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May 03, 2009

Tugging On the Right Heartstrings

Over at Spousebuzz, AirForceWife expands on a sentiment I've heard over and over again from both military spouses and active duty personnel regarding the way the media portray us:

I can't imagine why there is so much focus on the struggle when it seems to me the focus should be on how incredible these military spouses truly are. Pity? I see them with awe. These are the people I look at when the going gets hard for me, and I think, "So and so went through far worse than I am going through right now and did not give up - so I have no right to do so myself."

Part of the problem, I think, is that there is a definite culture difference between the military and the non-military connected worlds in America. The drama so ever-present in American pop-culture with reality shows and Perez Hilton is more alien to our inner world, because when you are always facing the ultimate drama of those uniforms at your door, you aren't exactly looking for new ways to create upheaval. When we spouses identify a problem, we talk about the problem; but we also talk about what we need to fix it. And then we fix it.

One of the most annoying reactions civilians had to finding out my husband was in Iraq for a year was, "Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry." It made me grit my teeth every single time I heard it - in 12 months, I never did get used to it.

Sympathy, I could understand.

"Oh, you must miss him terribly", or "You must be looking forward to his return home", or even "Are you worried about his safety?": all completely understandable. But "I'm so sorry"?

Sorry for what? Sorry he is doing the job he has trained for all his life? Sorry he got a position he'd been asking for for three years? Sorry he is part of a mission I support? Invariably, I found myself thinking, "Don't presume to tell me how I should feel about this. Because you clearly have no idea."

The truth is that I have always felt incredibly lucky to be connected to the military community. I've always felt thankful for experiences that challenged me to become a better person; to reach out to others in my community, to try things I wouldn't necessarily think of trying on my own, to take responsibility for my own happiness instead of allowing my mood to be dictated by forces beyond my control.

If I had to choose one word to describe my experiences as a Marine wife, I think I'd choose the word, "uplifting":

This is from a speech that Secretary Gates delivered in October, in which he refers to that Navy SEAL, one of many wounded warrior that "lifted you up." That's a concept that is hard to accept for those who haven't actually visited Walter Reed or Bethesda Naval Hospital, but Gates is entirely right.
To our wounded warriors: I have been amazed by your grit and resilience. To be honest, when I first learned that part of my duties as Secretary of Defense was to visit the wounded at Walter Reed and other hospitals, I wasn't sure I could handle it – or what I would say. Seeing firsthand the incredible sacrifice our men and women in uniform had made, I wasn't sure I could keep it together. But people kept telling me, "You don't understand, they'll lift you up."

And they did. And they do whenever I visit there and other facilities. Like the wounded officer Lt. Dan Moran at Brooke Army Burn Center who reminded me that I handed him his diploma at Texas A&M in August of 2002. He also told me he had the doctors play the "Aggie War Hymn" during his surgery. Former President Bush and I presented him with a medal for valor at half-time at a Texas A&M home football game in front of 85,000 wildly cheering admirers – the kind of public acclaim all our wounded warriors deserve.

Like AirForceWife, I found the challenges of military life inspiring rather than depressing and debilitating. Everywhere I looked, I saw women who dealt head on with their problems; who rose to every occasion and overcame every obstacle in their path.

It is this side of military life I wish the media would pay more attention to. So often, it is the difficulties we are dealt in life that make us stronger, more confident, and more resourceful. It is this perspective that is so often missing from the MSM's coverage of military stories.

At the Milblogs conference, the panel I enjoyed the most was panel #3 on Taking Care of our Military Veterans. There was an interesting question towards the end from a reporter. It was something to the effect of, "How do we cover issues like PTSD without patronizing service members or pandering to the stereotype of deranged, psychotic combat vets?"

I may not have paraphrased the question entirely accurately, but that's what I remember. I also remember thinking at the time, "Why not point out that we are surrounded by combat vets, many of whom are still dealing with the lingering effects of their combat experience?"

They're called Vietnam veterans, and they're our neighbors, our husbands, fathers, uncles and aunts, our fellow citizens. And as a group, they're no more likely to pick up an Uzi and shoot up the local post office than anyone else. Doesn't that speak volumes? Isn't it a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit?

I'm not minimizing combat stress, and I don't think the media should stop covering it. But for Pete's sake, it's not that hard to provide perspective. Just step outside your biases for a moment and talk to a broader spectrum of veterans and their families.

You might be surprised to find we're just like anyone else. We're human, with all the flaws and strengths that implies.

You'd like us. And more importantly, you might begin to understand us.

Posted by Cassandra at May 3, 2009 09:51 AM

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Beautiful post, Cassandra. And btw, your memory of the question about PTSD jives exactly with mine. I recently read someone who made more of the disagreement on that subject between panelists Genevieve and Pete, but I think they're both on the same page... just leaning heavier to opposite sides of it.

As to the military spouse part of this post, of course that's outside my experience. But I CAN relate to the idea of not wanting more drama. I went through way too many years with far too much drama in my life. To this day, I want my entertainment to be escapism, not reality-based, and so I much prefer comedies, science fiction, and other more detached entertainment (I see documentaries as education, not entertainment). I sometimes wonder if people who get so wrapped up in dramas and "reality" TV shows need a bit more meaning/excitement in their own lives. ;) Of course, at the moment I'm watching every episode of Stargate SG-1 I can get my hands on. ;)

Posted by: FbL at May 3, 2009 12:54 PM

In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.
- Notebook, 1904

Posted by: Drive-by Mark Twain at May 3, 2009 01:08 PM

I'm sorry if I'm one of the ones who said "I'm so sorry". :)
Really, I should know better than to phrase it like that-- I'm a military brat, and Dad was gone for four months in Saudi and a year in Korea (he retired shortly after the Iraq war started). But to do myself (and possibly others who apologized) credit-- I would have meant, "I'm sorry, you must miss him and worry, and that part sucks". I can't imagine how spouses handle it-- it's hard enough for kids. Military spouses are some of the most admirable people I know.

Posted by: Eowyn at May 3, 2009 02:11 PM

Great post. Reminds me of the old saw, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger". And I agree with the comments that if you are facing death and true real life drama, you have no need to see reality shows, etc. I prefer romance novels and sci fi myself. Why? Because I want to retain my sense of hope, my sense of the inherent goodness of people. Can't do that with most of the trash on MSM now.....

Posted by: catlady at May 3, 2009 02:49 PM


I think that I pay more attention, almost, to the way people say things than what they say. The thing that bothered me the most was never expressions of sympathy or commiseration. It was the folks who were clearly horrified at the prospect.

I got embarrassed a few times - like the time I was buying Christmas presents at a small local store and everyone in the store kind of lined up to tell me "thank you" (I guess b/c they overheard me talking to the cashier). It touched me, but it was embarrassing b/c I have never done anything that requires thanks. I know so many military spouses (male and female) who are so strong and so amazing, but honestly at my time of life deployments are a piece of cake.

But I thought it was great that people were so nice, regardless of whatever feelings they might have about the war :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 3, 2009 03:18 PM

Drive by:

I've never heard that one. It's a keeper, though.

We are truly blessed in our armed services. I hope we civilians never forget that.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 3, 2009 03:21 PM


Posted by: Drive-by Mirror at May 3, 2009 03:47 PM

All I ever think when I meet someone who's in the military, or who has a family member serving overseas, is "God bless you, and thank you for your sacrifice." I hope I never strike one of those intolerable Cindy Sheehan notes, which assume that military service is something that happens to poor little passive victims.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 3, 2009 03:53 PM

Yes, I went to two teacher job fairs. The second one was at the Austin Convention Center, and parking is always a b*tch downtown. I managed to find an available space in a pay lot catty-corner from the Convention Center, right on the corner closest to where I needed to go. As I was pulling into the spot, I noticed that the vehicle on the other side of the corner - as I was making sure I pulled in enough that it wouldn't be blocked in if they left before I did - had both a Vietnam vet sticker, and a Combat Medic sticker on the back window. I've made a habit of having special little business cards in my wallet to give to/leave behind for our veterans with a message of thanks from a "grateful American citizen" (I "stole" the text and idea from something I got when I visited the traveling Wall March of last year). So, I dug into my purse to get one out of my wallet, and I placed it under the driver's side windshield wiper, thinking I would never know who drove that SUV. When I was finished at the job fair and was talking back to my car, I made small talk with another lady who was also leaving. She had driven in from Houston and was having to meet up with her husband somewhere else. As I was putting my bag in the car, I realized she had gotten into that SUV. I debated whether or not to go say anything to her - she hadn't as yet noticed the business card under the wiper blade. I decided to go point it out to her, and explain that I had noticed the bumper stickers on her back window. Her husband is the Vietnam vet, and her son is also in the Army. I told her I could give her another card for her son. She seemed very moved by it all. It doesn't take much to express your thanks to those who serve, and "I'm sorry" doesn't need to figure into it at all...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at May 3, 2009 04:12 PM

"Why not point out that we are surrounded by combat vets...?"

Well, we're not exactly ubiquitous, yanno.

Most Americans don't even *know* someone with a vet -- Vietnam or otherwise -- in the family. My town's pretty Podunk, but you could sit the local vets from *all* the wars since 1941 in the BigName Bookstore coffee shop up the road and still have room for the Rutgers football squad plus their cheerleaders.

*gratuitously trolling for a Tigerhawk snark for ya*

Posted by: BillT at May 3, 2009 04:40 PM

I, personally, kicked the USSR's ass.
Save the parade, however, until I can be sure that the victory sticks.

Posted by: spr rdr at May 3, 2009 05:29 PM

And who had yer back, keeping all those nurses from mobbing ya until you did it?

Posted by: BillT at May 3, 2009 05:58 PM

Well it wasn't the wormy likes of you, turnip! And your nurse is my girlfriend on weekends.

And there we go.

Posted by: spd rdr at May 3, 2009 06:18 PM

We're all laughing, right?

Posted by: spd rdr at May 3, 2009 06:41 PM

I'm *trying* to, but the flashbacks keep kicking in.

Posted by: BillT at May 3, 2009 06:50 PM

I am am the smartass from hell, Bill, and always have been. But you've got me, brother, and, finally, I've got nothing at all to say.

Posted by: spd rdr at May 3, 2009 07:31 PM

Well I do :)

Knowing mr rdr, he wasn't trying terribly hard to keep the nurses at bay.

But then Bill wasn't exactly keeping the nurses off spd's back... he was glomming on the female attention.

*rolling eyes*

Posted by: Cassandra at May 3, 2009 07:46 PM

And, for once, it is BILL who turns the conversation to sex and relationships...

Posted by: Sly's Wardrobe Mistress at May 3, 2009 08:16 PM

Fantastic Post, Cassandra. With both of my children heading for a deployment (one to Afghanistan, one to Iraq) in the next two months, I'm getting the same "I'm sorry." Next time I hear it, I may just ask, "What for?" and explain that my children have chosen to serve this Country and her citizens, that I'm not sorry they've made the choice, and that I'm proud of them and their service even as I worry about their safety. Perhaps that will help explain why we shouldn't be sorry that there are those who stand between us and those that want to harm us.

Posted by: Lela at May 3, 2009 10:40 PM

And, for once, it is BILL who turns the conversation to sex and relationships...

Timing is everything.

Posted by: BillT at May 4, 2009 12:37 AM

Agreed. But "everything" is consistantly over-rated. Timing is what your heart beats

Posted by: spd rdr at May 4, 2009 04:22 AM

Timing is what keeps an M2 from double-feeding, but it isn't everything. There's setting headspace, too.

*smiling like unto a Hallmark card cherub*

Posted by: Cecil B. deBille, Lyricist at May 4, 2009 04:50 AM

I have no idea what the two of you are talking about...

And you like it that way, don't you? :p

Posted by: Cassandra at May 4, 2009 05:05 AM

*manfully restraining self from jumping headfirst on that line*

Posted by: BillT at May 4, 2009 05:41 AM


I'd be a great straight man if I weren't a womyn.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 4, 2009 09:28 AM

I have to admit, I don't miss the days of single parenting, but I also wouldn't trade what I learned for the world.

I got sort of a back-handed compliment a few years back from a SAHM whose life was steady, predictable and boring. I had just come back from a trip to Missouri, and had hauled our trailer, with all five CLUs to finish packing out the house after the movers got the furniture.

When I told my friend what I had done, she shuddered and said that she wouldn't even think of doing the things I did. Well...there ya go.
She wasn't in a position to ever have to worry about it.

Whether you are a civilian, or military spouse (still a civilian but an asset the military can't do without), you do have choices and you can do some extraordinary things to make life better; not just for yourself or your family, but for others as well. Walking that close to the edge of personal growth scares a lot of people because of fear.

Posted by: Cricket at May 4, 2009 10:00 AM

Good post, Cass:

I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for military wives. Most CAN and WILL do it all, depending on what's required and, to the shame of some of us foxhole whiners, without complaint!

I married an AF "brat" when I was a young AF captain. We just had our 25th anniversary recently (a day and a month after Ground Hog's day--how could I forget?--:p) Anyway, I was reminded yesterday about an incident at home when I was on a remote tour to Osan AB, ROK. Wifey and the three kids (2 in diapers at the time) got food poisoning after dinner at Grandma's (apparently from freezer burned hot dogs).

While I languished in loneliness, the spousal unit was sleepless in Tucson that night, having to deal not only with her own ride on the porcelain bus, but the sickness of each of the kids in turn (with bedding and diaper changes multiple times over). I think I'd rather just take on enemy fire.

The hardest thing I ever had to do in the military was re-integrate back into the family from my remote tour. CINC-domestic had a system to get EVERYTHING accomplished that needed to get done during my absence. I was a temporary impediment to that well-oiled system on my return. Obviously...we worked things out, but my admiration for my better half has never wanned. And there is great comfort, as a serviceman, just knowing that if something happens to you, the alter-ego has the strength and confidence to carry on.

Posted by: ziobuck at May 4, 2009 12:43 PM

Your wife sounds like a real treasure.

Reintegration is tough. I found it harder rather than easier as time passed. Not sure why. But nothing beats showing up at the airport or down at the battalion and catching that first sight of the person you've dreamed about for months.


Posted by: Cassandra at May 4, 2009 12:49 PM


Posted by: Cricket at May 4, 2009 01:05 PM

I'd be a great straight man if I weren't a womyn.

At least you wouldn't have to re-examine your views on gay marriage.

Posted by: BillT at May 4, 2009 02:06 PM

"At least you wouldn't have to re-examine your views on gay marriage."

Well, no. She'd be busy *examining* other things.


Posted by: DL Sly at May 4, 2009 02:39 PM

"The drama so ever-present in American pop-culture with reality shows and Perez Hilton is more alien to our inner world, because when you are always facing the ultimate drama of those uniforms at your door, you aren't exactly looking for new ways to create upheaval."

This was the line that resonated most when I read AFW's post, could be because I've had more drama than one person's plate should have to hold lately. But, still, that line puts into perspective a reality that fills those words to the point where it squeezes also into the in-between spaces.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 4, 2009 03:06 PM

Sly ~ so true. Maybe that's I tend to run, screaming and in the other direction - any time I catch a whiff of drama. It's a visceral reaction for me. I cannot tolerate it. The past 3 years have been filled with enough 'drama' to last a flipping lifetime.

And the ultimate drama that looms over every military spouse - and sometimes lands square in some spouses' laps - is enough to overshadow anything and everything that pop-culture can dish out.

But I do not rage against that which is my life. I wear it as a badge of honor. Like our BN commander's wife said once (with regard to those spouses that lament that they did not sign up for this): I may not have signed a contract with the Army but I *did* sign a marriage license...it IS my choice.

Posted by: Sly's Wardrobe Mistress at May 4, 2009 03:57 PM

Well, no. She'd be busy *examining* other things.

In order, 3, 9, 5, 9, 5, 9, 5...

Posted by: BillT at May 4, 2009 04:14 PM

Well, no. She'd be busy *examining* other things.

Huh. And here I had heard that, if you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all.

Posted by: Sly's Wardrobe Mistress at May 4, 2009 06:40 PM

Yeah, they're sorta like mountains, in that respect.

Posted by: Bill "K-2" T at May 4, 2009 07:05 PM

The last time I looked in on this thread, the talk was on bullet seating depth relative to the case of a .50 cal resulting in proper head-spaced on a ma-deuce. Now we're in the Himalayas?

Where the helk is the program guide, cause I can't keep up?!

Aw hail, fergit it, I may as well start drinkin'.

Posted by: The-Manchurian-bubba_hun at May 4, 2009 07:15 PM

Now we're in the Himalayas?

And here I was all ready to accuse him of booby blogging.


Posted by: Don't Harsh Me, Bro... at May 4, 2009 07:53 PM

"And here I was all ready to accuse him of booby blogging."
Phew! And to think, I almost fell into that trap.

Posted by: The-Manchurian-bubba_hun at May 4, 2009 08:11 PM

And here I was all ready to accuse him of booby blogging.

Not until we get the right proportion of iron filings mixed with the vanilla icing.

Posted by: Bill "K-2" T at May 5, 2009 04:07 AM