Friday, July 4, 2008

Book Review

While They're at War: The True Story of American Families on the Homefront
by Kristin Henderson

Several months ago, a fellow blogger had asked for a book or other resource that might be helpful for her sister-in-law. Her brother is a reservist and had been activated. The family was facing a deployment. The blogger didn't come out and say this, but I understood the feeling of helplessness. We all want to do something to help make the pain go away, even for a bit.

I clearly recall telling people about my husband's deployment. "Hi! I haven't seen you in a while. What's new with me? Well, let's see...I'm pregnant! Thanks! And my husband is deploying with the National Guard...he'll be gone a year...leaving next month..." I lived in a civilian world. The look of horror that would pass over the faces of those just given the news was amusing to the woman who could not imagine how bad life could be and was desperately blocking every attempt her mind made to try.

As the horror gave way to sadness, and my friends' eyes would well up with tears, I would wave off that emotion. "Stop! You're going to make me cry, too. Just pray for me."

It's a little different in the military world in which I now live. There is no look of horror. We've all been there. And there are fewer tears. There's a time and a place, and we know to save them for the right ones. There are comforting hugs and pats. There are helpful discussions about plans: where to live, how to manage, selling the car, mowing the lawn, shuttling kids to baseball.

When my blogger friend asked for a book, I had nothing to suggest. There are tons of resources available (I suggested some of those), but I couldn't think of any one book. Then, a month later, I found While They're at War on my bookshelf. The copyright is from 2006, so it must have been given to us when we moved last summer and was packed up and forgotten in all the chaos.

At first glance, I really didn't think it would be very interesting. From the inside of the dust jacket:

We first meet Marissa Bootes and Beth Pratt, new Army wives undergoing intense indoctrination on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, while their husbands are fighting in Iraq. Their stories unfold to reveal often hidden aspects of life on the homefront. Through gripping storytelling (I think this is the phrase that really turns me off), we see families battling the overwhelming effects of isolation and anticipatory grief, the strongly enforced codes concerning infidelity, their feelings of alienation from military staff and non-military citizens, and the harrowing impact of e-mail/cellphone/CNN culture.

I didn't want to recommend a book I hadn't read first, and I wasn't sure this would be worthwhile, so I made time amidst packing and other pre-move errands and dug in.

I was pleasantly surprised.

The author frames her book on the story of two women, Marissa and Beth, who are very different and have dissimilar lives, views on the war, and coping mechanisms. She does begin with the soldiers already in Iraq, but then goes back to how the couples met, how they joined the Army, and how they found out about their deployments. She takes the reader through their deployment and to their homecoming. But that is just the frame of her book. Within those stories are the stories of dozens of other women as well as an explanation of many resources available to military families. The author is a Marine chaplain's wife. Although her primary characters are Army, she includes information applicable to all branches of the military.

Although the book does seem a bit jumpy, and at times, especially at first, I was confused about whom she was talking, if you stick with it, it gets easier. Admittedly, some chapters are extremely difficult to read.

Chapter 6: The Knock at the Door goes through the scenario every military spouse dreads. Not only does it describe what several women actually experienced, it also covers the fears and completely irrational worries that many of us have. It doesn't matter that we know that the news of our loved ones' death will be brought between the hours of 6 am and 10 pm by a team wearing a certain uniform and having a certain rank. A phone call at midnight or a strange soldier in ACUs at the door can strike terror into our hearts.

And probably the hardest chapter to read is Chapter 12: Pigeons in the Desert which talks about how the children are affected by their parents' deployment. Having watched my own little ones suffer tremendously while Bill was gone, it was difficult to reopen and examine those wounds.

The final chapter, Chapter 18: The Terrible Relief, is all about homecoming. I had to laugh at the author's description of her own feelings when her husband returned from one deployment:

The crowd screamed. For a moment I felt overstretched with emotion as if I might pop, my eyes pricking with tears. But even now that Franks's plane had landed safely, I reminded myself that he still had to get from Cherry Point Marine Air Station to Camp Lejeune, over forty miles down the North Carolina coast. At any moment, a bus could blow a tire and slam into an embankment, or run off a bridge and sink straight to the bottom of a river.

I didn't laugh because I thought she was ridiculous but because I had had similar thoughts as my husband returned from Kosovo. The plane will crash, I was convinced. It is difficult to keep a tight rein on your emotions for a year or more, but letting it all go is just as hard.

Although emotionally rough to read, I think this is a good book for any military spouse. At the back of the book is a list of dozens of websites mentioned throughout the book, and the general knowledge of how things work within the military is useful even for those who have been in the system for years. In addition, the comfort of hearing the stories of other women who have been through the same thing is invaluable. My sister's husband leaves in a few short weeks for Iraq, and I intend to get my copy to her soon.

But first, I am going to send the book to my mother. I really think this book is most helpful to those outside the military system who have no idea what the families are going through. This book should help explain the true answer behind the obligatory, "I'm fine, thanks," response usually given to questions about how everything is going. Things are never fine - merely status quo.

Often people want to know what they can do to help. The first step to that is understanding. The next is knowledge. For those outside of a soldier's immediate family (parents, siblings, priests or religious leaders, childrens' teachers, etc) to know what resources are available for struggling families means having one sane person outside the trenches able to offer thoughtful suggestions to someone who might not be aware of them or might be in denial that they are necessary.

If you, like my blogger friend, are looking for something to give to a friend or relative with a deploying spouse, I highly recommend this book. But first, read it yourself and share it with other people who will help form that person's civilian support network.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rosary for Soldiers and Their Families

I have a lot of connections to the military. I was a military dependent when I was born because my father was in the Air Force. I served as a doctor in the Air Force for three years. My husband has served over twenty years in the Air Force. Now my son begins his service to our country as an Army lieutenant. That is why this article in the Arlington Catholic Herald caught my eye.

As she was driving back from a memorial service for a young family friend and four other soldiers killed in the war in Iraq, Lynda MacFarland felt compelled “to do something” to bring comfort to the grieving.
Inspired and humbled by the strength of the family members the soldiers left behind, MacFarland’s first thought was to immerse herself in prayer for troops and their families — with a “rosary for warriors.”
It was “divine inspiration,” said MacFarland, who conceded that she never had a devotion to the rosary nor did she know all the prayers.
After learning the prayers she didn’t know, MacFarland decided that the rosary for warriors should be prayed with the sorrowful mysteries in mind, and each decade would be prayed for a specific intention, including prayers for deployed soldiers, those wounded and deceased, and for the families of soldiers. She then passed the idea along to “every Catholic in my address book,” said MacFarland, who was living on a military base in Germany at the time.

These are the recommended intentions for each decade of the Rosary:

Using the sorrowful mysteries:
Agony in the garden: for deployed soldiers and their safety
Scourging at the pillar: for wounded soldiers and for their healing
Crowning with thorns: for deceased soldiers and repose of their souls
Carrying of the cross: for families of deployed, wounded and deceased soldiers, and for strength and comfort.
Crucifixion: for our nation, for the victims of war and for peace in the world.

I will be making this part of my Rosary devotion. I invite you to do the same. And I thank you for your prayers.

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Valentine's Gift for your Favorite Military Wife

Have you seen the book Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul? I have a couple of essays included in this book. The profits from the book sales go to the foundation. They sent this press release yesterday and I am happy to pass it along:

January 30, 2008. The #1 Valentines Day gift for Military Wives is a personalized, autographed copy of the book sure to touch her heart.

The well-received book, Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul, has often been suggested as the standard issue for military spouses. Autographed copies are available exclusively via the co-author’s MilitarySoul Foundation web site at: It is a 501c(3) non-profit and all proceeds go back to the military community. The book is also in military exchanges and bookstores around the world or order online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and numerous other sites

This book acknowledges, inspires and entertains the military wives who are serving as active duty members or supportive spouses. It celebrates the courageous women who raise families, maintain homes and uphold the most positive attitudes when facing the fears of losing a loved one. It shares the pride, emotion and triumphs achieved by past and present military wives everywhere.

The stories in Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul focus on the often-overlooked women that are a vital part our military team. In light of the on- going world situation it is more important then ever to recognize these heroines by compiling their stories for all to read.

An autographed copy of Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul will be a treasured Valentine’s Day gift.

Chicken Soup for the Soul® titles have sold more than 80 million copies, literally transforming the lives of readers from all walks of life.
(This post is also posted at Catholic Matriarch in My Domestic Church)