It’s hard to turn a blind eye to all of the conversational ruckus around Jessie Knadler’s piece on Babble, Preparing Myself (and My Family) for My Soldier’s Fourth Deployment. The title of the piece raises no red flags — it’s a pretty standard topic given the last 13 years of constant war.
What got the military spouse community talking was the use of the word “deployment” to describe a fairly routine one-year school assignment (read: one-year PCS or TDY).
I know, I know. I was shaking my head too.
Before you think I’m going to sacrifice Jessie on the pyre of military spouse judgement, I’m not. What I am going to do is highlight the fact that Jessie Knadler is a Reserve military spouse and many of us who jumped on the commenting and “how-dare-she” bandwagon didn’t stop and reflect on what the heck that means when it comes to understanding where she is coming from.
First, let’s get the whole hubbub about the word “deployment” out of the way. “Deployment” means two very different things depending on your military community.
For active duty families, a deployment means that the serving spouse is going somewhere in support of a mission in a not-so hospitable place. For a Reserve or National Guard family a deployment is what they call a family separation due to activation orders.
Yikes, right? Time to put down our pitchforks and torches.
It’s clear that Jessie knows what a “real” deployment looks like. Her serving spouse served a year and a half in Iraq and another year in Afghanistan.
Let’s cut her some slack. And while we’re on the topic of slack-cutting, I don’t blame Jessie for not moving for a year-long school. Why the hell would she PCS for just a year if she has a tight-knit well-established network? Yeah, it’s a choice. Her choice. It’s the choice I would’ve made if I were in her shoes. I’m living separated from my spouse for the next year thanks to a short-tour to South Korea, what of it? Besides, PCSing isn’t something that commonly occurs in the National Guard and Reserve communities.
In our military community as whole, the word “deployment” is pretty loaded. It evokes strong emotions and is often worn as a badge of endurance for service members and military families who are in a constant cycle of goodbye-and-hello with zero certainty that the women and men we send to war will come back to us as we sent them out.
I think we forget that our military community is made up of more than just our active duty forces. When the mission kicked off in Afghanistan, countless National Guard and Reserve service men and women were activated and sent ahead of many of our active duty troops. What began as a part-time commitment rapidly evolved into a full time gig. You know the story. Citizen soldiers leaving their civilian jobs to go defend Old Glory halfway around the world, living activation order to activation order only to see their civilian jobs slip through their fingers.
Our Reserve and National Guard families are truly citizen soldiers. Part-time warriors with full-time commitment.
We also have to remember that when many of our active duty spouses deploy, they often deploy as a unit which means you have peers who are experiencing the exact same thing that you’re experiencing at the exact same time. You’re tied into an instant community of understanding and support. Many Reserve and National Guard families don’t live anywhere near a military installation much less set foot on one. But there they are, standing strong, waiting for their loved one to (hopefully) return whole and home.
Could you imagine having to field questions from your civilian friends like “why doesn’t he just say ‘no’ and tell them he can’t go” and not having a gaggle of milspouse friends to vent to about the sheer stupidity of some people?
As a military spouse of an active duty service member, it is easy to forget that the military spouse experience is diverse. I know I’m guilty.
We must remember that our Reserve and National Guard military families do not experience military life in the same ways we do, but it doesn’t make their experiences any less valid or their sacrifices any less.
We must always remember that “Military life is hard, and it’s hard for pretty much all of us, but it’s hard in different ways.” After all, we are #OneForce.