What’s life like when you spouse is deployed with the military, fighting in a country thousands of miles away? How do you navigate every day life when you’re not sure of your partner’s health or safety? Alysse shares her and her husband’s story.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Alysse and I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and escaped to the east coast right after high school. I graduated from Smith College in 2007 with a degree in Art History.
Now, I’m 27 years old and I reside in Colorado. I work at a local university as an admin assistant, but my real passion is poetry! I plan on beginning an MFA program next year, and would like to eventually teach or run a small business with my husband.
How did you meet your husband?
Austin and I met at a rock climbing and canoeing camp in northern Wisconsin. This was in 2000 – we were very young! We liked each other instantly and decided to stay in touch, even though we were far apart.
It was largely through letters that our relationship developed. We were always long distance, from 2 hours away to halfway across the world! We only lived together for one summer after we were married in 2005, and then we lived apart again until we moved to Colorado in 2007.
Why did he decide to enlist? How did you feel about his decision?
After a series of unfortunate events, my husband was left with very few options to pursue pertaining to college or employment. Both his grandfather and father served in the Army, and he felt that it was an appropriate option for him. It was not entirely his decision, however: if I had said no, he wouldn’t have joined.
At the time, we were still very young, and even though it was post-9/11 I was naïve about where the Army might take him. Overall, though, it was a good experience. The Army gave us financial stability, allowed my husband to see the world, and provided him with the GI-Bill.
When (and where) did your husband deploy to?
Austin was deployed the entire year of 2006. He was stationed in Afghanistan, close to Kabul and to the border with Pakistan. My husband had a different experience than most deployed soldiers – he spent all of his free time at a carpet shop on base, learning to speak Dari and Farsi, and making friends with the locals.
He had some very negative experiences as well, of course, but he came to love the Afghan people and wants to return to Afghanistan and see his friends again someday.
How did you handle his absence? What did you two do to make sure your marriage stayed strong?
We were very lucky that my husband had frequent access to a computer with the Internet. We wrote each other lengthy emails, and he called as often as he could. Since our relationship began with letter writing, this worked well for us.
In fact, it strengthened our marriage, because we were able to communicate more fully through writing than through a choppy conversation on a communal phone.
Did you ever consider what would happen if he was injured or killed while he was deployed?
Every minute of every day! It was impossible for me to watch the news. Any time there was a report of violence in Afghanistan (which was, and still is, constant), I ran through scenarios in my head that left me totally destroyed.
If I didn’t get an email from him every few days, I would start to panic. There was no remedy for it – only when Austin called or emailed
could I return to normal.
Tell us about when he came back!
It was an incredible moment! My husband’s route home from Afghanistan went through Kuwait, Germany, and several other stops. The Army couldn’t give me the exact date or time of his arrival, so I stayed at a friend’s house close to Fort Drum in northern New York and waited, and waited, and waited!
After a week of biting my fingernails, I was notified that his unit was arriving. I was ushered into a huge facility with hundreds of other families. We waited on the bleachers for an hour, and finally the troops marched in. They were in uniform, so it was impossible to tell one person from the next!
There was a ceremony that I paid no attention to, and then they released us. The families in the bleachers burst into the block of soldiers. Everyone was yelling their loved one’s name and spinning in circles – it was absolute madness! After what seemed like an eternity, I finally fell into Austin’s arms.
Is your husband a career military man?
Thankfully, for my sanity, no! He reenlisted while deployed in order to relocate us to Colorado, where he was born. He served a total of 6 years in the Army and got out in 2009. He’s finishing college and has done some work for the SyFy Channel as an SFX costume and makeup designer, so he’s hoping to go into that field.
Wear there any resources (or coping mechanisms) that helped you deal with his deployment?
Since I wasn’t located on (or even near) an Army base during Austin’s deployment, I couldn’t use the resources the military offers to families. The best coping mechanisms for me were my amazing friends and family.
However, in all honesty, I never felt that I could truly open up to anyone about the distress and sadness I felt while Austin was deployed. The book of poems Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher, which is about miners, was my talisman. The families of the miners, and their experience of never-ending uncertainty and doom, resonated with me. Whenever I felt hopeless, I opened that book.
What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation?
Keep busy! Read a lot. Don’t watch the news. Most importantly, your marriage must have a strong foundation. Deployments are hard, but the return from a deployment can be even harder. All soldiers come back with some level of PTSD, and that can be an even more difficult trial.
Thanks so much for sharing, Alysse! Are any of you military spouses? Or in the military yourselves?