Spouses endure as Soldiers serve in harm's way
May 12, 2009
- As someone who served himself for 23 years in Special Forces, Cole can sympathize with his wife's experiences in deployment.
- Cole has become active in Family Support Groups.
- He has done his best to reach out to other spouses because of his own experiences with a wife who has frequently deployed.
- He's inspired other male spouses to join family support groups.
FORT MONMOUTH, N.J.--"My wife has been receiving flowers every Monday for the last 20 years since we've been married," smiled Mick Cole, U.S. Army Maj. (retired). "Except for when she's deployed, which she has done four times."
Cole's wife, Sgt. 1st Class Debra Tanacea, a member of the Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate Task Force of the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center here, returned this year from her fourth deployment in three years to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her tours have averaged about six months each. But according to Cole, it's not a problem.
"Debra has a very interesting and technically oriented job," said Cole. "She's helping Soldiers in her area of expertise and there's no way I would tell her I didn't want her to do it."
Cole and his wife stayed in touch during her deployments daily through cell phone calls and text messages. Usually, Debra called him before leaving for duty in Iraq, which due to the time difference, was when he was going to bed.
As someone who served himself for 23 years in Special Forces, deployment is a familiar experience for Cole. With tours to Vietnam, Okinawa, Taiwan and Korea, having his spouse overseas in a hostile area provides few new surprises as he's had plenty of experience for any hardship imaginable.
"Boredom was probably my biggest problem during my wife's absences, but I never let it get to me. I work for myself now, mostly in remodeling. Some of my customers are wives of deployed Soldiers and I enjoy helping them with concerns they may have."
One significant problem that cropped up involved a wife whose deployed husband neglected to include her name on checking and savings accounts. Accompanying her to the bank, Cole made sure she was informed on all bank procedures. Cole also encouraged another wife who was overwhelmed by loneliness to return to work as a nurse.
"You can't sit down and just cry," said Cole. "You're a lot better off staying busy, accepting new challenges and trying different things."
Cole also praised the Army for its improved methods of preparing families for spouse deployments such as family support groups (FSGs). According to Cole, FSGs are an excellent foundation for families who are new to the service. Support groups can provide answers to everyday problems, help newcomers learn the various inner workings of the Army, and help them receive day-to-day sustainment from fellow deployed families and post officials.
"Debra and I have been in FSGs [family support groups] all over the world and they can make all the difference," said Cole. "I can say without hesitation they work."
"When Mick says that he has always participated in family support group functions at all the duty stations we have been to, he really is telling the truth," added Tanacea. "The funny thing about it is that most of the time, he is the only male (spouse) participant with a group of anywhere from five to 10 female spouse members."
But Cole has never been intimidated by that fact continued Tanacea. In fact, according to Tanacea who is due to retire in November of this year, once wives got to know Cole and realized they could count on him for help with Army issues, they were thankful to have him. Cole also inspired other male spouses to join family groups making them even stronger.
Tanacea believes in most instances that it's taken for granted male spouses can "manage" and are never considered as someone who might benefit from a FSG. "Mick has made a huge contribution to the U.S. Army by supporting family groups. I have always been very proud of the fact that my husband participated and supported me through the FSG wherever we were stationed."
Spouses of deployed Soldiers in need of support are encouraged to call Army Community Service (ACS) and ask for Danita Alvarado, Relocation, Deployment and Mobilization Director at 732-532-2077. Alvarado also hosts Hearts Apart, support for family members sharing the absence of a military or civilian family member every third Friday of the month at ACS.