Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Military Definition of "Choice"

When you are part of the military, there are things about your life that non-military friends and family aren't always able to grasp. I know at least two families who have heard each of the following; if you are part of a military family, you probably do too:

Why can't you come home for Christmas? Just tell them you are taking the time off.

Why are you moving out of the country? Aren't you in the U.S. military?

Well they can't deploy him now; you are due to have the baby next month!

I sometimes have more trouble dealing with these statements because the military life is all I have known. I don't question the fact that leave can be denied--because I've always known that it can be. It doesn't give me pause to hear that when the military calls (whatever branch we're talking about), you answer. My dad joined the Air Force when I was two. I joined when I was 18. I married a man who wears the uniform. This is the life I know; it's what makes sense to me. In my mind, the only real choice you get is whether or not to join; once you sign that dotted line, it's not up to you any more. At least, not until it's time to sign on that line again. Most military families "get" that.

I just ran across a CNN article from earlier this month and I have to say that I also understand people like Jet and Chat Rice and the decisions that they face. This dual military couple recently had a choice, such as it was: deploy at the same time and minimize the separation of their family or stagger their deployments in an attempt to keep one of them home with their son. They chose to deploy together--and left their 2-year-old son in the care of his loving and capable paternal grandparents.

This is a choice that is intensely personal. There is no great decision here. What there is, is a couple trying to make the best decision for their family. The best call for their son. An agonizing contemplation of what will cause him the least amount of turmoil in the long run. Is this the choice you would make? You can't possibly know unless you have been in that situation. You may be able to say, "My spouse and I would never both stay active duty after having kids." but so what? That just means that you would make a different decision. That means that you know what is best for you; it does not mean that you know what is best for your neighbor, your co-worker, or your brother.

If you have no experience with this sort of life, you don't get to judge. Certainly you shouldn't write up ridiculously slanted opinion pieces with exaggerated headlines meant to sway the opinions of your readers to your way of thinking. Leaves him home alone? Really? Shame on you. If the worst thing to happen in little Seth Rice's life is that he spent months being loved and adored by his grandparents--well, I'm not exactly sitting here thinking, "Poor kid." I think he's going to be okay.

Jason and I were in a very similar situation after 9/11. I was on maternity leave with a five-week-old infant when 9/11 occurred and knew it was just a matter of time before I would go. I called the person on our family care plan that day and confirmed that we were still okay with our plan, even with the addition of our second son. Jason was gone by the time Jake was nine-weeks-old. At the time, I couldn't legally be deployed until Jake was four months old; I left when he was four months, one week, and two days old. (It stands to note that our aircraft was delayed twice, making me leave a week later than originally planned. You do the math.) Sam was four and half years old.

If you can really classify it as a true "choice", we "chose" to try to sync up our deployments as well. I was always going to deploy--there was no question that I was deploying. It was only a matter of when. When we were given our "choice" leadership's best guess was that deployments could be as long as 12 to 18 months. Initially it appeared to be our best option--let's sync up, hope that leadership can bring us back for our mid-tour break around the same time so that we get a couple weeks as a whole family--and then go back and get this whole thing over with as soon as possible so that we can begin to live again.

The alternative was having me stay home as long as possible, deploy out and have the kids go stay with family anyway, and then not see each other for at least a year, possibly up to two. Plus? There was no way that we would have been able to swing seeing each other in the middle. (And, no. We were not and never would have been in the same location. Not even close.) The children staying at our home in Florida was completely impossible. They were going to have to go stay somewhere regardless. It wasn't even a close decision for us; we knew that the first choice was the better route for our family. How anyone can look at what was presented to us and come up with something better is beyond me.

People who know us in real life know that this situation did not work out well for us. Because of that, I am a passionate advocate for dual spouse couples. Nobody knows how hard it is unless they do it--but you would be amazed at how much judgement there is out there, especially toward the mom. To come home and be told that you are not being a good mother because you had to go do your job? That really sucks. To lose family over it because people can't come to terms with the whole thing? That really sucks too. But the fact is, these parents are doing a job that has to be done. And unless you are willing to take one of their places? Don't get up on your high horse and tell them how selfish they are. You have no clue.


  1. Oh my dear, you know I am with you 100% on this one. Military families are all amazing, dual military is a whole nother kind of amazing. It takes a lot of love and a whole lot of determination and a whole lot of guts too. Just like it did for you to speak out in this family's honor. One more reason i love you!!!

    In case anyone is wondering - Dual Military family for 11.5 years


  2. I cannot imagine judging anyone that has chosen to defend our country. It is a very tough, and honorable decision and there are things that our service men and woman are asked to do that no other 'job' would ever ask of their employees.

    Thank YOU for your service!

  3. ITA! And wow that must have been so hard to make a decision about. There are things in life we just don't know what we would do unless it happened to us. So it is best not to judge.

  4. Hi! I just found your blog looking around on another military spouse's site. I am a new military wife and am already learning how much people just don't get it. :) Thanks for your post. I just started blogging! http://qdevildogs.blogspot.com .

  5. I was pretty annoyed at the articles that were posted about them too. They are doing what they can to minimize the impact on their child and I think that is great. I remember your deployment and the aftermath. Its so sad that people don't even try to understand. I was a single parent when 9/11 happened and knew immediately that I would be deploying. Having a supportive extended family was great. Until I read your blog I never thought about that but now I realize just how much all of that support mattered and helped me to focus on my job. At the time I took it for granted.

    Amanda, you make me think too much. :)



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