An Army Wife's Life

Once upon a time I was a college student, then I was a teacher, and now I'm a mother. Technically, I'm currently a freelance writer... but really I am an ARMY WIFE. Expect to find... funny (at least to me) anecdotes, thoughts about la vida military, hopes, anxieties, dreams, commentaries on current events.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Deploy Fifteen Months, and What Do You Get?

"Deploy fifteen months and what do you get? An extra three months older and caught in a stoploss net...civilian jobs don't you call me 'cause I can't go, I sold my soul to the Army y'know..."

I haven't blogged yet about this for a couple of reasons.
  1. Theoretically DH is getting out before his unit deploys again, so I wanted to let others who are definitely directly affected speak first.
  2. I wanted to give it some thought, rather than just respond emotionally. Emotional responses are legitimate, and sometimes necessary; I just didn't want to record mine for posterity in this case.
  3. Baby Diva is having a nursing strike and so I have been lavishing extra attention on her.

Our Battalion FRG Advisor passed around some letters from the Generals, addressed to family members. Essentially, these letters said that they recognize that this is an added sacrifice the military must bear for the country...but this is necessary so suck it up and drive on. They did not literally say the last part, that is just me reading between the lines.

After letting this ferment in my mind for a few days, I thought I might share a couple of thoughts. These are MY responses--it is not meant to represent "the military viewpoint" or even "the spouse's point of view" and not necessarily my husband's or my friends' viewpoints...just mine and mine alone...I can't even promise it will still be my view next week. Hopefully others will leave some of their own thoughts in the comment section.

What's up with this "family stability" language?

One of the phrases that seems to be a flash point for a lot of anger is the idea that this will create a greater level of stability for the families. The articles and letters expand on this a little, explaining that a 15 month deployment is the only way at this point to make sure each unit is home for a year before deploying again.

The letters also acknowledge that this is a poor version of the stability some units were initially promised.

DH is in a "unit of action." This was supposed to mean that he would be with the unit three years. During that year, the unit would train for a year, deploy for a year, and then reset for a year. After that, the whole cycle would start again.

So, let's look at how that worked out. Train for a year, check. Deploy for a year, check.

Then we found out most of the unit is moving to another post. Soldiers in our Brigade were given a "choice": stay at Ft. Hood and join 1st Cav, not deploying until the next time they deploy; go to Ft. Carson with the rest of the 4th ID; go "needs" of the Army and try to work out follow-on assignment. Soldiers and families agonized over the decision and, in the end, for most of them it did not matter. People weren't released for follow-on assignments and now the unit is deploying about a year earlier than originally planned.

So, what they are telling us is that although it is not what we were promised, 12 months at home is better than less than 12 months and we can only get those 12 months with 15 month deployments.

So, at least you'll get 12 months with your soldier at home?

Yes, Sorta, No, Not Really...

Perhaps I am being naive, but I do believe they have good intentions of making this happen.

However, that 12 months refers to the unit. What if a soldier moves from a unit that just returned to a unit about to deploy? That happens. A lot.

Also, one thing the civilian world probably does not realize: the high "op tempo" (operation tempo) also affects life in garrison (while the active duty troops are in the states). What this means is that during a gear-up to deployment, the unit spends more time in the field and more late nigths at work. My husband frequently works the similar hours to when he worked at a large NYC law firm and that is not even counting field time.

Basically a unit will be preparing to deploy or deployed...there will be no real "downtime" during which the family can count on having the soldier around and available.

How is this different than all of the extensions that were happening before?

In some ways, it isn't. When DH deployed at the end of 2005, we were told to expect 12-15 months. We ended up with 12, but it could have easily ended up the other way. Then there are those units that expected 12 months and ended up with extensions.

In some ways, it is better to know in advance.

However, the difference is that before the deployments greater than 12 months were either mission-specific or were based on evolving realities "on the ground." The fact that we are moving to 15 month deployments as a matter of policy means that 15 months is the default, not the exception.

Psychologically, there seems to be a barrier at around a year...I can handle almost anything for about a year, beyond that, it starts to feel more like a permanent situation.

Also, if 15 months is baseline, how do we know there won't be extensions to 18 months?

But it is only three more bad could that be? If you can do 12, you can do three, right?

For those with families, 15 months increases the chance that instead of missing just one Christmas, one anniversary, one birthday, etc., you'll miss two of at least one of these.

For those with small children, three months is an eternity of milestones.

For all soldiers, it is still more than they bargained for.

And it may not even literally be just three months. Take for example, a person who was about to leave the military. He was going to leave in, oh, say, August. His unit is deploying in November, so, he is stop-lossed (he can't leave because his unit is deploying within 90 days). Then, he has the 15 month deployment. Then, he can't leave for another 90 days after they get back. So, now we are up to an extra 21 months in the military.

Is this necessary?

Short answer: I don't know. I'm not a military strategist. There are mission-related reasons for this extension to fifteen months. They say we need a troop surge and, even if the military increased recruiting or even if we had a draft, the only way to get more troops there right now is to send them more frequently or to send them for longer periods of time.

In terms of costs and logistics, obviously it is easier to send one unit for a longer period, rather than to send two units for shorter periods.

Also, a higher proportion of casualties seem to occur the first couple of weeks and the last couple of weeks of a deployment. The first can be explained, in part, by a unit getting used to the mission, the terrain, and the people it encounters. Regardless of why, longer deployments would minimize the exposure to those risky time periods, as opposed to shorter, but more frequent, deployments.

I seriously hope it is, because it is risky. I think ultimately this is going to affect mission-readiness. Fewer families are going to want to continue this lifestyle, resulting in fewer soldiers re-upping. Ultimately, this is going to spread the military thinner and thinner.

The fifteen month deployment is a band-aid that may hurt retention and recruitment down the line. If it doesn't work, then we gambled future readiness on a losing bet.

What is becoming clearer is that the United States cannot fight in a larger conflict without greater sacrifice from a wider segment of its population.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

UPDATED: The Movers Lost Your Comments

UPDATE: I got Haloscan reinstalled so now all of your great comments are back! Thank you for bearing with me!!!

As you may have noticed, I have changed color scheme here...

I finally gave in and switched to Blogger Beta. I plan to overhaul the look of the site beyond switching colors, too.

As we MilSpouses know, the movers always lose or damage something

Fortunately my posts survived the move.

Unfortunately, all of your awesome comments did not.

They are still on Haloscan, just not showing up on the posts.

I will look into whether or not HaloScan can put them back on the posts (notice the recent comment widget still shows some of the most recent comments).

If anyone knows how to get them back on the posts, I would be very appreciative.


Sunday, April 08, 2007


This past week I was at the clinic for my eye exam.

A young soldier (although they all look so young...must be that P.T.) was on line in front of me, trying to clear post.

I was trying not to listen, but the conversation was getting a little loud. The receptionist was looking at him with a combination of frustration, apathy, and a tiny bit of malicious glee that I have only ever seen on a bureaucrat. *

He was trying to retrieve his wife's records and it went something like this:

R: You need to have form 33RGobbledeeGookDeltaR filled out.

S: That was not in my out processing packet.

R: Well, is for a spouse's records.

S: So should my wife have received it?

R: No, only soldiers receive out processing packets.

S: So how would we have known about it?

R: About what?

S: The form.

R: What form?

S: The form I need to get records.

R: You do not need a form to get records.

S: So can I get my wife's records?

R: No, you need 33RGobbledeeGookDeltaR.

S: Can I get the form?

R: No, you don't need a form.

S: Can my wife get the records?

R: No.

S: Why not?

R: They are in the system.

S: Where are my records?

R: In the system.

S: The same system that has mine?

R: Yes.

S: So why can't I get hers?

R: They are in the system, so there is a form.

And so on...for about five or so minutes. This was one of those times when I wish I had a pen and pad to record this conversation. It was truly a work of art and my memory does not do it justice.

The poor soul wandered off, without his prize, looking dismayed and confused.

I went to the window and the receptionist seemed determined to continue the fight: "Not my fault...I just work here...there's a form."

I just mumbled something noncommittal, "Hmmm...yeah...I have a 1pm appointment; here's my ID..." Thankfully no form was required.

All I can say is that I just cannot wait until it is our turn to try to clear this post. I will remember to bring pad and pen along.

* If you are a bureaucrat, I am sure you are a caring, compassionate, overworked soul. I do not mean you. Obviously.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

It's Snowing!

It's Central April!!!

Just thought I would share.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Projects

We've been busy beavers over here at the Field Artillery Household.

DH had an article published in Parameters (YAY DH!) and he just finished another article to submit for consideration to another military journal.

I've been writing...and avoiding writing by starting two new blogs:

Mamanista: Fabulously Chic, Irresistibly Practical (Product Reviews)
Please comment and shop our cool affiliates so I can spend more time blogging so I can get more affiliates so I can spend more time blogging.

Mama Saga: One Mother's Journey (A "Mommy Blog"...shudder)
Please leave me comments so it looks like I have cyber friends (no one need know the truth) ;-)

And Baby Diva? She's cutting a THIRD TOOTH and mastering peekaboo.

So, I will still be blogging here and at SpouseBuzz until I run out of military-related stories to tell, but I would really love it if you would come over to my new ventures and read, bookmark, and blogroll those, too!

Never Say Goodbye

Bear with me, I am about to ramble...some navel-gazing philosophizing of the worst sort, I suspect.

If you had asked me fifteen years ago whether I would marry a man who would eventually join the service, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. (Molly fancied herself a bit of an anti-authoritarian rebel back in the day)

My life is completely different from the way I imagined it back in high school, and yet I wouldn't trade it. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the other one, that person who took a different path, out of the corner of my eye. There's a glint of sunlight, the smell of damp earth, the heat rising off the pavement and she's there. Just a flicker and she's gone...

She's usually heading wherever the wind blows, or some other cliche straight out of a novel written well before her time, most likely while the author was under the influence of some psychoactive drug that may or may not have yet been illegal at the moment in history.

Times change, however, and here I am.

Never say never.

And never say goodbye. Everything we ever were or ever dreamed of comes along for the ride.

This is a long way of announcing that DH's REFRAD packet (Release from Active Duty) has been approved.

Don't drop me from your bookmarks and blogrolls, yet, though--please!

There is still clearing post, final PCS, and readjustment to civilian life fun to be had. And let's not even talk about the fact that DH can still be called up until he has finished out his IRR commitment and resigned his commission!

Barring any monkey business, though, we will be on our way back to New York this summer.

In some ways, however, I don't feel like we ever left. Sure, I threw myself into the whole Army Wife with abandon. I read the books, cried the tears, celebrated the joys, blogged the life, bought the t-shirt...

If DH had decided to make this his career, I would have supported him 100%. There are certainly some aspects of being a MilSpouse that I will miss.

In general we are a tight, supportive group.

Both the official policy and the zeitgeist are very pro-family, even if the job requirements aren't always conducive to stability.

There is always something meaningful that can be done...for the husband, the families, the unit. You know, for God and Country and all that.

I can't say I would view the prospect of another imminent deployment with great relish...but if I had to do it, I could do it, and I would do it.

Still, somewhere in the back of my mind, I suspected this was all temporary. My "real life" was waiting for me back in New York.

Except, my life has undergone so many transformations, I am not even sure what that means anymore, beyond that it involves DH and Lilah. We aren't even moving back to one of the counties where DH and I grew up...he's accepted an offer to be an Assistant District Attorney in a county a little further out from the city. Certainly much closer to family than we've been in a long while, but not we were in the neighborhood so we thought we'd drop by close.

I guess where I am going with this, if I am going anywhere at all, is that either it is all my "real life" or none of it is.

I suppose someday there will be the smell of fresh paint, or the thudding approach of a helicopter, or the unfurling of a flag, and I will spot her--drying tears and hugging someone she barely knows, hosting social gatherings and meetings, and trying to hold it together so the younger ones will take strength from her example. And she'll look proud, and perhaps a little weary, foundation caked from when she hastily re-applied her happy face. Then, a deep cannon-like boom, and she'll vanish.

Some days I feel like I trail these other me's behind me, like ghosts.

On other days, I realize that all of my experiences have brought me to this moment. Whatever other paths I may not have chosen, everything I ever have or will done travels along with me on this one...not behind me, or beside me, but in everything I am.

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