This is an old post I wrote up awhile ago. Figured it could use reposting here.
(Pre-warning: This is from my personal, navy wife point of view. It's a little insight to my thoughts and feelings on the Navy and military. It's also a look at how life is behind the scenes in a military family. Spoilers to the movie "We were Soldiers" are also in here, so if you haven't seen the movie, please be warned. Thanks. )
I’m sitting here watching “We Were Soldiers,” and it has inspired me to write this. I’m not even completely done with the movie yet, so I’m typing this on my laptop to post later. It’s an hour into the movie, and I could see within the first thirty minutes why Ryan didn’t want me to watch this while he was underway. In my opinion this captures the thoughts and feelings of military life well. It also shows the wives point of view, which is rare for a military movie. I was in tears when it showed Mel Gibson’s character leaving for deployment. The way the wife took it was how I took Ryan’s deployments. The wanting one last hug, kiss, moment to say I love you, moment to smell their after shave, moment to have anything with them. I also know that the moment they live, you feel as if your world has fallen apart, and you also remember everything you had been meaning to tell them lately. But, that’s life when you are married to the military. Sleepless nights, and sacrifices. There is truth to the saying that military wives are the toughest jobs in the armed forces.
Many of you know that I’m married to Ryan, a Trident Submarine sailor in the United States Navy. Now, for those of you that do not know what exactly that means, I shall explain. Tridents are also known as boomers. Think Hunt for Red October Sub type sub. When Ryan is on sea duty, he goes out to sea for 3 months, and is in port for 4. One month of that 4 is spent in what is called refit. During this period his crew has control of the ship and is repairing it to go back out to sea. Refit is hell. It is made and structured to get the guys ready for sea. Ryan sleeps more at sea than he does in port during refit. Refit also prepares the wives and families. Sailors have duty, long hours, and hellish days. Near the end of refit you are ready for them to go to sea, and they are ready to go to sea. The day they leave is one of the hardest days.
The alarm always goes off at the crack of dawn, and it will always seems so much earlier than you expected. They get up and put on their uniform. They grabbed the sea bag that’s been packed for a few days just in case they got the call early. There is no good bye, just a see you later. Love you’s are exchanged, kisses, and hugs. You hold on to them, hoping that it’s not true. Hoping that something will delay the deployment, or that it might canceled, but in the back of your mind you know better. You promise to write and to think of each other always. You have made them a package for halfway, and you pray they come home safe. Even with Ryan’s job, I always worry that I will get that call. That call that something happened to the boat (By boat, I mean submarine). That call that means I have to burry my husband. That call every military wife dreads, and hopes she will never get.
A part of “We were Soldiers” touches on that part. The wives getting the telegram saying that the one thing that they dreaded the most in this world is true: Their husband is dead, Their world is forever changed. The Colonel’s wife gets a knock on her door from the cab company that is delivering telegrams. Her heart suddenly just knows, something that has happened to her husband. She answered the door to only find out they need help finding an address. She goes nuts, and when she calms down, tells the cab company to bring all future telegrams to her. She takes the duty of informing the wives upon herself. She goes to pass out one telegram, only to return home to an entire stack. The price of war hits home with the simple image of a stack of yellow western union telegrams.
One of the soldiers that dies, says one last thing before he dies, “At least I got to die for my country.” As much as everyone hates war, even the guys fighting in it, they signed up to define the freedom we love. Freedom does not, nor will it ever, come free. There is a price to pay. There is a quote Ryan tells me a lot: “The tree of freedom sometimes has to be replenished with the blood of patriots.” When the men and women of the military signed the paperwork and said their oath, they knew what might happen. They knew that they might get that call that they had to report to duty. Another thing that displays this ideal well is Toby Keith’s song, and the respective video, for “American Soldier.” With this as a possibility, why marry a military guy or why join up?
Ryan and I had known each other on and off for three years before we really started talking. This week actually makes two years since we started getting closer and started dating. That’s also when Ryan explained to me in as much detail as he could what he does for a living. He made sure I knew what I was getting myself into, but all the preparing in the world doesn’t prepare you for the roller coaster of emotions. I’m very proud of my husband, and what he does for a living. Yes, I will admit, there are days I wished we lived a normal life. When Ryan would work 9 to 5, weekends off, and every holiday. But, that isn’t the case. Weekends off are never a guarantee, neither are holidays, even if you are in port or on shore duty. And never plan on a set schedule. Sometimes Ryan’s home at 9 in the morning when he went to work at 7:30, and then there are duty days when he is gone 24 hours plus. As Ryan always tells me “Be fluid, because flexible is far too rigid.” Such is life in the military.
I know most guys go to sea, on deployment, to war for one purpose, to make sure we at home are safe and will stay safe. They take memories with them, and think about us when they can. Most wives know some about what their husband’s jobs entail. Some husband’s can’t tell their wives everything. Ryan has one such job being a missile technician. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been asked: “Do you wish you knew all that Ryan knows, but can’t tell you?” There is no way I would want to know. I worry enough already. I would worry so much more knowing what Ryan can’t tell me, especially when I know he wishes he didn’t know. I hope to God that Ryan never gets the call to do his job.
I can tell you one of the scariest times during a patrol. Ryan and I had been dating a few months, and we got engaged before he left for sea. That Christmas before he left he gave me a necklace that said “I belong to a Sailor,” and a pair of wives dolphins. (I’ll explain the signifance of the dolphins in a little.) I wore those every day of patrol. Clung to them during the roughest times, kissed them in hopes that Ryan would feel the kiss. It was that patrol that we fired the first shots on Iraq in the latest offensive there. This was in beginning of 2003, I’m guessing around March. I remember the moment I heard the news. I body started shaking uncontrollably, and tears just streamed from my face. I was terrified that Ryan’s boat was one of the one’s shooting. It took a fellow sailor a couple of hours to calm me down. One thing that made it harder was that I was still back home, no where near the base Ryan called home. No where near any Navy that understood. It was that moment I decided never to watch the news again while Ryan was at sea. When they aren’t by your side, anything slightly related, hits very close to home.
Patrols and deployments also teach you to be rather strong. The same patrol as I described above, I had to have a third surgery on my ear. I couldn’t have Ryan by my side, nor could I email him and tell him, nor could I send him a family gram or letter about it. All communication to the sailors must be good news. The only way any bad news gets thru is via the Red Cross. Even then, it’s up to the Captain as to when it is passed on to the sailors. This also goes for good news, such as birth announcement. It might sound harsh or cruel, but it’s for the safety of the ship. All crew members and watch stations must be prepared for the worst. Here is an example of what I mean: The Captain received a death announcement. The step father, who was the only father this sailor had ever known, had passed away. Let’s say the announcement was received on a Monday. Captain knew that they would be pulling back into port on Sunday night. The sailor was not told until Sunday morning when the maneuvering watch (Watch that is stationed on the way into port.) was stationed. After hearing the news, that sailor stayed in the chief quarters, in tears, until they arrived in port. It’s the Captain’s duty to make sure that the sailor’s are always at their best. You couldn’t pay me to have a Captain’s job aboard any ship or duty station.
I will be the first to admit that there are wives that have it worse than me. A wife of anyone on a carrier, surface ship, or any guy on the front lines has my utmost respect. Then there are the mothers. Those who not only have to deal with their own sadness, but they must attempt to explain it all to children. I got a taste of this babysitting my friend’s daughter, Kyra, while Ryan was at sea. Kyra’s father is a sailor just like Ryan. This was my second patrol, and hardest because Ryan and I had been living together for months. We had also just been married. One day Kyra noticed my wive’s dolphins and my necklace. She ran her fingers over them and asked me “Ryan’s at sea?” It shocked me. That this two year old girl knew what those items meant. Items that not every wife wears when their husband’s are gone. Also when a nine year old ask their mother “Why can’t daddy just go to sea and come back when it is all done?” when their father comes into port 5 times in three months. Stress is great to everyone involved.
I do feel sorry for those guys that don’t have families to come home too. They come home to empty apartments, cold beds, and no warm meals. I’m friends with some of these guys. I try to help them, and let them know that atleast one person in this world cares that they are home in one piece. It might not be a lot, but it means the world to them. Ryan taught me that during our talks after the two patrols that we’ve been thru together.
The wives support means the world to the men. Wives dolphins are miniture versions of the dolphins submariners are issued when they pass their qualifications for submarine service. Every time Ryan is away from me for some reason for Navy business, I wear them. They always go on my left side, over my heart, the same place Ryan wears his. It might not seem like a huge act, but it means a lot. Just as much as me being on the pier when he pulls into port, or waiting at home if I can’t be on the pier. Just being there.
For those of you who have made it thru all of this, thank you for reading, and I’m sorry if I rambled. As much as sometimes I hate being married to military, I wouldn’t ask my husband to get out just because I wanted him too. I know what will come, and I accept that. I accepted it the day I said my vows, and even before that when I started dating Ryan. Also, if you know a single military personnel, check in on him from time to time. If you know they are going on deployment, get their contact information from then. Just a simple letter or email from home, means the world. Means so much that they carry letters from home in their pockets, share them with each other, and do anything to keep spirits up. Military life is never completely like the movies portray. If you want to know how it is, ask a military family member or serviceman, and then form your own decision. In closing, I will always be proud of what my husband does, and support him always, and always remember the comfort I feel when you hug then right as they step foot back on home soil. Such is the way of life when you are married to the military.