Mililtary spouse is challenging duty

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The ladies of the Monterey Bay Officers’ Spouses’ Club host regular socials to get to know one another and help build a sense of community. Being married to a member of the Armed Forces can be incredibly demanding, and require a unique network of support.

Photos provided by the Monterey Bay Officers’ Spouses Club. Story by Amanda Stein, NewsNetNebraska

For many women, the idea of their husband being deployed at the time of their daughter’s birth is difficult – if not unimaginable. But for Air Force wife Robyn Sheehan, it’s reality. And just one of the sacrifices that comes with being a military family.

Robyn and her husband had a Sept. 11th baby — eight years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. For Air Force Maj. Andrew Sheehan, her birth date was a reminder of why he was serving his country. He knew his mission in the Middle East was important and that his wife had the independence and resolve to take care of their two young children in his absence.

Being a member of America’s Armed Forces comes with tremendous pressure and commitment, but life as a military spouse can be equally demanding.

“In a military relationship, you really need to have two leaders … because when one of them is overseas, the other is left to manage and run the family. You have to find a strong spouse,” explained Andrew, who works as an engineer.

“It’s great to know that my wife was completely capable of handling everything by herself. Military spouses almost need to be able to be a single mom and then transition back into being a two-parent family. And that’s hard.”

The Sheenans follow the motto, ‘bloom where you grow,’ and have carried that with them to Monterey, Calif., where Andrew is studying Special Operations at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS).

Robyn became involved right away in the local spouse’s club, to help meet new people and build a network of support in an unfamiliar place. Together, they understand the difficulty of moving often, planning families around duties, and the fear that comes with deployments.

But the ladies of the Monterey Bay Officer’s Spouses Club (MBOSC) have a graceful determination and resilience about them. Their stories, while unique, have many similarities, and tell of the hope and pride that lie beneath every challenge.

They remind themselves, and each other, like a mantra: deployments are difficult, but doable. Moving is often sad, but it’s an adventure. The children will have moments of sadness and frustration, but they will flourish.

“I’m really impressed with myself,” said Lynda Lind, a new mother and Navy wife of eight years.

“I can mow the yard because my husband is gone for six months. I can move the grill because my husband is gone for six months. The truck broke down, I can figure out what to do without just calling the auto club. What can I do before I call them? I found a new me, a better me because of it.”

Navy wife Rebecca Vandersluis agrees. She found that moving her family around a lot has helped strengthen their bond, and created a solid family unit that is ready to weather any storm.

“There are no grandparents, there are no aunts, there are no uncles. It’s just us,” said Vandersluis. “And I have built a family that is completely stable and they trust in me and they know that no matter what news comes home today, no matter where we’re going, we’re okay. And I find it huge that I have been able to instill that kind of confidence in these three kids. And their world changes a lot.”

Spouses’ clubs provide military families with the resources to help make frequent moves and deployments easier..

It takes incredible strength to raise a family in the civilian world. But military spouses re-define what it means to be strong. But behind that strength and determination, these women have come to accept a reality that few can imagine – their husbands are frequently called to serve in some of the most dangerous places in the world.
They understand the plight of military spouses – how a phone call or knock on the door can change everything. Robyn Sheehan slowly and thoughtfully recalls a close friend who first heard on the news that her husband’s hotel has been bombed. Sheehan’s eyes reflect the painful memory of the day she stood by as her friend buried her husband.

“She was watching on the news and she knew something had happened, and she knew that her husband was staying at the hotel that was bombed,” said Sheehan. “Was he there or was he not? I can only imagine what she went through watching that on TV and waiting for the phone to ring. And it did. There is always that fear when you are a spouse and your husband is deployed. Fear of getting that phone call.”

While the stress of deployments is eased by a service member’s return home, spouses face additional challenges as their husband or wife re-adjusts to life without guns and tents. Many spouses found their husbands ill-equipped to drive after having spent a year in the Middle East, where ‘combat driving’ means speed limits and signals are often suggestions rather than rules to follow.

Parenting, too, can be challenging. Spouses must re-learn how to share household responsibilities, and to resume the role of co-parenting, occasionally with children that they are meeting for the first time.

Divorce rates among military families have increased since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, but many of the MBOSC wives acknowledge that they understood what they were getting into when they married a service member. It was a lifestyle that they vowed to make the most of, their commitment to the military had to be as steadfast as their husbands’.

Amy Borst feels fortunate. She has no doubt that she and her husband were made for military life. Her husband has been in the Army for almost twenty years, and the family has had its fair share of challenges – homeschooling three children, the stress of frequent moves, and the uncertainty of deployments.
But Borst has seen something wonderful come from her husband’s service as well. Her children have grown up in an environment that fostered togetherness, and understand the importance of supporting each other.

“I understand perfectly why my husband does what he does. He loves his job. He knows that his job is essential. And he knows there aren’t that many people in the world who can serve in the military – not everyone is cut out to do it, and he is.

“And I think that because he knows his wife is supportive and behind him, and that his kids are supportive and behind him, I think that’s the important thing — that everybody is on-board. And as for me…I think I was made for this. This is where I was meant to be.”