The real thing
Published: October 3, 2011
She’s not a real military spouse, but she plays one on TV. Kim Delaney, arguably the biggest star of Lifetime’s “Army Wives,” was asked to speak at a gala event honoring former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates a week or two ago. Unable to read or remember her prepared remarks about military life, the confused actress was gently escorted from the stage, looking like a lost child.
She may have been under the influence of an unknown substance or simply sabotaged by a faulty teleprompter, but she did not project the elegant confidence of AW’s Claudia Joy Holden.
Whatever the reason for her odd behavior, I’m not joining the attack on Delaney. Heaven and the Huffington Post knows she must be humiliated enough. Her embarrassing moment has been shown on television, reviewed online, and reviled by YouTubers.
Perhaps the blame lies with whomever asked an actress — even an Emmy winner like Delaney — to talk about being a military spouse. When was the last time anyone asked a military spouse to discuss the acting life?
What’s worthy of criticism is the culture of celebrity that confuses stardom with expertise. A mentality that invites a make-believe military spouse to talk about a life she only knows through scripted scenes instead of going to the source.
I applaud the entertainment industry for noticing that military spouses are out here. At least “Army Wives” — if not exactly reflective of our real lives — does attempt to tell our tales in soap-operatic style. We bask in the knowledge that our lives are worthy of exaggeration and glorification, Hollywood’s sincerest forms of flattery.
As an added attraction, the popular program has produced glamorous celebrity versions of ourselves. When those celebrities begin to represent us in real life, that’s when the applause light goes off for me.
So I pose the same question I heard from others in the blogosphere: Why wasn’t a real military spouse invited to speak instead?
The ceremony to award the Liberty Medal to Gates included video tributes from three former presidents, a former Supreme Court Justice and the Secretary of State. Remarkably, no one asked the cast of “The West Wing” to weigh in.
I can easily think of several real military spouses who turned their own obstacles into stepping-stones for the rest of us and who would have been excellent representatives.
How about Army wife Tawny Campbell, who founded Project TLC while stationed in Germany? Her trio of charities serves wounded warriors, deploying troops and their families with letters, Christmas gifts and free family portraits. The mother of two young children has operated the nonprofit program since 2007, even during her husband’s deployments, with help from volunteers worldwide.
Then there’s Bonnie Carroll. After her military husband died in a plane crash in 1992, she founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Since then TAPS, with Bonnie as president, has served thousands of bereaved military families with resources and information, casualty assistance and support programs, including “Good Grief Camps” especially for children of fallen servicemembers.
Or we could have heard from Heather Hebdon. A military wife – now widowed – and the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, she founded Specialized Training of Military Parents in 1985 — even before the military created the Exceptional Family Member Program. Now funded by the U.S. Department of Education, STOMP is still helping military parents to find the best care and education for special needs children.
They also could have asked journalist and Army wife Tanya Biank, the author of “Army Wives: The Unwritten Code of Military Marriage,” on which the television show was based. Her book contains the true stories of military wives. However, reliable sources have it that Tanya has been very busy lately.
Come to think of it, maybe all the real Army wives were busy that night. They and their Marine, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, guard and reserve counterparts are probably busy most nights — days, too.
Not all are at the helm of national organizations. Some are busy doing the work of two parents during deployment. They are attending Family Readiness Group meetings or parent-teacher conferences, earning a degree, maintaining a career or caring for their own wounded warrior at home.
Some nights they might even get together with their friends to enjoy an episode of “Army Wives.” One thing they are not doing is confusing what they see on television with the lives of real military families. Their own true stories are much more compelling and rewarding.