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Sound Off: What military spouses say about COVID-19

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: August 28, 2020

Recently, I decided to change my “lurker” status, and post something in a popular military spouse Facebook group to which I belong. In my first post to the group, I asked how military families had been affected by COVID-19 restrictions.

Most of the 50-plus comments described what I’d expected — delays, disappointments and uncertainty. Marine wife Christine said, “My husband was in Korea for a year. He missed our oldest’s high school graduation due to the travel ban, among other things. I lost my job. Had to do virtual school with my 3 kids. No academic/school support. Solo parenting through it all.”

And Air Force spouse Julie, whose family got orders to Belgium: “I quit my job on Feb. 28 at 30 weeks pregnant. We shipped out stuff, we moved out of our house, and sold one of our two cars. We had our luggage packed and were staying with my parents for a week. March 13 came around, and the travel ban went into effect. I am currently in therapy for PPD/anxiety and we have no real answer on when we are leaving or if they are shipping our stuff back.”

Brittany and her Navy family moved into a house 40 minutes from base in Italy, two days before the lockdown: “I was terrified for my husband to drive to work ... Police checkpoints and fines if you didn’t have a valid reason to be outside. My one saving grace is that we rented a house with about two acres so we could go on walks. People were only allowed on their balconies, and some were stuck in the lodge for six months.”

Air Force spouse Tanya lamented not being able to travel outside of Japan: “I feel sad that my daughter will almost be two by the time she gets to meet her grandparents, aunts, uncle and cousins, extended family members. They will be strangers to her, and that breaks my heart.”

There were other predictable themes — mothers giving birth without husbands, couples losing child care, military spouses facing unemployment, spouses handling remote learning alone, etc.

But some comments took me by surprise. I hadn’t realized how travel bans affected divorced military parents stationed overseas. Spouses told sad stories of being unable to see children with whom they share custody.

Also, the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on new trainees was an eye-opener.

New Army wife Kelsey said, “My husband joined the Army and shipped to basic in February, right before COVID-19 made its way to America. We had no idea what we were in for. My husband’s basic was extended ... By the time he is done, we will have been unable to see my husband for eight months when it was supposed to be just two ... I expect the Army will have a huge retention problem for these unfortunate COVID-19 new soldiers.”

I also had no idea that families were paying thousands to transport pets due to cancellations. During a recent PCS, Marine wife Courtney couldn’t fly her pet from Hawaii to Georgia as planned. Instead, she paid a pet carrier $2,400 to fly the dog to California, then had to drive him across the U.S. Air Force spouse Alexis who is PCSing to Japan said, “We have two very large dogs and most airlines aren’t shipping pets ... just think about taking out a small loan just to bring your fur babies with you to your next home.”

But the real surprise was the light that some spouses found in the darkness. Jessica, Navy spouse and reservist, was grateful that virtual drills have allowed her to spend more time with her new baby. Coast Guard wife Myst stated, “We’ve taken more opportunities to go outdoors for hikes, picnics and other activities instead of spending time and money in shops and restaurants. We’ve been able to make better connections with friends, family, strangers, shipmates and coworkers. This is a challenge that can bring people together.”

Extended separation gave Army wife Laura new appreciation: “I think this whole experience with COVID-19 should really put people in perspective with how blessed we truly are, to have homes, jobs, our health and each other.”

Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at: themeatandpotatoesoflife.com
Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@googlemail.com