What is it like? …to be the one at home while your loved one is away?
Some of you may be able to share your own experiences. Some of you may gain perspective or insight.
There are probably a dozen things that bear discussion:
Waiting for the phone calls and emails
Picking up the slack
Watching the news
The anticipation and the reunion
Listening to the gossip and rumors
It is that last one that I want to talk about; “The Rumor Mill”
From the deployed Soldier’s perspective I hated the rumors and the gossip.
The rumors and gossip spread faster than a Texas grass fire on a windy summer day. One Soldier calls home and talks to his wife. She holds it together long enough to be supportive on the phone with him. When they hang up she breaks down and calls another spouse to let it out. Pretty soon everyone back home knows whatever it was they talked about. We almost have to submit an immediate press release to the Rear Detachment and Family Readiness Group(FRG.)
We organize the FRG as an “official information” and a support channel. Sometimes they will coordinate for a speaker to come give a class to the spouses; anything from finances, to reintegration, to Military Programs and benefits. You are supposed to be able to call the FRG if you need help, say you get really sick and do not have family that live close. Sometimes they just organize gatherings to get everyone together; Christmas parties, Halloween Parties, Easter Egg hunts, Going out to dinner, Making crafts, cards, and care packages to send to the Soldiers.
Some spouses are become active in the FRG. Usually participation increases during deployments. But there are some spouses that avoid the FRG. Some spouses have very little spare time, Some spouses don’t like having the Army involved in their personal life, Some are just shy, and Some are too far away to get involved. Some had a bad experience in a former unit. Maybe it was some case of snobbery, but often these spouses got sick of the rumor mill too.
Sometimes, a sub-group of spouses develops back at home. This group is usually made up of only a small percentage of the spouses. They go to the FRG meetings and sit in the back of the room spewing out gossip, rumors, and garbage. This is the group that I call the Rumor Mill.
I heard “so and so” is cheating on their wife. I heard “so and so” is only in trouble, because “so and so else” has it out for them. I think “so and so” should get fired. I heard “so and so” is coming home early.
At one point we had some drama going on downrange, a lot of rumors spinning around in the rear, and many spouses getting upset. To dispel the rumors and ease minds, the Commander and 1SG set up a conference-call to speak to the spouses and answer questions. Because of the time difference, we stayed up until around 0100 hrs to set this up. Here is the kicker, only the senior leaders spouses came to the conference call. One of the Soldier’s wives had organized a sex toy party that evening. Guess it is something like a Tupperware party, but different. WOW!!! That is pretty supportive of the Soldiers and other spouses if you ask me.
After the buses left the gym, some of the spouses gathered at one house. They didn’t want to go home and be alone right away. They wanted to have some company for a little bit and maybe have a glass of wine or something. Pretty soon some spouses were very intoxicated, and a few started talking about wanting to cheat on their husbands. WE WEREN’T EVEN IN THE AIR YET!!!
Some of these people are just clueless and insensitive to the impact their words are having on other spouses I am sure, but I really suspect that some of them must have low self-esteem and actually get off on the reactions that they cause and in seeing other people’s pain. Why do some people pretend that they are in a competition to see how many times their husband calls home? Or, feel the need to gloat that their spouse will be the one to come home for Christmas? Some feel the need to “one up” everything you say, and others minimize your feelings as insignificant.
Then there are some of the normal rumors that are not caused through malice or by drama. Things related to what is actually going on down range. What about when the unit starts having enemy contact? Or once Soldiers start getting hurt? When that first Soldier gets hurt, It suddenly hits home. It gets very real for ALL the wives. Will my Soldier be next? What are they doing over there? Whose fault is it?
Now who do you talk to? Your civilian friends can not relate or understand? Your family probably doesn’t either. It should be this group of people who are going through the same experience, but you no longer trust them.
You may wonder, “What do you know about the rumors and gossip?” Not only was I connected to the rear through my own spouse, but through the spouses of the 42 Soldiers under me. If you think that what goes on in the rear doesn’t affect the unit down range, then you need to wake up. As a leader you need to have a constant finger on the pulse of everything in your unit. That one Soldier who is thinking about problems at home, instead of pulling security could cause something very bad to happen. That first break up can start causing worry and doubt in every other Soldiers relationship. Relationship problems caused me to send just as many Soldiers to mental health as combat did.
Not only do I care about our Soldiers, spouses, and families, but I feel that problems at home can be directly related to increased risk of PTSD. That 3rd letter stands for Stress. Relationship problems back home cause depression. Being depressed in combat can lead to increased fear, anxiety, stress, hopelessness, loneliness, isolation, desperation, and suicidal tendencies.
How do we fix this? How do we make people comfortable with the FRG again? Maybe it just needs strong leadership just like a military unit. Someone leading the FRG who is strong enough to stop the flow of garbage as soon as it starts.
What measures can the unit and Soldiers take to support the spouses back home? We tried to write a company newsletter to the FRG every month. Another attempt to keep the families informed. As the deployment went on, it became harder and harder to write about anything interesting. It was a running joke that the deployment was like the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray. Every day became a repetition of the day before.
Does it just come with experience? Does it become easier during subsequent deployments? Learning tips and tricks. Knowing what to expect. Things like knowing not to judge what you think you heard, but what your spouse was actually trying to say. That was hard at first, with all the emotions involved, without body language to accompany the words, and trying to pack days or weeks of conversations into a few minutes. Who can teach you to understand these things? Who can you go to for support? How do we clean the FRGs of The Rumor Mills?
What experiences have you had? What do you think a unit can do to fix this? Anyone else just want to vent?