For better or worse. In garrison or on deployment.

Army spouses learn quickly when they marry a Soldier, they also marry the Army.

Frequent moves, long separations, combat deployments and long hours are the norm for Army Families, so they learn quickly to make the most of any time they have together.

"It was very hard in the beginning to comprehend the idea that you get married to share your life with your spouse, but with the Army as well," Alejandra Weiss said. "There are also many sacrifices that we as spouses have to be willing to make."

Spouses stand next to their Soldiers, making sacrifices and running the homefront while their Soldiers man the front lines. These Families survive because the spouses take on the roles of both parents and do what they have to in order to keep life running at home while the Soldiers focus on their missions.

The spouses

Weiss' husband, 2nd Lt. Brandon Weiss, is deployed to Iraq with Company B, 589th Brigade Support Battalion, 41st Fires Brigade.

The couple was stationed here in March and Brandon deployed in June, 13 months into their marriage.

Kelley Helton has been married 14 years to 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment Sgt. 1st Class Steve Helton, a maintenance platoon sergeant.

He is on his second deployment to Iraq.

A Family readiness group leader, Kelley uses her experiences through her husband's four deployments to help spouses.

Laura Worker's husband, Spc. Brent Worker, a cannon crewmember assigned to Battery A, 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, also is on his first deployment.

The couple married last February and Brent deployed to Afghanistan in June.

Cleo McDonald, Phantom Corps Family readiness support assistant, is a spouse and former Soldier.

Her husband of seven years, Staff Sgt. Milton McDonald, is a food service specialist with 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

Cleo left the Army in 2004 and spends her time while her husband is deployed caring for the couple's six children.

She said her husband's first deployment to Iraq was the hardest.

"It never gets any easier," Cleo said.

This is the staff sergeant's fourth time to Iraq, nine deployments in all in his 19 year-Army career.

"My husband is my best friend," Cleo said.

Tanya Burt's husband, Spc. Jon Burt, an Apache mechanic assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, is on his second deployment to Iraq.

A full-time student, Tanya Burt is raising two small children while her husband is serving in Iraq.

Kathy Palmer has been married 12 years to Maj. Matthew Palmer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, or better or worse. In garrison or on deployment.

Army spouses learn quickly when they marry a Soldier, they also marry the Army.

Frequent moves, long separations, combat deployments and long hours are the norm for Army Families, so they learn quickly to make the most of any time they have together.

"It was very hard in the beginning to comprehend the idea that you get married to share your life with your spouse, but with the Army as well," Alejandra Weiss said. "There are also many sacrifices that we as spouses have to be willing to make."

Spouses stand next to their Soldiers, making sacrifices and running the homefront while their Soldiers man the front lines. These Families survive because the spouses take on the roles of both parents and do what they have to in order to keep life running at home while the Soldiers focus on their missions.

The spouses

Weiss' husband, 2nd Lt. Brandon Weiss, is deployed to Iraq with Company B, 589th Brigade Support Battalion, 41st Fires Brigade.

The couple was stationed here in March and Brandon deployed in June, 13 months into their marriage.

Kelley Helton has been married 14 years to 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment Sgt. 1st Class Steve Helton, a maintenance platoon sergeant.

He is on his second deployment to Iraq.

A Family readiness group leader, Kelley uses her experiences through her husband's four deployments to help spouses.

Laura Worker's husband, Spc. Brent Worker, a cannon crewmember assigned to Battery A, 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, also is on his first deployment.

The couple married last February and Brent deployed to Afghanistan in June.

Cleo McDonald, Phantom Corps Family readiness support assistant, is a spouse and former Soldier.

Her husband of seven years, Staff Sgt. Milton McDonald, is a food service specialist with 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

Cleo left the Army in 2004 and spends her time while her husband is deployed caring for the couple's six children.

She said her husband's first deployment to Iraq was the hardest.

"It never gets any easier," Cleo said.

This is the staff sergeant's fourth time to Iraq, nine deployments in all in his 19 year-Army career.

"My husband is my best friend," Cleo said.

Tanya Burt's husband, Spc. Jon Burt, an Apache mechanic assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, is on his second deployment to Iraq.

A full-time student, Tanya Burt is raising two small children while her husband is serving in Iraq.

Kathy Palmer has been married 12 years to Maj. Matthew Palmer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.

He currently is serving his second deployment to Iraq. He also has been deployed to Afghanistan and the Middle East during the Gulf War.

Karen Campbell married Cpl. Jonathan Campbell, an infantryman with 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div. 17 months ago. They have spent seven months of their marriage together.

He left June 10 for his first deployment to Iraq.

Previously married to an airman, Karen appreciates the support the Army gives Families.

Her eyes light up when she talks about Jonathan.

"I would do anything for him," she said.

The separation has been tough for Karen, but she stays busy to pass the time.

"My heart is emptied," Karen said. "I feel lost."

Tanya Holm's husband, Spc. Allen Holm, an electrician assigned to Company A, 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, is deployed to Afghanistan.

This is his second deployment.

A former Marine, the specialist switched to the Army for Family reasons.

"He got into the Army because he felt it is more focused on Family than the Marines," Tanya Holm said.

They have been married for four years, but Tanya said she had chased Allen since she was 12.

Julie Conway's husband, Staff Sgt. John Conway, formerly with 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, is now assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Hood while he recovers from wounds received in Iraq during his second deployment.

Married for eight years, the couple has a 7-year-old daughter.

Although their life experiences and Family situations differ, all of these spouses have experienced deployments and kept their Families intact.

They stay busy with jobs, school, work and Family.

Stay busy

New to the Army, Alejandra is getting involved with her FRG and meeting her neighbors.

"I plan to... hopefully meet new people that understand what it's like to be an Army wife and how hard it is to be alone, handling every responsibility that comes with having a Family," Alejandra said.

I wanted to go back to school, but that will have to wait until my husband is back from Iraq because it's just not possible at the time."

Julie went to school during her husband's first deployment

All the spouses agreed that it is important to get involved.

School, FRGs, church, volunteering and hobbies all were suggested to pass the time.

"Stay in a routine and keep busy," Cleo said.

Many spouses get creative by making and sending care packages to their Soldiers.

They find friends with common interests.

Kathy writes, volunteers at her daughters' school, and meets with friends.

During their third deployment, Kathy and her husband kept journals on their day-to-day lives. The couple swapped those journals when he returned home. It gave each an unusual perspective of what happened while they were apart. And they became keepsakes.

"It's important to have those words," Kathy said. "It does help."

"I find things to stay busy," Karen said. "Because I would drive myself crazy."

The Campbells are doing the same thing during Jonathan's deployment.

Each deployment Kathy sets a goal for herself.

"I need something to look forward to," she said.

She signs up for a race and trains for that race during the deployment.

Kelley gets massages and joined a gym.

Karen takes advantage of free golf at The Courses of Clear Creek, gets monthly manicures and pedicures and writes.

"Writing keeps my mind going," Karen said. "It's good therapy."

During leave, the Campbells renewed their marital vows at South Padre Island.

Holm paints.

"I get in ruts where I don't do anything for a few days," Laura said.

Laura gets her hair and nails done.

She also had gastric bypass surgery in November, so her husband will be surprised when he takes leave in April.

Alejandra focused on shopping for and preparing for the baby. She also found scrapbooking to be relaxing.

The spouses stay focused and avoid the drama that often occurs during deployments.

"Watch out who you hang out with," Kelley said. "Don't get caught in the drama."

They are careful about what they do to keep life easy.

"The only socializing I do is with my friends," Burt said.

Karen attends FRG meetings to hear the updates and make things to send to her husband's unit.

"FRG keeps me busy," Laura, an FRG leader, said.

To FRG or not to FRG

Family readiness groups are either the best way to keep updated or a detached gossip venue, depending on the spouses' experiences.

Most spouses said the FRG kept them abreast of their husbands' deployments and were a great place to bond with other spouses.

The group meetings keep Families in touch with their Soldiers' units and build Family morale with care packages and preparations for homecomings.

For those away from Fort Hood, Virtual FRG is a computer-based way for Families to keep up with deployments.

It is an alternate information source for those who cannot or prefer not to attend meetings.

"I love it," Holm said.

Whether they get their information from the FRG or their Soldier, the spouses agreed communication is vital.

Keep in touch

Advances in technology allow many Soldiers access to computer messenger services, e-mail and, in many cases, cell phones during deployments.

"You talk to Vietnam wives and they're like, 'whatever'," Kathy said of the immediate communications from downrange.

Tanya Burt's husband calls her from his office in Iraq.

Tanya Holm's husband has a cell phone so he can call her when he wants.

Laura's husband also has a cell phone and she talks to him twice a day.

Karen uses instant messaging on the computer and keeps her cell phone on her at all times.

She said she eats, sleeps and showers with her phone no farther than arm's reach away.

"You want to hear their voice," Karen said.

They tell each other "I love you" and "I miss you" in the beginning of each conversation, in case they get disconnected, Karen said.

Quarterly unit videos, VTCs help spouses keep in touch.

"It's nice to see him," Karen said.

Care for yourself

Those who have been through previous deployments know the importance of taking care of one's self.

"I learned the hard way," Kathy said.

An experienced deployment veteran, Kathy hosts dinner parties for other spouses and helps spouses who are new to the Army.

"You have to reach out to the younger ones," Kathy said.

A lot of spouses return to their hometowns to be close to their Families.

Kathy sees advantages to staying near an installation where there are services to cater to the Army Family.

"It is important to be near people in the same position," Kathy said.

It also is important to meet people to make the deployment easier.

"It's harder for those who don't know anyone," Laura said.

Army spouses bond quickly, and, like Soldiers in combat, have battle buddies to help them through deployments.

Kathy runs with her battle buddy.

"When I am with my battle buddy, I don't have to explain myself," Kathy said.

Many spouses with children spend the deployment focused on caring for their Families.

With six children in her charge, Cleo learned to bottle up any sadness and keep it from the children.

"I take very long showers because of the kids," Cleo said.

The children

Cleo spends lots of time with her children going to church, Sea World, restaurants and having Family game nights.

"I do things with my kids," Cleo said.

Get the kids involved with the deployment and making care packages, Burt said.

Kathy and her husband adopted two girls last year.

On previous deployments when the couple had no children, Kathy taught school.

Now that she has children it is different.

Her daughters are involved with CYSS programs on Fort Hood.

"It's important to be involved with programs on post and be with other kids who are going through the same thing," Kathy said.

Karen's two children are in Germany with their father

Her husband has not yet met her children, but they still are involved with his deployment through phone calls and the Deployment Buddies program at their school.

Holm's children are involved with Child, Youth and Schools Services, Boy Scouts, and SKIESUnlimited.

Alejandra had the couple's first child in September. She is looking for Mommy and Me programs and infant swimming classes.

Spouses with children also help each other by sharing child care.

They also focus on preparing for the Family reunion following a deployment.

When they come home

There is an adjustment time when the Soldier returns.

"You don't know what the other is going through," Laura said.

Never play the "who-has-it-worse game" with your Soldier or other spouses, Kathy said.

Many are already preparing for common issues Soldiers experience when returning home following a year or 15 months in a combat zone.

"Make time for you and your spouse," Burt said.

Give Soldiers space and time to adjust.

"When they come home, you need to be patient," Cleo said. "Don't force them to tell you every horrible detail."

Allow time for the children to adjust to the reuniting Family unit as well.

"Don't throw the kids in," Burt said. "Ease them into a schedule."

Her husband has missed both of their children's first birthdays

Overall, the spouses said the deployments made them appreciate their Families even more.

"When they are over there away from Family, you realize how much they mean to you," Cleo said.

Page last updated Thu February 12th, 2009 at 17:57