My Wife's War: Worry, Wait, and Guilt

Apr 22 2012 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops, Afghanistan

Yesterday was a worry day; today is a waiting day. If my luck holds, tomorrow will be a guilt day. This is the first of these sequences for this deployment. It’s unlikely that it will be the last.

It’s another beautiful day in Honolulu. Most of the 117 days since my wife got on the plane to go back to Kandahar have been beautiful. Most of the next 250 or so days will also be beautiful.

Thursday night was not a beautiful night in Afghanistan. It was, as Snoopy would type, a dark and stormy night. First reports suggest that this was likely a factor in the crash of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in Helmand Province. The helicopter was one of two that were on a CASEVAC mission. They were en route to an Afghan National Police checkpoint that had just suffered a suicide bombing that killed four police officers and wounded seven more. The first news reports indicated that survivors were considered “unlikely”. Later reports confirmed the deaths of the four American soldiers onboard.

The last time I had any contact with my wife was before the first reports of the crash. This is not unusual. Attempts are made to restrict communications between troops and families in the immediate aftermath of a fatal incident that involves the unit. The Army – understandably – wants to avoid accidental notification of the next of kin. And my wife’s job is such that she is almost undoubtedly busier than normal right now, and probably won’t have time to call or email for the next day or two.

Yesterday, I worried. I did not go to bed until after 10 pm. I was up at 6 this morning. By 9, I had moved from worrying to waiting.

The Army attempts to notify next of kin as rapidly as possible. Notifications are made in person, and unless absolutely necessary notifications are not made between 10 pm and 6 am. When nothing happened by 9, I knew it was almost certain that four other families had been visited by someone of equal or higher rank than the casualty, accompanied by a chaplain or a second soldier, in formal uniform, without alcohol on their breath, and familiar with the local emergency numbers in case of “adverse medical reaction”.

So now I wait. News reports have identified two of the four dead soldiers. The names of all four will probably be released in the next day or so. A memorial service will probably be scheduled for later this week at the airfield chapel.

Once the formal identifications are released, assuming my luck holds, I get to feel relieved and guilty for feeling relieved because someone else is suffering the pain I was hoping to avoid.

If it sounds like I’ve written this post before, it’s probably because I probably have. This is not my wife’s first deployment. It’s not the first time that I’ve waited out news of a helicopter going down. It’s not the first time that I’ve dealt with stress by writing about it. All that has probably come together before. I hope – but do not expect – that it will not happen again.

I have not gotten used to any of this, but none of it’s new. It’s part of my normal life. Statistically, there is something like a 99% chance it’s not part of your normality.

We’ve been at war for over a decade. We’ve been sending the same people to fight that war, over and over again, while the rest of the country worries about whatever it is that people choose to worry about when they have no real ties to the war that the military - their military - is fighting.

Afghanistan is not one of the daily concerns of most Americans. I think most people like it that way. When someone asks me what my wife does, I say she’s an Army doctor. When they ask me where she’s stationed, I say Kandahar. Then there’s an awkward pause. And they talk about the weather.

I have not served one day in the military, but I stopped thinking of myself as a civilian a long time ago. My experiences have become so disconnected from the understanding of most Americans that it's hard to consider myself to be part of that broad civilian group when military matters are concerned. I can't even watch MASH the way I used to. Now I spend half the show wondering how Mildred Pottter, Peg Hunnicut, and Radar's Uncle Ed are doing.

There are lots of magnetic ribbons stuck to cars declaring the love the American public has for the military, and the support they offer. But one of the local bases loses its library two weeks ago, one of the arts and crafts centers closed, and the gyms and pools had their hours cut. Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs - which I consider to be a mental health resource - took yet another budget hit.

I am the spouse of an American soldier. Because I am the spouse of an American soldier, I feel alienated from the life that most Americans lead.

There is something very wrong with that.

9 responses so far

  • Dr24Hours says:

    My family has gotten that visit. My uncle opened the door to those marines on his doorstep. I can't imagine what it was like, or what it's like for you now. But I know that I wouldn't judge you for being relieved for not getting those callers.

    May your wife come home soon, and safe, and whole.

  • Joan says:

    My husband was in the Air Force. I can understand your feelings. Once and this was long ago...I was about to go to bed, my husband was flying that night, it was raining and I heard and felt a big bump...and soon thereafter the news said an airplane had crashed off the end of the runway. So instead of going to bed, I vacumned the living room among other things as the news people kept giving reports of survivors or not...and about an hour later I got a phone call that the airplane was not from our base so I knew it was not my husband....but some one else. My husband flew combat missions in two wars...they offered to let him stay in for a third but he declined.

    May your wife be safe.

  • Isabel says:

    My nephew is there now. And yes, I get similar reactions when I mention his situation.

    I especially understand your concerns about the cutting of programs that are so important to mental health.

  • gerty-z says:

    I can't imagine how hard it must be to have your wife serving in Afghanistan, or the pain of waiting for that knock on the door. The way that the US has asked soldiers to go on repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan is a shame and should weigh on the conscious of every American. As a society we need to decide if we want to be involved in these wars. If so, then we need to fucking pay for them and make sure the people (and their families) that are fighting for us have every tool and resource they need before, during, and after they are deployed. Even so, we can't expect the soldiers to serve 4 OR MORE tours. The politicians know that there would be no support for this war if they instituted a draft. If we don't want to pay for it, with money and our own children, then we need to bring our troops home. I don't think that what we are paying is worth it, but I really do appreciate all the men and women that serve on my behalf. I'm embarrassed that we aren't doing a better job to take care of them.

  • kim sprague says:

    First I would like to thank your wife for serving and many thanks to you, too. My husband served 14 years, Navy and National Guard. His time was up the same month as 9-11. I know it was hard for him to walk away, but as a family it was what we decided, talk about guilt! I have such respect and love for our soldiers. We are in the process right now of trying to stop a traveling musuem from visiting our childrens school, an "Enriching Lesson on Afghanistan's Culture"... What a slap in the face to our soldiers and their families. What could they possible teach our children about this country that hates Americans, Christians and Jews? We have tried for three weeks to get a copy of the lesson plan with no success! My husband and I will not give up, there is nothing positive about Afghanistan and their culture.
    God's peace stay with you always.

  • mikedunford says:

    @Kim Sprague

    If you are looking for support, you are looking in the wrong place. As a member of the immediate family of a serving soldier on her third deployment, I think I'm fairly well equipped to judge what's a slap in the face of soldiers and their families. As far as I'm concerned, your opposition is far more of a slap than the traveling museum.

    We have been in a war in Afghanistan for 10 years. Their country has had a large effect on ours. Our children should be learning about Afghanistan.

    I've also been around a lot of people who have spent time working with the people of Afghanistan - including my wife. Every one of them has had good things to say about portions of their culture, particularly their resilience and hospitality. I value their informed opinions over the view you have apparently derived through the determined application of willful ignorance.

    Do me a favor -
    This is America, and you absolutely have the right to express your small-minded and bigoted views to your heart's content. I would certainly not presume to stand in your way. But when you do, don't do it on behalf of soldiers and their families, because I can assure you that you do not speak for all of them.

  • Frank Bolivar says:

    Mike: I agree with your sentiments... all of them.

    If we're ever going to be without war and conflict on this planet (not likely but just saying) people need to not have a fear of br0adening their horizons, of venturing beyond their own "safe" little world, and be willing... no, eager, to expand their knowledge base.

    Indeed, children (such as Kim's and others) need to learn of world affairs and learn of other cultures and, if possible, experience those cultures firsthand.

    Going through life ignorant and fearful is no way to live nor a way to rear your children to live.

  • c Gray says:

    Mike, well said. Thank you, and I'm sorry and more thankful than sorry. I'm glad you're so awesome with words. I'm thankful for your prosaic gift to deliver such a bitter thought so effectively. I'm deeply sorry that it is not fiction.

    ...and well replied to the bigoted statement above.

    Cheers, I trust the best for you and yours.


  • Somerset says:

    Hi Mike,

    I came here because of your TFB posting, and thought maybe I'd throw in my 2 cents about the importance of understanding cultures beyond ones own.

    But instead I find myself commenting on your original blog post. I don't think most of us from TFB have put ourselves too deeply into your shoes when you talk about your wife's deployment, and this posting really opened my eyes. Thanks for expressing your thoughts, emotions, and concerns. Like your MASH analogy, I don't think I'll read your postings quite the same way I have in the past.