By Elizabeth M. LorgeJanuary 22, 2008
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 22, 2008) - On military bases and in towns and cities across America, servicemembers and their spouses are quietly waging their own war, the war to keep their Families together in spite of the stresses of extended and repeated deployments.
At their sides are the Army and other services, as well as federal, state and local organizations, nonprofits and now "Operation Military Family: How to Strengthen Your Military Marriage and Save Your Family," a new book by Navy veteran Michael J.R. Schindler that chronicles the struggles and triumphs of military couples and lists the resources available for assistance.
Although much of the book focuses on Reserve and National Guard Families in the Northwest, it offers invaluable, practical advice from counselors, chaplains and military couples about how to keep marriages strong and communication open before, during and after a deployment.
"I think the strength of marriage is so critical to the strength of our military. I would see that on ship all the time, because there would be so many issues back at the home front that half these guys would not think clearly. Nobody really knew what the other spouse was doing," Schindler said.
He suggests that the Soldier prepare a binder with insurance, legal and financial documents and even important phone numbers. The couple should set aside a time to discuss everything and the spouse remaining behind should come prepared with as many questions as possible. Schindler even includes sample questions.
"Ask yourself these simple questions," he writes. "If my spouse were to leave for twelve to fifteen months, starting tomorrow 1. Would I know where everything is' 2. What bills need to be paid' 3. Where all the important paperwork is filed' If you prepare the binder, some of these questions should already be answered, but there are a ton more questions you should ask."
Schindler also discusses the importance of developing a communication game plan ahead of the Soldier's deployment, to include how and when spouses will communicate, and what they are and are not going to talk about.
"Keeping your worlds 'together' when you are apart takes work," Schindler wrote. "Living each day apart will not be easy. Your experiences will be different, your daily challenges will be different and those life events you are accustomed to sharing together will be fond memories."
"Couples realized that if they were going to make it through this, they had to figure out how to communicate," he said in an interview. "It brought depth to a number of the relationships. Some said they really had to learn about how to communicate and what to communicate about. They couldn't just spew information like they were used to because of the circumstances. They either had limited time to talk or knew that each person was dealing with something traumatic, and they didn't want to dump garbage on each other. I think that was a major positive."
Some Soldiers may have to limit their communications with their Families in order to do their jobs and stay safe, but Schindler and the Soldiers in the book said it was important to find some way to stay connected. Mike, a special-operations Soldier, said that he would frequently write his young daughter letters and send her pictures, but he couldn't stand talking to her more than every couple of weeks. It made him too emotional.
His wife Tonia wrote about how unnerving communication blackouts were, and that she would be on an emotional roller coaster following their conversations.
"When Mike knew he was going out for a long mission, he would call home to tell me 'I just wanted to tell you I love you before I go out.' I finally had to tell him he had to stop doing that because it was like he was calling to talk to me one more time just in case he didn't make it back," she said in "Operation Military Family."
The book also deals with the stresses couples face after redeployment, which Tonia said "was way worse than the actual deployment. We still struggle every day. We've had to deal with all of the issues."
Schindler said that each of the approximately 50 couples he interviewed had seriously considered divorce or separation. Tonia and Mike said they still struggle every day, but that their kids have kept them together.
Army spouses in the book also stress how important it is to develop a support network in advance, to find a battle buddy to get them through those first difficult weeks, and to let friends and family know what to expect and how they can help. Other challenges they faced were differences in pay and medical coverage as reserve-component Soldiers deployed and a confusing mass of paperwork and Web sites.
"Operation Military Family" is a step-by-step guide to many of those resources and benefits, including TRICARE, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Military Homefront and Military OneSource -Department of Defense-sponsored Web sites for quality-of-life information and other resources - and nonprofit and service-specific resources for strengthening marriages, including the Army's Strong Bonds program.
Sponsored by the chaplaincy, Strong Bonds is a weekend-retreat program designed to help couples improve their communication styles.
The book also has exercises at the end of each chapter that couples can use to help develop their communication game plans and strengthen their marriages.
For more information, visit
www.operationmilitaryfamily.org. Information about the Army's Strong Bond's program can be found at