Truth and consequences

I was halfway through writing my next column about a new reality show starring military wives, when irony struck. I was approaching the story with a critical eye: Will this show reflect the truth of military life? Will some of the spouses turn diva when the cameras start rolling? Will their actions embarrass themselves, or possibly the rest of the military community?

Then I realized how ridiculous it was to ponder the potential for embarrassment in a few squabbles between military wives, deployment-time struggles with recalcitrant children and the natural conflict between couples. This week’s news about the behavior of generals makes spats between spouses look pretty tame.

Turns out that the truth can be far more embarrassing than TV shows, and that what people do when they think no one is watching is much less palatable than many things that happen in front of the camera. This week, every report on the evening news has been more damaging to the image and to the morale of military families than any reality show could ever be.

In the story I was covering, Army Public Affairs collaborated with producers of a reality show about military wives to safeguard the image of the Army and the reputations of military families. As they went about their work, little did the public affairs folks know that all their labors were about to be nullified by the private affairs of their leaders.

Aside from the possible ramifications for U.S. national security, this is what I find disturbing about the latest news sensation: While the rank and file fulfill their duties, at home or in harm’s way; while parents remind their children that they represent their military families wherever they go; while young wives consider how their actions reflect on their soldier, their efforts are turned to dust by the behavior of those entrusted with leadership. The egregious actions of these individuals – in addition to the pain they’ve caused their own families – tarnishes the daily diligence of the larger military family.

People – in the news and on the street – are using these events as a springboard for speculation about the toll of repeated separations on military marriages – as if those of us in military marriages weren’t already painfully aware of the cost.

Spouses at home during deployments watch the evening news alone and wonder: “If such a thing could happen to them …” As military families we are all connected, so we are all affected. However, I resent the implication that military life is to blame for individual choices. Infidelity, as far as I’m aware, is scarcely a problem exclusive to military marriages.

So to get back to the column I’m supposed to be writing: “Married to the Army: Alaska” premiers Sunday night in the U.S. on the Oprah Winfrey Network and on November 25th on American Forces Network for those stationed overseas.

I’ve previewed a couple of episodes and yes, it’s a reality show. Yes, there’s at least one drama queen, a few tearful breakdowns, some name-calling and marital conflict. There’s also plenty of sisterhood between spouses, pride in their husbands, love for their children and for each other. It’s a pretty fair picture of military life.

It doesn’t tell everyone’s story, because all our stories are different. The cast members relate their own stories as they live their lives in front of the cameras. Perhaps that’s what the civilian world needs to see right now as an antidote to spectacular scandal. Maybe it’s what military families need to see too. These Army wives and their families are determined, often frustrated, sometimes joyful, always human, and aren’t we all? Even our leaders, we have been reminded.

Just as one TV show can’t tell the story of every military family, the transgressions of one military member – though it saddens us – doesn’t predict the future for the rest of us.
We’ve all survived disappointment and failure of one kind or another, and that’s my hope for the families now in the news. As military families, they are perhaps more equipped than most to overcome. Rather than focus on large failures in the news, I’d rather take every opportunity to celebrate the small successes of each day.

On reality TV but more importantly in real life, they still matter.

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