Men and women don’t go to war – families go to war and as a result there are many military mothers. They include mothers who have to leave their children to serve; mothers of the men and women who serve; and military spouses who hold on to their children and the life at home while their partners serve.
A closer look at these military mothers offers a reflection of fear and courage, of sacrifice and maternal resilience, of trauma and triumph.
Military Mothers: Bearing Children and Bearing Arms
Nearly 38 percent of women in active duty have children. Approximately 11 percent of women in the military are single mothers and women are five times more likely to be in dual military marriages where both partners are eligible for deployment.
The Conflict of Roles
When Heidi Kraft, author of Rule Number Two, was deployed as a combat psychologist to join the Alpha Surgical Unit in Iraq, her twins were 15 months old. Leaving them in the hands of her parents and marine officer husband, she would be gone for 8 months.
Immediately immersed into the urgency of war, she describes being faced with a conflict. She could not function in Iraq if her children stayed in the forefront of her consciousness. She made the difficult decision to stay mission focused.
As part of a surgical team, she responded to both the physical anguish and emotional trauma of the young marines and the inconsolable grief of a committed staff. As such, she found that she never really gave up her role as mother.
As she held and squeezed the hand of one young dying marine and he responded by squeezing back – the meaning of her role took on an expanded light. She had stepped in for his mother- for all the mothers not able to be with their children.
“Plan for the Worst-Hope for the Best”
Julie Weckerlein, a technical sergeant in the US Air Force Reserve, was deployed in 2007 as a combat correspondent on a three-man team, with the mission of gathering news, photos and close reporting of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her daughter Claire was 3 years old.
When Julie, her husband, Martin and their little Claire exchanged farewells at the airport, Julie told him to keep the camera rolling. She wanted Claire to have a record of that day. As Julie explained in an interview with me,
“In the military – you plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
In many ways, Julie tried to do just that.
Care of Mothers is Care of Children
Military Mothers – Watching Your Children Go Off to War
The number of men and women in the US military including guardsmen and reservists is close to 2.4 million – that’s a lot of military moms.
As a group they watch Boot Camp Graduations and West Point graduations with pride and the pain of worry. They try to live with the motto that no news is good news but as military mother and poet, Frances Richey says, “Isn’t that your job? To whisper in the ear of any god who’ll listen: Please protect him.”
The Power of Group Support
Losing a Child in War
Recently, Kelly Hugo, a military mother flew to a US Hospital in Germany to identify her 21-year-old mortally wounded son. When she was asked to verify that he was listed as an organ donor she said “ Oh yes, because something good has to come out of something bad.”
Military Mothers – Holding the Children and the Connection
Military spouses and their children make up a significant percentage of the larger military community and 93 percent of military spouses are women.
When you speak with or spend time with military moms who face the ambiguity of deployment cycles and take on the stress and the challenge of raising the children, dealing with the house, holding a job and maintaining a connection to their spouse while hearing “I wish Daddy Was Here” – you are struck with their courage and resilience.
Those that function the best are active, optimistic, self-reliant and flexible – One mother said she regulated her own stress by keeping the children busy doing things for deployed military and for military families near her home. The result was that they met other families, worked as a team and felt connected to Dad.
Particularly for those not on a military base, an effort to find a supportive community helps support a military family. Sarah Smiley, wife of a Navy pilot, knew that her spouse’s 13-month deployment would be a difficult one for her and her three boys ages 11, 5 and 9. Knowing that dinnertime would be the roughest they started a program called “Dinner with the Smileys,” during which they invite someone once a week to eat dinner until Dad returns. They have had guests ranging from politicians to neighbors.
Central to the optimal functioning during deployment cycles is planning. Communication with the deployed spouse is crucial.
Living With Uncertainty
The Deployment cycles can be difficult. As Katherine Mille, author and military mother says – being told a deployment might be coming throws a wrench into any plans you have. For some it is an invitation to make every day count – for others it feels like a ominous cloud.
What we know about military moms is that they bring a unique blend of courage that makes the impossible – possible.
Picture of Julie Weckerlein and 3-year-old Claire
This post currently has
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.
Last reviewed: 18 Jun 2012