A few months ago, an old friend came to me with the news that her husband had recently enlisted in the Army. I wasn't sure what to say. "Congratulations" would have been an insincere sentiment, since Army life isn't something I would wish on anyone. Offering my condolences, while more honest, would have been wildly inappropriate and downright disrespectful. It wasn't that my friend was excited about this new path her life was taking, she was actually pretty terrified, but she was incredibly proud of her husband (as she should have been), and I didn't want to minimize his bravery or their family's sacrifice with my negativity. It's an amazing thing when a family makes the decision to enter into military life....but it's also a very, very scary thing.
So I did the only thing I knew to do. I told her I would be here for her every step of the way, for whatever she needed, even though we're over a thousand miles apart. In the months that followed, I offered encouragement, support, and as much information as I could. She came to me with questions about housing and BAH and duty stations and deployments. It surprised me, how much I knew, because in a lot of ways, I still don't consider myself a "real" Army wife. As far as basic training and what to expect...I was as much in the dark as she was. That's the one part of my husband's journey in the Army I completely missed out on.
One thing I didn't do was offer her false hope. When she expressed fear over the long separation during basic training, and the inevitable deployment in her husband's future, I never told her that things "would be fine", or that the time "would fly by" or that "it would be hard at first, but she'd get used to it". I heard those things too many times, and for me, they never rang true. I still haven't adjusted to Army life, and every day I spend without my husband is the longest, most excruciating day of my existence.
At the same time, I didn't want to put the fear of God in her or poison her opinion of life as an Army wife, either. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that every family's experience in the military is completely different. Whereas some love it, flourish in it, and even identify themselves by it, other families fall apart under the stress and pressure. For my family, Army life has been a constant struggle, and is a chapter in our lives I cannot wait to close the book on. But maybe it will be different for her...
Today, my friend's husband left for basic training. My heart hurts so much for her, the same way it will when and if they have to go through a deployment. It's a pain you can't understand unless you've lived it. And for me, watching her and her two little girls struggle with saying goodbye, it brings up all the raw emotion that I try so hard to bury every time the boys and I have to say goodbye to my husband.
I don't know what the future holds for this brand new military family, but I wish them nothing but the best. I like to think things will be easier for them than they've been for my family. For one thing, once basic training is over, my friend and her daughters will follow her husband to his duty station, wherever that may be. His job is more of a behind-the-scenes type of job, as opposed to my husband's position as an Infantryman on the front lines. But still....the Army is the Army. And deployments are deployments. And none of it is easy.
I have friends who are Army wives, but most of them have been doing this for far longer than I. At the very least, they've been doing this just as long as I have. We struggled through our first deployment together, and most of us are on pretty parallel paths. This is my first experience as a "veteran" Army wife, and it's a little strange for me. I never thought I would be the one offering up advice, encouragement, and experience to a new military spouse. But it's all part of the job, I suppose. We're a team. A family. And it's our duty to show the new members the ropes.