In 2004, at just 20-years-old, I kissed my husband of a little over one year goodbye, watched him sling on his pack, and head out to Iraq with all the other Marines. Sam had turned 22 a few weeks earlier, which is when we found out that he would be deploying during the height of the Iraq war. I had no idea if I’d ever see him again, and my heart broke into pieces wondering when he’d be back.
Nine months passed. They were filled with letters, emails, and brief calls that I waited for anxiously. There was no Skype, no FaceTime. I often went months without hearing from him in real time.
It wasn’t our first separation; he’d been in boot camp 3 months and in training for another 4. He did a stint in Okinawa for 18 months, came home in the middle to get married, and then left for 7 weeks to train for a few months before deploying overseas.
But when he was deployed to Iraq, it was the hardest separation that we’ve ever gone through.
In 2005, on our 2nd wedding anniversary, he came home. At first life seemed normal, almost like the war and all he’d seen and done hadn’t phased him. He was in the thick of it with his infantry group, having been in Najaf for the mosque fight and then Fallujah for the invasion. I was impressed at how it seemed easy for him to readjust to civilian life.
Then the nightmares came where he’d wake up screaming. He started drinking more and more. He jumped at every pop, swerved at every piece of trash in the road. He was out of the military, so we were offered 10 counseling sessions at the time. It ended up making things worse when the therapist suggested smoking pot might be the answer and him relax.
Spoiler alert: It wasn’t the answer.
It’s been nearly 8 years since Sam came home. Our life has drastically changed, but it took hitting rock bottom in our marriage more than once for things to get better. I’m not angry at the military or how his trauma was handled. I know things have changed for the better, although a lot of the system still needs work. Being in the Army now means I get to see a different side of soldiers who would once come home and be told to, “Buck up.”
But those scars and memories will stay with Sam forever. I have a deeper understanding of what I see on the news when I look into faces of men who fought in all the different wars. I watch as they sob at the stories of the older marines, especially the 90-years-old soldiers retelling their experience. My husband signed up for this, he’s never expected congratulations or sympathy for doing a job he willingly took.
Sometimes though, even when you know what the highest cost might be, you don’t know that you’ll be expected to pay the price in different ways as well.
One day, we will tell our daughter about all this. And since Sam is career military now, she’ll grow up with an understanding of how this life works. There are times Sam leaves at the last minute for weeks at a time, and possible deployments that only come with 3 days or a week’s notice. Hopefully she’s proud of him, but we know what kind of sacrifice we’ve asked her to make. She won’t have as much daddy time as she might want. But I pray that she sees the positives and the beauty of this life and what Sam does, not just the hardships.
So on Veterans Day, I thank my husband for his service. All the men and women who decided this was what they wanted to do – regardless of being supported or appreciated or not. There is a human story behind every one of our men and women in uniform. This day is about the people who served and then came home to pick up the pieces of the life that was changed forever.
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