Soldier's wife endures deployment cycles by drawing on faith, friendships
April 29, 2010
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - When Wendy Peterson fell, it was for an Army mortar man in Bosnia. She woke up at all hours of the night to gab and giggle on the phone with the young man deployed half around the world.
"We were committed to not dating, since he was in the military and I was heading to college," Peterson said. "But lo and behold, he deployed to Bosnia in 1999, and two months later we were in love."
Three years later, she took a road trip to Fort Drum with her wedding dress and shoes in the back seat. She said mostly as a prank, she asked Thurman Peterson if he wanted to get married.
He called her on it, and their ensuing adventures and hardships are the substance of Peterson's "Memoirs of a Soldier's Wife," a self-published book she released in January. For another perspective, the book contains one chapter written by Peterson's husband.
Fort Drum was Peterson's eighth stop on a national book tour she launched in March.
She held a book signing and a discussion at the McEwen Library April 23 and a book signing at the Post Exchange on Saturday. She said the book, which she began writing in 2004, was not only a process aimed at self-discovery, but also at offering help to Families that face multiple deployment cycles.
"Every time a Soldier leaves, there's a (certain kind of) loneliness that surrounds you," said the mother of four. "I want to encourage people to support military Families.
"Call them, or stop by. Pick up their kids, even if for a half hour. Give mom, or whoever is home with the kids, 10 to 15 minutes - just to breathe," she said.
"Pick up their grocery list and their money to do their shopping when you go to the grocery store. Little simple things that you (might) not think of can make a huge difference - they really do."
In her book, Peterson describes the temporary effect of deployments on a mother as the same as the heartache of a single mother.
"It was very hard to explain to him where Daddy was going and when he was coming back," she said of a conversation with her 8-year-old son, Staphon, when her husband went to Iraq in 2004. "Any time we were in the car and he saw a helicopter, he'd say 'Daddy's in a helicopter; there's Daddy up there.'"
She said at another time, she agonized over her 11-year-old, Isaiah, who went through a phase where he "shut down" and kept to himself.
"It's heartbreaking for a mom to see your child go through that and to know the (deployment) is having an effect on him," she said.
Peterson also has a 7-year-old daughter, Ashantia (an adopted niece), and a 2-year-old son, Tre.
She said faith and friendships helped sustain her during the Family's hardest times.
"God gave me a self-nurturing soul, and it took me writing this book to figure out why I am the way that I am," she said. "I had a home church in Cleveland that was very supportive. From weekly phone calls to home visits, I have never been in an environment as supportive as that one.
"Also, I had to be faithful, and just keep praying and praying and praying," she added. "Until your back is against the wall, you have no idea how you're going to get through what you're going through.
"(Difficulties) are the real test of faith," she said. "They determine the strength of your faith, or whether or not it even exists."
Peterson said she's not sure where her faith in God originated. When her husband was stop-lossed so that he could be sent to Egypt from 2007 to 2009, she said an elder from the church drove 45 minutes every week to take her children out and give her a break.
In addition to considering the pressures on the home front, Peterson said spouses need to be mindful of the stress their husbands endure in war zones.
"Be very considerate of what your Soldier is going through while they're deployed," she said. "I know of a lot of Soldiers who had so much extra stress because of what was going on at home that it made it so hard for them to focus and to do what was required of them.
"My (husband's) biggest fear when he would be deployed was his Family. He worried about us constantly. I always told him: 'I don't need you to worry about us. I need you to stay focused. I can't afford for you to make a mistake or have an accident or for some stupid tragedy to occur. I'll take care of home.'"
Peterson has experienced as many as 18 months apart from her husband, who was deployed twice since 2002 as an Army National Guardsman, attached both times to a military police unit. Before the National Guard, he spent four years on active duty.
Today, he is an Ohio state trooper.
Strangely, she said the most difficult part of deployments on a Soldier's wife can be the homecoming - a redeploying service member's struggle to transition and his Family's efforts to welcome him unreservedly.
"You have to get used to sharing yourself with someone else again - your time, your plans, your thoughts, your emotions," she said. "I would tell him I was forced to be (controlling), not by him, but by the situation, because you don't have a choice. You have to be strong and figure out what needed to get done and just make it happen."
But she admits a large part of making things work involves asking others for help.
"The first thing you have to do is admit it is going to be difficult," she said to all spouses with deployed husbands. "If you trick yourself into trying to believe that it's not difficult, you set yourself up for failure. You'll be very hard on yourself when things get difficult.
"Just realize that this is not going to be easy. Tell yourself that you will take it one day at a time - even one minute at a time."