I remember the day my husband dropped to one knee and asked me to marry him. I was ecstatic. But instead of congratulating me, one friend got a pensive look on her face. “When you marry a soldier,” she said, “you don’t just marry him, you marry the military.”
She had a point. My dream two month anniversary present wasn’t to have my husband leave for eight weeks of training. We have been married three years, but because of my husband’s army commitments we’ve only been able to celebrate one of those anniversaries together. In our first two years of marriage, we lived in four different places. As National Guard, we didn’t have the promise of full time income since when not activated the guard is paid for just a few days a month. We went through six hard months of unemployment where the only apartment we could afford had bedbugs.
Our week old son had meningitis and was fighting for his life in NICU when my husband was informed of 13 month mobilization orders. At that moment, my husband realized that he would not be seeing our son’s first steps, first birthday, or so many other firsts. Our son couldn’t even roll over when my husband was mobilized. Now our son has eight teeth, can crawl and almost walk, chows down on sweet potatoes and chicken and there are still six more months until he sees his daddy.
There is satisfaction in a job well done and I take pride in my husband using the skills he trained to acquire for this deployment. My husband is a soldier and he is strong, courageous, and unflinching in the call of duty. But even soldiers can only take so much.
The Army realizes the strain long hours and many absences put on military families and soldiers. So they drafted a program called R&R to give soldiers two weeks of mid-deployment leave to get away from the 24/7, seven day a week nature of combat and see their families. The FAQs section of the Army.mil site said this about R&R: “The program provides respite from the stresses associated with the combat mission . . . this is seen as an investment in the well being of our forces that will improve mission performance.”
Unfortunately, the R&R program has been cut. After 11 years of war and back to back deployments, both soldiers and their families are suffering.PTSD is on the rise and many marriages and families break under the strain. Just last year, the military divorce rate reached its highest since 1999.Military children’s mental health also suffers when dad, and now increasingly mom as well, is never home. The October 2010 DOD report to the House and Senate Armed Services committee said that military children experience increased anxiety, lower academic performance, and increased problem behaviors at home and school during a deployment. Interestingly, the report mentioned that temporary leave (such as R&R) during a deployment helped mitigate some of the negative effects of deployment on children.
The new policy that cuts mid-deployment R&R and makes life even harder on soldiers and their families is wrong. Sign the petition to bring back R&R. http://www.petition2congress.
This article was written by Anne Garboczi Evans, a military spouse. She has a master’s in counseling so is particularly concerned about the mental health and relational consequences of numerous long deployments.