In her memoir, “No Man’s War: Irreverent Confessions of an Infantry Wife,” Army wife and military brat Angela Ricketts writes with candid transparency about military life. The book, which is based on personal journals that Ricketts kept during her husband’s eight deployments, takes the reader inside Ricketts’ head when she was a solo parent, when she was avoiding her husband after his homecomings and when her mind shifted to an emotionless black soul. Ricketts also reminds us what Army infantry life for spouses looked like before social media. In some ways, “No Man’s War” documents that ever-changing culture of military life and is a reminder that what was normal for the military in Somalia in 1992 is not normal for today’s military and won’t be the norm in 2024.
The book is filled with familiar anecdotes and archetypes (dramatic neighbor, smart friend, one who doesn’t pull her weight for the FRG bake sale) we encounter in military life. Ricketts puts into words the unwritten military subculture that is skimmed by the national media and showcased on Lifetime’s “Army Wives.”
Ricketts recently spoke with NextGen MilSpouse about writing “No Man’s War,” the secret sisterhood of military spouses and advice for newbie military spouses regarding the Kool-Aid (military propaganda).
Give us some background on the book. Why did you write it? Who is your target audience? What did you hope to accomplish with the book?
When we moved to Colorado that was the first time I’ve lived off post. I was surprised by how much I didn’t know about civilians. And if I didn’t know about them, they probably didn’t know about me.
When it (the book) came out, what I didn’t expect was this great reaction from our community. I expected people to be really angry. It was the polar opposite. People have been fairly supportive saying ‘You said what we were thinking but never said, putting out both the good and bad.’ I never thought I was speaking for our community. I was speaking for myself.
How does being a military child prepare you for life as a military spouse?
Because I knew the culture. I watched my mother do it my whole life. I knew protocol. I spoke the language. I think military kids make excellent soldiers, service members and military spouses. You stick with what you know. I don’t think this (military life) sucks; it’s a really exciting life.
Your description of the night before a deployment or separation is dead on. You write about detaching yourself from your feelings. After detaching yourself emotionally for so many years, how were you able to write about your feelings?
I had a lot of unresolved crap I didn’t deal with it until I wrote this book. I had to feel those feelings. I didn’t allow myself to feel in those moments. As a military spouse, we put on a strong front for our children, our husbands, our friends and you say ‘I’ll deal with it later.’ That (book) was my later. It was cathartic.
In between the deployments I didn’t want to reattach because I wanted to remain emotional distant because I knew another deployment was coming. Another person might not detach. I don’t know of any other way to do and keep your sanity.
I know other military spouses that reconnect with their partners and families during those periods between deployments and then they send them off again. That wouldn’t work for me. You have to find what works for you. Detaching is what works for me.
When we moved to Colorado and I knew my husband wasn’t going to deploy, I finally felt like I could exhale. For 20 years I lived in that holding pattern.
There are moments in the book, where I laughed aloud, particularity the part where you rehash the weekly 10-minute phone call with Jack on the free morale line. You both keep talking over each other and Jack tells you to say “over” when you are done. But you keep saying “over” in the middle of the sentence. Is that what happens in military life? We take these frustrating moments and turn them into humorous memories?
What else are you going to do with it? Looking back at those moments when I acted like a brat when he was in Somolia gives me more patience with the young spouses or white souls. They haven’t learned their coping style yet. My way wasn’t my husband’s way. He didn’t detach from me the way I did. He wanted to be part of our daily lives.
You write about how there are no secrets in the military. Everyone knows everyone’s business. What advice would you give to new military spouses on how to handle that constant exposure?
Know yourself, be yourself, find your people and know who your friends are.
In your role as an Army wife, your calendar was filled with meetings, fundraisers and events. You put the needs of the families under your husband’s command before your own children. How can military spouses avoid volunteering their lives away to the mission?
From the very beginning you are told that you are integral to the system. The soldier can focus on his mission forward if you are keeping the home safe and stopping anything bad. That’s the Kool-Aid. I still believe in it. People say you are either black soul or you’re drinking the Kool-Aid. We need the Kool-Aid. I didn’t believe what I was reading in the manuals, but I didn’t know what else to say. It’s what kept us together. It’s our connection with each other.
Today’s military wives connect via social media. Your book focuses on the face-to-face conversations and sometimes behind-the-back motives of navigating life as a military wife. How do you feel that social media as changed the dynamics of military life?
I think it’s the coolest thing in the world. I remember when you move to a new place and go to a coffee and see a person’s name tag and think ‘how have I heard that name before?’ Now with Facebook you can see how everyone is connected. And I have friends who I talk to more on Facebook than I did when they lived two doors down from me.
Is there drama? Yes, of course. Drama makes the world go ’round.
In the book you personalize serious big-picture military issues, like suicide, mental health, fatigue, PTSD and the lack of work-family life balance, do you feel military spouses should talk more openly about these issues?
Yes, we should. I write in the book about the pillow talk. The pillow talk makes us privy to things that our own husbands don’t know. We have a lot of knowledge about the inner workings of military life. We are the silent piece of the puzzle that the military has overlooked. They think they’ve tapped into us. They haven’t.
Your book repeatedly mentions the Kool-Aid (propaganda) of military life. Is it necessary for military spouses to drink the Kool-Aid in order to survive military life and join the secret sisterhood?
If you want to be part of that (the secret sisterhood), you have to hold the cup. You don’t have to drink it, but you have to hold the cup. Maybe you have to swish it around in your mouth. The military sisterhood, that’s definitely drinking the Kool-Aid. I have friends who haven’t gone to one single military function. They see it as their husband’s job, not a lifestyle and that’s great. That’s not me.
There are so many cool people I’ve met through the sisterhood. Maybe you move to post and you are put with this woman who isn’t like you. She’s from Texas and you’re not. She listens to country music and you don’t. You really have nothing in common. But from constant interaction over and over again, you are forced to form this relationship. And you do. That person who you have nothing in common with becomes your best friend. If you were in the civilian world, that wouldn’t happen.
What’s the takeaway from the book?
We’re OK. We are bent, but we are not broken. The media had a myopic focus when they talk about the military and we are either OK or broken. We are kind of all those things. We are OK, but we do not know what the future holds.
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