February 03, 2011
By Jacey Eckhart
Sometimes I think I ought to be wearing a blue gingham dress and sparkly red shoes. Between Michelle Obama's appearance on Oprah and the President's new initiative on military families, I feel like the Wizard has been dragged from behind the curtain and forced to pull the good stuff out of his bag. There are initiatives for military mental health, homeless veterans, suicide prevention, predatory lending, day care centers, education initiatives….
So why do I suddenly feel like Dorothy clutching her dog at the end of The Wizard of Oz? I’ve got this wistful little look on my face. I am so happy for families of those who have served in serious combat who have a better chance now of getting what they need—they are so deserving.
And yet…I know there is nothing in that black bag for me. I am one of those hundreds of thousands of military spouses who click along the yellow brick road just passing for normal. My problems aren’t dramatic enough to deserve government attention. Granted, I am carrying the 50lb. pack of loneliness around during deployment. I am patting and soothing my children while they profoundly miss their father. But still I know that nothing in the Wizards $8.8 billion sack of family programs for housing and medical care and mental health care and daycare centers that is going to soothe that kind of personal, low-grade, habitual ache. Nothing in that package is aimed at reducing the number of deployments our service members must take on. Nothing in that package reduces the number of moves families must undergo.
I try not to think about that. I try to focus on the moms of those elementary school kids who need behavioral health care because their dads are in a combat zone. Things are hard at that house. I think of that young wife I met in San Antonio who submitted 80 applications before she got a job interview. Not a job. Just an interview. Most of all I try to focus on the idea that Oz never did give nothin’ to the Tin Man, that the Tin Man didn’t already have. Why? Because I am a Dorothy, dammit. Eventually, if I am in military Oz long enough, I am going to learn that I do have the power to get what I want most. Do you?
Do you have a heart?
One of the things that powers military families is the love they have for one person in uniform. Granted, Tom Brokaw is worried that only one percent of the people in this country carry 100% of the burden of war. But my husband doesn’t ever think of his service as a burden. To him, it is his calling. He loves being out on a ship with all those chiefs and sailors and Marines hoping to get a chance to sweep in and rescue somebody. Having a heart is all about loving the best things in your partner even if lots of those things are in military clothing.
Do you have a brain?
Military life takes brains. Sure, there are a bunch of programs out there. And they are difficult to find if you don’t know who to ask or what name you should Google online. So do yourself a favor right now while all these people are so focused on “harnessing” these programs. Print out a copy of Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment
. Pour a glass of wine. Jump in the tub. Underline everything in the 24 pages that might someday possibly apply to you. Trust me, the square root of an isosceles triangle is never mentioned.
Do you have the nerve?
The trend in deployments is that they will be coming quicker and completed by fewer people. That ain’t no joke. It takes more than love to get through this. You and your service member have to develop some courage—the kind that is bought with trust and faith and commitment on both sides. If you don’t have that, reach out for it. If the marriage programs offered by your service are a joke, say so. This is too important to brush aside.
Finally, are you the home?
Military spouses are asked to be home base for an entire family. Without benefit of geography or extended family or longtime friends, spouses are expected to hold a firm center for their service member, their children (if they have any), for themselves. We are asked to be a Support Group of One. There is no program to make you that person. There is no aid to get you through another long Sunday afternoon. Instead, we Dorothys are standing on our own two feet, in our sparkly red shoes, making ourselves believe and believe and believe.
Jacey Eckhart is a military life consultant in Washington, DC. She is the author of "The Homefront Club" and the voice behind the award-winning CD "These Boots." Facebook Jacey or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.