Last call for Spouse Calls

Even ordinary days reveal extraordinary lives of military families on the homefront

Packers will arrive at our house in a few days to begin the last move of our family’s active-duty life. Since my writing often comes from my own life, my husband’s retirement after 30 years brings my weekly column about active-duty military life to its logical completion. Of course, the larger story of military families goes on.

Military life touches the consciousness of our nation, mostly through events that grab headlines, through stories that are heroic, scandalous or tragic. As military families, we know the quieter days — when no one is watching — are just as indicative of our lives. In this space, for more than eight years, I’ve covered some of the big headlines touching our lives. I’ve also tried to shed light on the ordinary days of life on the homefront.

Snapshots from Vietnam

A father's photographs reveal his untold stories of daily life in wartime

The author's father, Jimmie Hurley, in 1965, standing in front of the loudspeakers on a U10 Courier aircraft at Bien Hoa Air Base, Vietnam. The plane's mission was to fly over known enemy territory, broadcasting messages via these speakers and dropping leaflets, to convince combatants to surrender and avoid deadly American airstrikes.

Fifty years ago, Jimmie Hurley spent Father’s Day in Vietnam, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force. He arrived there in late 1964, part of the air campaign that preceded the arrival of ground troops the following April. He didn’t fight on the ground, but he was most likely shot at in the air. I say “most likely” because I don’t know all the details of his wartime service, even though Jimmie is my father. He died in 2009, and when he was alive he was tight-lipped about Vietnam. Much of what I do know I learned from the pictures he left behind.

In Vietnam in 1964 and 1965, Dad was a crew chief on a U10 Courier aircraft, modified for psychological warfare by the addition of speakers. The mission of these tiny, unarmed planes, dubbed “Speaker Birds,” was to fly low over known enemy territory, delivering written and spoken messages to convince Viet Cong fighters and sympathizers to surrender and avoid imminent American airstrikes.

I know you're out there

Having friends all over the world means more people to miss, but also more people to love

I was on the phone with my friend Sheila, bemoaning the demise of our hopes for a weekend reunion we’d planned with another friend, Bonnie. We three met while stationed in Germany. Our latest assignments brought us within driving distance of one another, and in February we had planned to gather in one place for the first time in several years — until an untimely ice storm made the roads between us impassable.

I stood at my window, holding the phone and glowering at a gray sky.

Say it out loud

Army spouse tells her own story to help military couples work through reintegration and other stress

In the most difficult days of her marriage, Corie Weathers practiced a principle she learned as a licensed professional counselor: Say out loud the things that are hard to say out loud.

Like many military couples, Corie and her husband, Matt, an Army chaplain, experienced their toughest trial after Matt’s first deployment. During that deployment, several of Matt’s fellow soldiers were killed, and many were injured.

The end, the beginning

Our experiences and transitions prepare us for what is to come

The march to graduation includes a procession of “lasts.” Last day of class, last lunch to pack. Finals. This is especially true for my husband and me this spring, as our youngest child completes high school.

When I wrote my first Spouse Calls column, we were the parents of a grade-schooler, a middle-schooler and a high-schooler. Their experiences have often found their way into this space, particularly at milestones like graduation.

Into Africa

Peace Corps volunteer employs the adaptability she developed as a military brat

On Mother’s Day, Sheila and Randy Sellers were in an airport en route to Africa. Between PCS assignments and Randy’s deployments, The Air Force couple and their now-grown children have lived and traveled around the world, but this was a different kind of trip: a visit to their 23-year-old daughter, Dana, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia.

The following day, Dana Sellers awaited her parents’ arrival at a friend’s house in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. While waiting, she sipped coffee and answered questions via webcam about her Peace Corps experiences. Discussing her training to be a healthcare educator, she stopped mid-sentence, a faraway look in her eyes.

Once a military spouse ...

Military friendships and connections are not always severed by divorce

We met at a party over hors d’oeuvres and chit-chat. When the subject of military life came up, she said, “I used to be a military spouse, but we’re divorced now.”

She told me the transition from military family to divided family was somewhat difficult for her children, but military friends have been helpful. The father of her children is active duty Air Force, and when he was deployed some of his military friends stepped in to help keep the children connected to military life and to other military kids with deployed parents.

His and hers?

Military husbands often defy stereotypes but don't want to be treated like women

Military Spouse Appreciation Day is May 8, a date intended to recognize all military spouses. However, male military spouses sometimes feel overlooked by this day of recognition. One website dedicated to male spouses, MachoSpouse.com, is promoting the first Male Military Spouse Day this week as well (May 7). Some military husbands I talked to, while agreeing that most spouse programs don’t quite fit them, were ambivalent about the need for their own day of appreciation.

Male spouses are getting more attention these days, said Army spouse Dave Etter, the host of a podcast called Male Military Spouse Radio.

Kids with the right stuff

MCOY Award recipients driven to serve, succeed

It’s an impressive group of individuals. One promotes the rights of women and girls in the Middle East. One is a record-holding competitive swimmer. One is an Eagle Scout. Another founded a nonprofit to help wounded veterans, and another volunteers to support children of deployed servicemembers. Yet another overcame homelessness and domestic violence to become a leader in his community.

Each one is a military child, chosen to represent his or her parent’s respective military service branches as recipients of Operation Homefront’s 2015 Military Child of the Year Awards. Operation Homefront is a national nonprofit providing emergency financial and other assistance to military families. This year’s awards honored four boys and two girls.