From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is out today on a mission. Meanwhile I found this series online in a blog written by Army Captain Richard Connaroe. He had asked his wife and some of her friends to come up with helpful tips for civilians who find themselves dealing with a military spouse during a deployment. The advice is very much on point and includes even a list of what never to say to a military wife during deployment. Thanks to Capt. Connaroe for the permission to republish a condensed version of the original material.
Occasionally, Soldiers are complimented for their service. While recognition never fails to bring a smile, there is a group of much stronger, much more deserving individuals: Army Wives or military spouses.
The hardships that a military spouse endures are hard to imagine even to Soldiers. To sacrifice a year or more apart from their husband or wife, often cases the father or mother of their children, and take on all household responsibilities is a thankless task.
Occupied with executing combat missions and reacting on muscle memory, Soldiers reflect on what he or she is missing back home only during downtime. Although the spouse carries on, her life is never as busy that she forgets her husband. And in this sense, her job is tougher than her Soldier’s.
Army Wives are left with the responsibility of maintaining a home, a yard, a career, children, cars, pets, and every task that their Soldier used to handle. On top of that, the military spouse must worry that her Soldier is in danger and have faith that God will provide.
Those not in the military atmosphere try to offer support and empathy. Often times, these well-intended attempts are not well thought out. The following is a collection of such thoughts that are intended with consideration but come across as inconsiderate or oblivious at best.
My Army Wife, Devon Connaroe, compiled this “Top Things Not To Say To The Spouse of a Deployed Soldier” from fellow Soldiers’ wives. The following list of lines from family and friends are memorable, because they are particularly discomforting. In fact, they drive her into a world if isolation, believing that no one understands.
Five Army Wives, whom my wife has befriended during our last five years in the military, contributed to the list: Robyn Mroszczyk, Melissa Salmon, Sheena Jorgensen, Erin Wackerhagen and Rasheedah Stewart. Many of these sayings were not exclusive to one individual, but heard by multiple women.
Often, people may attempt to empathize with the situation by saying one of the following:
“I know how you feel. My husband was away for nearly a week on business last month.” Although, well intended, a short business trip is NOTHING like experiencing the weight of a deployment, which can last from six to fifteen months.
“I know how you feel, I was a single mom.”
The wife does stay alone and care for things, but a single mom does not have to worry about a husband being in danger.
“I understand what you are going through, I watch the show Army Wives.”
The show Army Wives is not a reality show; it is a TV drama that is meant to mimic what writers believe to be true.
People may offer what they believe to be a compliment:
“I don’t know how you do it.”
“I couldn’t deal if my husband left that long.”
Hearing this is not a compliment. The wife does not have a choice to “deal,” and, often times, they don’t know how they get through either; they just do it because they honor and love their husband.
Some try to offer support and look on the bright side of things concerning the deployment.
“Well you only have 9 months left. The rest is easy now.”
Having a portion of the deployment completed does not make the rest of the separation easier.
If he is in Iraq, “At least he is not in Afghanistan.” OR
If he is in Afghanistan, “At least he is not in Iraq.”
Regardless of his location for the deployment, he is still in danger and still separated from his family.
Often times, military spouses are asked questions with obvious answers. Would you prefer if she answers with a non-obvious answer?
“Do you miss him?”
“Are you excited he is coming home?”
“Are you scared he will die?”
On the off chance that the spouse has taken her mind off these thoughts, you have now changed that.
Others carelessly encourage, “But he’ll be home for Christmas, right?”
Military personnel do not get to leave their assigned deployment for Holidays. They are granted only two weeks of vacation to leave and visit their family. Only a fraction of them can visit home at any given time, including holidays.
Believe it or not, those close to military spouses will at times grow tired of their friend’s sorrow, saying:
“You knew what you signed up for when you married a soldier.”
“You knew that he would be deployed.”
Military spouses do not marry the military; they marry the man or woman that they love who happens to be in the military. No one can ever describe to you what the weight of a deployment is like or “what you are signing up for”.
At times, some people end conversations by saying, “If you ever need anyone to help you with something around the house, give me call,” without leaving a phone number.
Typically, a wife is not going to reach out for help, especially when the offer is half-hearted.
Finally, some people just do not think before they talk.
“I am glad my husband isn’t in the military, because he could die.”
Believe it or not, people who aren’t in the military still die.
Throughout a deployment, the spouse of a Soldier endures a great sacrifice. A script on how to converse with the spouse of a deployed Soldier does not exist. The right things to say are not lines stored on a pocket-sized notebook, which can be pulled out in the necessary moment. Upon meeting an Army Wife, you should not feel as though it is necessary to try to relate to her. Although you may feel it is socially necessary to comment on the Soldier’s absence, there is really no need to do so at all.
Support, encouragement and graciousness are appreciated. However, there is a key to interacting with the spouse: sincerity.
Be yourself. Be genuine. If you don’t know what to say, silence is acceptable.
If you pray, comfort the spouse by sending your prayers to the soldier and his family.
If you are grateful for the sacrifice, thank the husband or wife for what they are doing for your freedom.
If you want to help, be specific in what you are willing to offer, such as mowing the lawn. Empty offers are typically all encompassing. If you aren’t willing to rake leaves or bathe the dog, don’t say, “If you ever need anything, let me know.”
Be a friend. Show the spouse that you care about who she is, without defining her by the deployment.
In the end, it is the honesty and sincerity that means the most.