Saturday, April 19, 2008

Christie Blatchford writes about military spouses...

...and introduces the blog of a soldier's wife:
One of the small things the departing Chief of Defence Staff, Rick Hillier, did so well was to bring into the national consciousness the notion of the military family.

As often as he mentioned the "sons and daughters" of the Canadian Forces, so was that inevitably followed by a nod to the "mothers and fathers" - and he did it again in his press conference this week when his leave-taking in July became official...

Wives - and they are mostly wives still, with a smattering of husbands thrown in - are usually seen and not heard (a stoic posture encouraged and approved by the military bureaucracy), and seen only in a few ways, too - either weeping and clutching the deploying soldier, or weeping and clutching him when he returns safe and sound, or God forbid, standing in the ruins of grief at Canadian Forces Base Trenton when his body is brought home.

I've been to Kandahar four times - and am now trying to summon up the guts and will to go a fifth time [I hope you go, Christie], weighing whether I can stand being away from my dog again, not to mention miss another Canadian summer - and feel reasonably confident that I understand the troops. Even their folks, come to that.

But the wives are something else again. I've met and interviewed a fair number, come to know a couple reasonably well, seen many more. I know only enough to know I don't know much.

I know that the best of them are enormously independent and resilient young women, able to hold the home front together and function as single parents (for it isn't just overseas deployments they deal with, but long months of workup training beforehand, and various courses when the soldiers get back) much of the time while not begrudging the other all that freedom, deal with the car and the fridge on the fritz and the in-laws and crabby kids with little resentment - oh yes, and to remember to complain only infrequently about any of it...

That brings me in a roundabout way to the new blog that starts on today.

Called Front-line Army Wife [more here], it is written by the wife of a front-line soldier now on his second deployment to Kandahar. She treats her blog, as do so many of her generation, as a diary, and my brief scan of her early postings suggests that it's a real old-fashioned diary, too. She writes to her husband as nakedly as any traditional diarist, laying bare her heart, her fears (dread at the sight of any unfamiliar vehicle in the driveway, lest it be the army bearing bad news) and occasionally her anger - at herself for her failure to "soldier up" properly or at politicians' or the public's inability to understand aspects of the mission.

I remember how startled I was once, back in 2006 when I first began writing about soldiers, to realize that the twentysomethings of the military all had had the serious conversations most civilians can safely leave until middle age and beyond. They had wills. They had made funeral arrangements. They had spoken of what they would want for their children, and wives, if the worst happened. Some had "in-the-event-of" letters, to be opened only if they didn't come home.

In her goodbye letter to her man, our blogger wrote, "You have such a high sense of duty that sometimes I wish your duty to self and country would take a back seat to your family, but then again if that were the case, you wouldn't be who you are today or the man that I love so dearly." She envies him his sense of purpose even as she brings the same thing to the raising of their children.

When he came back from his first Kandahar tour, she made him swear he wouldn't go back. But as people asked him about it, and he replied so carefully, "No, I am going to stay home with my family now and have family time," his eyes were pleading with her. So she relented and now, two years later, he is there again, and she is here, proud of him but still alone, trying not to hate it, him, herself.

Stay tuned.


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