When I teach my Adult Studies Seminar I tell the story of a woman I have a great deal of respect for. She is someone who has shown herself to be more resilient than anyone I know. She is my wife, Beth. I will tell you one specific instance and perhaps you will agree.
Before I tell this story, let me give you some background. As you may recall from my bio, I am retired from the United States Army. Beth has been with me from the start; in fact she was with me prior to any conversation about joining the Army. You see, she and I met while we were both attending Iowa State University. For reasons I won’t go into here (it’s a story for another time), I dropped out of school after my freshman year. A short time later, I came home and told Beth that I had enlisted and was shipping out in seven days. I never thought of discussing it with her first. We were married after boot camp, and she dropped out of Iowa State to go with me to our first duty assignment. She only had one year to go to graduate.
Now to my story. In the fall of 1990, we were coming to the end of our three-year tour in Germany and looking forward to returning to the U.S. and our next assignment. About three months before we were to leave Europe, my father suddenly passed away. The way my mother describes it is he was sitting at home one Sunday afternoon talking about how anxious he was to see me and my family when he had a stroke and died. We hadn’t been home in almost three years, and now he was gone. Well, I got word of his death and we flew home as quickly as possible. We arrived in Iowa about two days later and buried my father.
In the military, they have something called “early return of dependents.” It is a program designed for just such an occasion. When a soldier is within 90 days of returning stateside, and they go home on emergency leave, they have the option of leaving their dependents in the states, and returning to their duty assignment to pack up their family’s belongings and ship it to their next assignment. Beth and I decided to take advantage of this program, so I proceeded to return to Europe and pack up our household goods and ship them off to our next assignment in Albany, New York.
Did you happen to note the date of this story? It was during the buildup of the first Gulf War. There were already troops in Saudi Arabia from the states, and we knew there was a good chance that units from Europe would be called up to deploy there too. Beth and I discussed this prior to my return to Europe, and decided if my unit is called up to deploy, she would go back to ISU and finish her degree. So, here I was, back in Europe living in the barracks because all of our household goods had been shipped off to Albany, and what should happen but my unit is called up to deploy to the Saudi Arabia. I knew it would happen since we were one of two Cavalry Units in Europe and the leading force of VII Corps. If any unit was going to be deployed, it would be us; the Second Armored Calvary Regiment.
I remember very vividly the night I called Beth and told her that she should go and register for classes that Spring at ISU. She immediately knew that meant I was being deployed.
Beth and my daughter, Jackie, who was four years old, immediately boarded a plane and headed back to Germany to be with me. We had no idea how long we would be separated, and Beth wanted to spend as much time with me as she could prior to my deployment.
While she was in Germany she checked into the status of our household goods. She found out they were shipped to Albany, and sitting in storage awaiting our arrival. She told the people responsible for shipping our goods what had happened and that she would be in Iowa for an unknown length of time. They said they were sorry, but there was nothing they could do. The household goods were in Albany, and they could not divert them to another location. You see, there is an Army regulation that states household goods can only be moved once within a year’s time. Well, as you can imagine, that put Beth in a bit of a bind. All she had was what was in the suitcase she brought back to Germany. To make a long story short Beth convinced the chain of command to make an exception and have our things shipped from Albany to Iowa. We found out later that the commander of the unit I was supposed to report to in Albany was the one that made it happen. I will always be grateful to him for making that decision.
We spent three weeks together before my unit had to go. On a Friday, I left for a destination unknown, and Beth and Jackie left the following day for Iowa to find a place to live and get started at ISU. I didn’t speak to her again for 45 days. During that time, I had no idea where she lived or if she was able to registered for classes. When I did finally talk to her she was all set up in a duplex, had Jackie enrolled in preschool, and was registered for classes at ISU.
So there she was. A single parent raising a four-year old and attending classes fulltime while her husband was deployed to Southwest Asia.
Oh, I forgot to mention one thing. While we lived in Europe, Beth was our Squadron Commander’s secretary. She had a good idea how our unit conducted battle and exactly what that meant for me. Even though I was a supply sergeant, we conducted resupply operations twice a day consisting of maintenance, supply, and rations. Twice a day we rolled forward to resupply food, ammo, parts, and fuel. Beth knew that I would be right there in the midst of the battle should it come to war.
The way Beth tells the story is once war was declared she immersed herself in her studies to keep her mind off the obvious. Once the ground war started, she says she doesn’t recall anything. She completely shut down. She says she has no idea how Jackie got along because she doesn’t recall anything. Thank God the ground offensive only lasted four days. Only when Beth’s mom called her and told her the war was over did she come back to her senses.
As it turned out, since we were the first unit from Europe deployed to Southwest Asia, we were the first unit to redeploy back to Europe. I was home on leave within six months of Beth and Jackie leaving for Iowa. On a side note, I left for my next assignment in Albany a month later and Beth and Jackie stayed in Iowa so she could finish her degree. She and my daughter moved to Albany that following December. All in all we were separated a year.
I look back on this time and realize how resilient Beth was during this time. She knew what I would be facing and yet still had the courage to go home and complete her degree. She could have stayed in Europe with the other soldier’s wives, but she chose to go to school instead. It was difficult because in Iowa she had no military spouses or support to lean on. Fortunately, my brother and his fiancé were both attending ISU during this time, and were there for Beth and my daughter.
As a soldier, my wife and I have a great deal of respect for today’s military. They face a tremendous amount of hardship with all of the deployments they endure. One thing we agree on is the fact that deployments are just as hard on the families left behind as it is for the soldiers who are deployed. The soldiers are well trained and know what they are facing. Their families are normally in the dark when it comes to what their soldier is doing; and it is my opinion that the families left behind are the ones who must show the most resiliency.