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October 9, 2005

I am an Army wife and a mother. That pretty much sums up who I am. I wear a lot of hats and play many roles, but first and foremost I am a wife and a mother. I’m married to a Soldier (30 years). I’ve known my husband since he was a cadet at West Point, I’ve come up through the ranks with him and we raised two sons along the way. Then, I became an Army mom . . . twofold. Both of our sons chose the Army as their career. In fact, both became helicopter pilots like their father. To add to all of this, I’m a mother-in-law—our younger son was married three months before he deployed to Iraq.

So I feel I have some experiences worth sharing. When I began writing this book both sons were deployed to Iraq, serving in the same brigade. As I finish this book, both sons are either in Iraq or on their way. Once again, both are in the same unit, one that their dad commanded. You could say they’re carrying on a family tradition—one that’s making me go gray with worry!

My husband’s still on active duty, stationed at the Pentagon. At one point, two years ago, while he was vi vii commanding the 101st Airborne Division and our older son had just joined the division, both were in Afghanistan at the same time. I guess God was watching out for me because by the time our younger son joined the division, my husband had already been assigned to the Pentagon. I definitely could not have handled all three being deployed at the same time!

My husband has commanded at every level in the Army. Over the years, I’ve coached, mentored, consoled, grieved with, laughed with and cried with Army spouses. I’ve helped form and participated in spouse readiness groups. I’ve done everything in my power to make Army life just a little bit better, a little bit easier on the families, whether in peacetime or during war.

Believe me when I say we’ve come a long way when it comes to spouse programs, awareness, resources, information flow and outreach in general. For the past four or five years, the Army has been very focused on the well-being of the Soldier and his or her spouse and children. However, many other family members are affected by the Soldier’s military service, especially parents and grandparents. What are we doing to help prepare them for deployments?

To the spouses we offer classes, literature, programs, readiness groups and support groups. The Army knows that knowledge is empowering and comforting and even improves the readiness of a unit. Most Army spouses live on or near the post from which their Soldier deploys, so they have access to all the programs and are surrounded by other spouses going through exactly what they are going through—there’s comfort and strength in that.

Parents and grandparents, on the other hand, probably don’t live near the post. And, yes, some parents are or were Soldiers or happen to be married to a Soldier. Many more, however, are unfamiliar with military life.

I have an advantage of having been part of this system for the past 30 years. I have a deep understanding of the military in general, and I have access to all kinds of information, resources and support systems. Still, I know how scary it’s been for me having both sons in a combat zone, and I think about all the parents out there who don’t have that background. This must be very confusing and frightening for them.

So, I want to use my knowledge, experiences, candor, insight—whatever I have I want to share with other families. I’m a little old-fashioned in that I still believe in the power of the human touch or connection. I also believe each of us can make a difference. Sometimes it’s something as simple as reassuring a frightened mom or dad and letting them know they’re not alone, that every one of us who has a loved one in a combat zone lives with the same fear and dread. Sometimes they just need to know there’s a toll-free number they can call to get in touch with the rear detachment of their Soldier’s unit, or maybe there are some terms they don’t understand, or why the mail takes so long, or why their Soldier hasn’t been able to call for weeks. Sometimes they just need a little knowledge of a very complex and vast organization. I wish I could wrap my arms around all the parents out there.

Since I can’t do that, maybe this book can be of service. If sharing my experience can help family members cope with this war and other deployments, then it will have been worth every bit of my time and effort. Wife of a Soldier; mother of two Soldiers; mother-inlaw to a Soldier’s newlywed wife—I’m continuing my role as coach and mentor, but now it’s more personal than ever. It’s from this perspective that I speak.