Freelance journalist Alison Buckholtz grew up in a non-military family.
She never imagined she would fall in love with a member of the armed
forces. But she did, and since she married an active-duty U.S. Navy
pilot in 2001, their life together has often been a life apart - marked
by long separations, unforeseen challenges and unexpected rewards, as
Buckholtz had no idea who military wives were and what their lives were like until she became one of them.
shares that experience in Standing By: The Making of an American
Military Family in a Time of War. In her memoir, she writes of one
ritual that all military families share: seeing their loved ones off on
"Of course, that's a terrible time," she says.
"It's sad for everybody. You go home to an empty house. You know, it
takes a while to shake off that kind of depression and the weight of
that experience. Lots of parents have to deal with questions from their
kids about, 'When is Mommy coming home? When is Daddy coming home? Why
did they have to leave us again?'"
Spouses hold families together
Buckholtz says, are especially hard on young children. Her 6-year-old
son, Ethan, and 4-year-old daughter, Esther, began having a lot of
emotional ups and downs after their father left for a tour in the
"I had never heard about the problems that the
children of the deployed service members face," she says. "It was all
new to me. So I started reading up quite a bit on deployment-related
distress in children and what you can do for the children of service
members. I grew to have great sympathy and empathy for these kids, who,
to me, are really the ultimate draftees."
that some of the military moms on the naval base where her family was
living invented creative ways to help their children deal with waiting
for their dad's homecoming.
"For example, they build a paper
chain at the beginning of the deployment," she says. "They do this with
their kids. It's a way of introducing their kids to the idea about the
length of deployment and the amount of time that Dad is going to be
gone. As each day goes by, the children remove a link in the chain, so
they can visually see that Daddy is coming home sooner and sooner and
sooner. And, of course, as the chain gets shorter, the child can get
Some families, she adds, do the same thing with Hershey Kisses [chocolate candies] in a giant jar.
count up the number of days that the husband is going to be gone. They
put that number of Hershey Kisses in there. Each morning, the child
wakes up. They take a Kiss from Daddy out of the jar, and then they can
see the number of Hershey Kisses going down. So, there are a lot of
different strategies. No one strategy has worked for us so far, really,
other than just looking at family pictures, reliving old memories with
Daddy and them."
For children and spouses, homecoming is a wonderful moment.
bond is strengthened upon the parents' return," she says. "You can see
the child running into the parent's arms. Of course, I spent a lot of
time worrying, 'What were things going to be like when my husband
returned? Was he going to be able to reintegrate into the family?' So
that moment of reunion between the kids and their father was when all
the worries melted away, because I saw the bond the kids had with their
father was certainly strengthened by the absence, and there was no
long-term damage to the relationship."
Learning to succeed in long-distance marriages
sometimes, there is damage to the relationship. A deployment can
severely test a marriage. Buckholtz says that's what she learned
through a class she and her husband took with other military couples.
of the things that the facilitator of that class told us was that if
you are a strong couple, it will strengthen what you already have," she
says. "And if there are problems in the relationship, you would be
destroyed by them. At that moment, everybody was quiet, and I think
everybody in the room that day was thinking about their own
relationship and which side they were going to end up on."
Standing By, Buckholtz tells the stories of other military wives and
how they feel about military life. For example, she talks about two of
her friends. She calls them Martina and Millie.
Martina, who grew up in a fairly urban community in northern
California, came to resent it quite a bit, especially because her
husband had been deployed for a year, and she discovered that her
husband had actually volunteered for his assignment," she says. "And
Millie comes across as an incredibly positive, enthusiastic person. She
has been married to her husband for 17 years. This is the only adult
life she knows."
But her friends helped her find her own path as a military wife.
know, in Martina's case, being brutally honest about her situation was
the only thing that got her through, because it kept her in touch with
her feelings," she says. "And in the case of my friend Millie, being
really positive and always looking on the bright side and always really
truly believing that her husband was doing something positive, both for
her family and country, was her way of getting through. So, I took both
of those examples to heart and did my best to structure something for
myself that would allow me to walk a middle ground in between those two
Buckholtz says although many military wives can
relate to such experiences, each has her own story. Through sharing
their experiences, they can learn from one another. And, Buckholtz
says, they can also educate civilians who - like her, before she became
a military wife - have little understanding of what it takes to stand
by America's armed forces.