we can only avoid the dreaded Sense of Humor Failure - they make for some durned entertaining dinner conversation, no es verdad? And isn't that what life is all about; finding that golden thread of joy running through the quotidian muck we call living?

Thankfully, enlightened readers of the NYT and WaPo know better than to let themselves be distracted by that kind of Pollyanna-ish rhetoric. That's exactly how the Men in Tinfoil Hats want us to think. Happiness and self-sufficiency are Prozac for the addled masses; give in to their seductive power and you'll soon find yourself liking the way you feel with that smile on your face; slipping down the otter slide to Hell towards nasty encounters with logic, and facts.

And we all know where *that* sort of thing leads. Before you know it, you could end up voting Republican. Or something far worse, if indeed there is such a thing, which one rather doubts.

Far better to cultivate that healthy sense of grievance which can only be properly addressed by free government babysitting, sensational press coverage chock full of Anecdotal Evidence of Misery, the inevitable Congressional inquiry and yet another spanking new DoD entitlement program targeted at "our brave warriors and their families" by The 110th Congress: strengthening military families by making more room at the federal trough.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Fourth Estate, this time around the Princess knew to watch The Unit like a hawk for signs of trouble. If the articles she'd read this year were any indication, neither she nor the spousal unit had Suffered Nearly Enough to suit the lamestream media. Indeed, our very lack of dysfunction - in and of itself - was a Suspicious Sign. It clearly signaled co-option by Darth Rummy into support for an illegal, immoral war for oil. Any time a majority of the American people no longer support the brutal armed occupation of Irak, any time the American people have not been asked to Sacrifice, any time the burden falls on too few (no matter that they gladly volunteered, and continue to volunteer, for the job), our foolish, misguided continuing support must be considered coerced by those who are obviously better informed than we (having read numerous articles by professional reporters who can be trusted to give us the real story, though naturally Iraq remains far too dangerous for them to get out and do any firsthand reporting).

Fortunately, their anonymous sources are preferable to the biased reports of people whose names we do know; people who are actually on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan day in and day out. But what do they know? They're obviously too close to the subject to deliver a reliable and informed assessment.

All snark aside, I do have some serious reflections on this year. They will appear shortly, after the jump.


** for the sarcasm impaired, this is a joke. Try not to choke on that pretzel.

Back when I was in high school, it occurred to me during English class that getting things right the first time may not be the most important thing in the world. It would be nice if we always knew the answers, always performed brilliantly the first time out of the box. But often I ended up learning far more (and thinking more deeply) after listening to other students elaborate an incorrect idea than I did by listening to the supposedly smart kids explain the right one. Often I came away much wiser, and with a deeper understanding of a subject, after having made several mistakes along the way that I did when something came to me easily and I breezed through it the first time (which was far more typical for me).

This idea fascinated me for the longest time. Which was better? Quick results after a flawless first time execution or a less impressive, bumbling (but nonetheless eventually successful) first performance followed by a far deeper understanding that I could put to good use in the future?

I ended up thinking maybe it wasn't such a bad thing to struggle a bit; to fall down a few times before you got to the finish line, to take a bit longer or risk looking foolish. Maybe it wasn't all about crossing that line quickly and elegantly but partly about how you got there too; what you learned along the way that mattered?

All of which is not to say that results don't matter. They do.

But so does process, and depth of understanding, and experience.

The thing is, the media seem to get the military wrong with frightening regularity. As someone who grew up Navy, I experienced more frequent moves than I have in the Marines. My Dad was at sea for much of the time I was a young girl. So when I read the ridiculously over-hyped descriptions of families "torn apart" by frequent deployments, I have to laugh. I grew up with that. There were no 'family services'. No counselors. We had friends, neighbors, church. We had each other. We made do. My mother and mother in law dealt with it all with grace, strength, and the kind of steel I have only tried to emulate in my time in the Corps. They weren't perfect, but they were equal to the task, and more than equal.

Like Sarah, I have found deployments to be as much about opportunity as deprivation:

When a deployment is announced, we spouses put ourselves in a certain mindframe. I am sure there are many ways of dealing with the news, but my personal way is to start to focus on the things I will do while he's gone. I mentally plan a trip home to see my parents. I plan to ask for more hours at my job. I invite other friends to come visit me, since I will be all alone in the house. I start to begin conversations with my husband with, "When you're gone,..." In every way, I get myself ready for the big life changes.

And when the deployment gets called off, it throws me for a loop.

Twice in the past year and a half, my husband has been told he's deploying in two months and then been brought back from the brink at the last minute. And while I'm certainly grateful that he's been home safe with me all this time, it's still unnerving to get yourself mentally prepared for a deployment that ends up not happening.

Even though it's good news, I sometimes have a hard time letting go of the mental plans I've made. I've come up with all these fun activities to keep my mind busy, and I still want to do the fun activities. Even harder is the process of un-steeling myself emotionally. I get a month fixed in my head -- he's leaving in August -- and that's what I set my heart and mind on. August, August, August...and as it gets closer, I get more prepared for him to leave.

Sarah concludes:

...as happy as you are to hear your spouse won't be leaving in August, it's hard to undo the mental changes you've gone through.

It's hard, this mental off-and-on.

I agree. Last September I wrote:

I get so annoyed at the pitying articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times about the heartbreak of deployment, the agony of separation, about families "torn apart" by the prospect of yet another tour of duty in the sandbox. As I go about my daily routine, I don't feel heartbroken, agonized, or "torn apart". I never have. And if you ask me how I'm dealing with being all alone in this empty house, I'll tell you, "fine". And I'll smile.

I don't recognize those families I read about in the paper.

It's not that I'm in denial, or that I don't realize there are dysfunctional relationships and people in the military. I do. It's not even that I've never felt moments of self pity, loneliness, or sorrow. Of course I have. But I don't recognize the kind of self absorption that allows a person to make their own problems someone else's. I don't. And I can't. Military life isn't really any harder than civilian life. Civilian wives get divorced every day and then they have to raise their children alone. But they cope. They have to.

And like Sarah, and Carrie, and Sly, and Pau, I take my comfort where I can find it:

We are a resourceful bunch, us military spouses. We bloom where we are planted. We make lemonade out of lemons. We kick deployment gremlin butt. We do it all. But we don't do it alone. We can't (loathe though I am to admit that).

So we quilt.

We piece together our support and make a "quilt", if you will, that surrounds us and keeps us warm. Some pieces can come from our neighbors and those that live around us. Some pieces can be found in church. Or at the gym. Or at a play group. Or at work. It's colorful. It's unique. The panels may change based on the circumstances under which it's needed.

And what do you do when you can't find a piece for that quilt? A certain fabric or thread? The same thing you don when you can't find anything in the stores near you...you call friends and family in other towns, other states, and other countries. Those long distance connections can often provide us with the pieces to the quilt that we lack. And when we can't find that piece that we need any other way? Where do we turn?

Yep. eBay.

The thing is, I was so lucky this year. I got to do so many things I would never have had the opportunity to do had my husband stayed home.

I missed him terribly at times.

But in some ways, his absence was a gift that gave me the opportunity to go back in time and rediscover the person I was before we married. In solitude and sometimes even loneliness, I was forced back on my own resources. That's a good thing.

I traveled to several cities I've never seen before.

I met quite a few other bloggers for the first time, many of whom I've known for years. That's an experience I'll always treasure.

I went to the White House, barked at Barney and met George Bush; not just once but several times.

I was on TV twice! How often do you get to do that in life?

I spoke at several conferences.

I found out what I look like as a blonde and a redhead.

I learned that what happens on Dyke Street, stays on Dyke Street.

I learned to beware the Blue Hawaiian.

I went to my high school reunion after 30 years and saw myself through other people's eyes: people who don't know me as someone's wife or someone's mother; people who only remember the girl I used to be, not the woman I've become. That was strange, and interesting, and at times a bit unsettling.

I married off a son and acquired a Burrito.

And the takeaway in all of this is that moving, deployments, absences from those we love are just temporary inconveniences set in our paths. If we focus on them and the hardships they create rather than on the opportunities they offer us to understand things about ourselves, we miss out on the real wonder of life. Because life isn't meant to be a flat, boring road - it's more like a roller coaster, and even the jaw-dropping moments have something to teach us:

Cause when push comes to shove
You taste what you're made of
You might bend 'til you break
'Cause it's all you can take
On your knees you look up
Decide you've had enough
You get mad, you get strong
Wipe your hands, shake it off

Then you stand

Every time you get up and get back in the race

One more small piece of you starts to fall into place

And it's all good. As I wrote a few months ago after the only really dark time I had this year:

...for a military wife home can never be a place, really, or a time. Times change, and even the people we meet are often far less constant than they appear to be. But somehow, friends are a gleaming thread running through the hopelessly tangled skein of our lives. Pull on it, and everything suddenly slips into place effortlessly; all the snarled knots come untied. They know, without our having to tell them, certain things about us. We share, not everything – because no two people share everything – but the important things. A friend will be there to celebrate quietly with you those moments that mean something to you. And that can make all the difference, for then you carry home inside of you wherever you may roam.

Because home, you see, is the people you care about. A home is love.

And nothing, no one, no circumstance, can take that away from you. We carry it inside of us.

That is what is important.

Posted by Cassandra at March 5, 2008 06:37 AM

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Comments

All thanks to The Unit - and his one-woman support services corps.

Home: 2 - PTSD/MSM: 0

Posted by: socialism_is_error at March 5, 2008 03:18 PM

Well, since it's still "in progress", it will be easier to tear myself away from the computer and go buy more painter's tape so I can finish my cool project. I hate when you run out with not much more than one wall's worth of baseboard to tape up...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at March 5, 2008 03:19 PM

Must resist the snark...

Why do I suddenly feel like a house-elf?

Back to my sewing and knitting room, there to feast my eyes upon vintage tatting patterns (yes I tat. Took it up while the Engineer was stationed in Germany in the long days before we shared a bed and board)with which to adorn the Princess Kitty's Easter Dress.

Take THAT, Martha Pullen!

Posted by: Cricket at March 5, 2008 06:09 PM

Welcome home, Unit. The Princess gets a good report card. So do you. Thanks for letting her entertain us. And thanks for being a United States Marine.

Posted by: spd rdr at March 6, 2008 08:43 AM

I thought you were already a 'deranged military spouse'? Pack light, it's a short trip! :D

Glad that The Man is home, safe and sound, and you two are together again.


Terra Nova, J. Taylor

Oh end this day show me the ocean
When shall I see the sea

May this day set me in emotion
I ought to be on my way

We were there
We were sailing on the Terra Nova
Sailing for the setting sun
Sailing for the new horizon

May this day show me an ocean
I ought to be on my way

Ought to be on my way right now
Stepping on the boat
With a lump in my throat
On my way right now

I got a letter from a dear friend of mine
The story of a spiritual awakening
She spoke of her love
Returning in kind
She let me know that
She'd be waiting

And I should be on my way by now
Walking across the floor
Reaching for the door
On my way by now

But here I sit country fool that I am
My elbow on my knee
And my chin in my hand
My mind in the gutter
And my eye on the street
Holed up in a cave of concrete

And I ought to be on my way right now
Packing my things
While the telephone rings
On my way right now

I miss my lovely mother
And I love my lonely father
I know I owe my brothers
One thing and another
I hear my sister singing

And I ought to be on my way right now
Moving across the land
With my heart in my hand
On my way by now
Ought to be on my way by now

Oh end this day set me in motion
Ought to be on my way

Out of the west of Lambert's Cove
There's a sail out in the sun
And I'm on board though very small
I've come home to stop yearning

Burn off the haze around the shore
Turn off the crazy way I feel
I'll stay away from you no more
I've come home to stop yearning

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 6, 2008 09:01 AM

Well, as I like to point out to my husband, the plural of military spouse is 'military spice'...

The deranged part just makes me more interesting :p

And thanks for showing up, mr rdr, and for making me laugh.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2008 09:11 AM

Heh...stick a fork in her, she's done...

Woot!!!

Posted by: Carrie at March 6, 2008 09:24 AM

Don't forget all those great philosophical discussions we had.

[ducks frying pan]

Ok, well, so some of them probably added to the stress... but some of them were great!

Posted by: Grim at March 6, 2008 10:37 AM

Cass,

I simply could not be happier for you and the Unit (god... that sounds like such an... uncivilized thing to call an officer)! I re-read the Burrito story and got a bit misty (it's the coffee, I swear).

My wife did not have any of the "military spouse" issues, in that I only served 5 years, and met her at my last duty station. The closest we came was watching "Independence Day" and her realizing that if a national emergency occured, I would potentially have to leave her at home (which had not entered her thinking until then). However my mother did. She and my father moved at least five times in the eight years of active duty he served, and once more while he was in the reserves. She waited through two hazardous deployments and MANY TDYs (frequently having children nine months after the longest of them), and bore it all extremely well. In fact, I cannot recall any negative stories but one (and that was mostly his fault for showing her a photo of a crater that had been his 'front porch' after returning from Vietnam, he should simply not have told her). My mother and I fight like cats and dogs. I love her, but we're too alike in temperment and temper. My father is, and always has been my hero. But I must say, having seen your thoughts in pixels, and getting a small slice of your day-to-day over the last year has definately given me a new insight, as well as a heightened respect and appreciation for my mother that I did not have previously. It simply had never occurred to me that she had lived with the deployments, the worry, the keeping busy, providing support for other spouses, the daily mini-emergencies of flooded basements, minor household repairs, etc... all while my father was away. I knew that these had happened, but I was too young at the time to really get it. Thank you for that. :)

Posted by: MikeD at March 6, 2008 12:02 PM

"We progress and mature by fault".

------------Frank Thring as Pontius Pilate in Ben-Hur.

Truly the most effective path to understanding; the scars remind.

Posted by: socialism_is_error at March 6, 2008 12:12 PM

re: 'the Unit'...

My husband is kind of a dignified guy. It tickles me to call him that :p Fortunately, he has a great sense of humor - he has to, to live with me.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2008 12:54 PM

And I always enjoy arguing wi... errr... having discussions with you, Grim :p

[ducks frying pan]

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2008 12:56 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 03/06/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at March 6, 2008 02:28 PM

Live from Kuwait-Operation MySpace-March 10th
Body:
On March 10th, 2008 Operation MySpace will bring the troops in Kuwait and all of MySpace a LIVE show in Kulabyte HD that they’ll never forget. Disturbed, Pussycat Dolls, Jessica Simpson, Filter, Carlos Mencia, Metal Sanaz, DJ Z-Trip AND MORE will all be a part of this spectacular event that will be streamed LIVE only on MySpace at 11:00AM PST / 2:00 PM EST at http://www.myspace.com/operationmyspace

It's 2008 and the world has changed but our troops still need our support. Please drop by and leave a special message for the troops at http://www.myspace.com/operationmyspace .

Posted by: laree at March 6, 2008 10:11 PM

There are very few women - military spouses - I admire. This post exemplifies why you are one of them. (and not because you mention my itty bitty blog in it...took me a minute to figger out where the hits were coming from and why!).

Posted by: HomefrontSix at March 7, 2008 03:43 PM

You're very nice, but you have only seen me 2 1/2 (fine... three) sheets to the wind...

Sober, I am a colossal screw up. Just ask Carrie. She'll tell you the Ugly Truth :p However, I am fortunate in my friends, of which I am pleased to consider you one :) They keep me on the straight and narrow.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 7, 2008 03:55 PM

Wow... I focus on something else for a couple days and you come back and blog up a storm.

Beautiful post, Cassandra. And I agree with HFS, you are one of the women I admire--and this post is one of the big reasons why.

I realized as I read it that much of what you say about the deployment being an opportunity applied to me in my recent troubles. Right now, my future looks much brighter than it has in years (which is more a reflection on the past than the present, but still...), and I guess I feel "safe" enough to look back and realize what I've gained in those two years--good things I had the chance to experience that came along as a package deal with the tough situations I was in, and the skills and self-confidence I gained from having survived/navigated those tough situations. Your post helped me realize that.

I feel bad for being the whiner I've been the last two years, but live and learn, yes? Next time it gets hard (please God, not anytime soon!), I'll hopefully be able to remind myself to look for the opportunities. Thanks for your wisdom, Cassie. You're an amazing woman.

And tell L, welcome home!! Someday, I hope I will have the chance to meet him so that when I think of you I don't see a blank spot next to you in my mind's eye. ;) Heh. I'd probably drive him nuts--just ask Will. Although, maybe if we just stay away from commuter buses...

(Yes, that last bit was a preemptive strike against myself. :P ).

Posted by: FbL at March 8, 2008 12:40 AM

FbL, I think we all learn from watching others.

Pau was right - as much as we like to think we do things all by ourselves, we don't. It's that 'quilt' (I loved that analogy of hers) that makes us who we are. Hopefully we learn from, and take on some of the better qualities of, the people who pass through our lives over the years. I feel sorry for myself all the time. But it is by reminding myself of the examples of better women than myself that I push that aside.

Fortunately for me, there are so many better women than me that thinking of one is usually really easy :p

Mike, I meant to comment earlier and didn't for some reason that I like the Burrito post too. I so rarely like anything I write, but that is one of my all time favorites. I was actually proud of it when I got done, and I can count the number of times I've felt that way in 4 years on one hand.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 8, 2008 04:11 PM

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