Photo: (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Farley)
Violence, desperation, and chaos have consumed the region as the Russia-Ukraine war is nearing the two-week mark. Military spouses are watching, waiting and most of all, worrying.
While the U.S. isn’t committing troops to the conflict itself yet, and is unlikely to do so unless Russia threatens a NATO ally country, some spouses recently received word that their loved ones already serving in the region won’t be coming home as scheduled. Other spouses got notice their service member will be deploying to the region immediately. And then, there are countless spouses assuming the call will come any day.
We spoke with two military spouses with a combined 40+ years of experience about how this conflict compares in recent history, and how they cope. We decided not to use their names so they will be referred to as Spouse A & Spouse B.
“Immediately, my anxiety kicked up knowing my service member is in the region,” explains Spouse A, whose partner serves in the Navy. “And then my second thought was oh, gosh they are going to get extended,” she said.
It’s not clear yet if her instincts were right but homecoming plans seem out of reach for now. Four days after the start of the war on Feb. 28, she received official communication from an ombudsman.
“We were told communication would be limited,” she said. “I think it was to help spouses here not overreact if they didn’t receive an email or a phone call, and not to worry just that their sailor was busy.” Spouse A is all too familiar with the processes set in place when her service member is in the middle of an escalating conflict. Knowing the protocol doesn’t necessarily make life easier; instead, it makes certain possibilities more of a reality.
As Spouse A waited for correspondence from her service member, she chose to educate herself about the situation, and her heart broke for the Ukrainian families broken apart. “I am overwhelmed with disgust that they have to leave their homes,” she said. “I can’t imagine having to leave everything you know, and then be forced to sleep on the floor and not know what is next.”
Not really knowing what was going on with her husband, six days into the war on Spouse A was elated to receive a short phone call. “We didn’t talk about the conflict,” she said. “It was more about checking in with family. He asked how the kids are doing, how I am doing. He’s not able to talk about it (military operations) so I don’t ask.”
‘He could easily get the call’
Spouse B doesn’t hesitate to ask her husband if he is being sent to Eastern Europe just about every time they communicate. Her soldier, a medical expert, is currently on American soil but she believes his deployment to the war-torn region is inevitable. “He could easily get the call if they needed medical help on a larger scale,” she said. “It is partly terrifying, but I feel very proud. He could have the opportunity to do good over there.”
Spouse B and her Army husband just moved back to the U.S. after a tour in Europe. She believes if she was still living overseas she too would want the opportunity to help out refugees fleeing the violence in Ukraine. “I would have gone to Poland to try and do anything to help,” she explained. Instead, she spends time each day following the latest news from the war.
The possible deployment of her husband is weighing heavily on their family. “Putin seems like a madman,” she said. “All bets are off the table. My husband wouldn’t necessarily be on the front line but depending on what weapons he pulls out, proximity might not matter.”
The Middle of a Conflict
Spouse A and Spouse B have both dealt with their loved one being in the middle of a conflict including Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. As US troops pulled out of Afghanistan last year, Spouse A thought the current mission would be quite different than it is turning out to be.
“After the last deployment, we didn’t anticipate another tour like this. I was watching the news but it is not something that you ever hope happens when your service member is deployed in the middle of a conflict. They still feel compelled to serve as a sense of duty to the country,” Spouse A said.
Spouse B knows the feeling all too well. She’s sent her soldier into combat 10 times and counts on her family and friends to help her cope with the fear and uncertainty she faces.
In This Together
Both senior spouses noted now is the time for military spouses to lean on one another.
“People in the military pull together,” Spouse B said. “Find someone in your spouses’ unit and usually people will go out of their way to help get you what you need.”
Spouse A suggests taking advantage of resources. “Don’t try to be brave and not talk about it. Talk to a close friend or reach out to mental health services to talk about it,” she said.
Spouse A is practicing what she preaches as she worries about her sailor’s potential extension. She’s heavily engaged with her community of military spouse friends. She believes they are the only people who truly understand what she’s going through.
“We are looking at having to PCS this summer, but there are no orders,” she said. “So we don’t know where we would go. And the thought of having to do it alone is causing me a lot of anxiety. It’s the unknowns.”
And unknowns are mounting; the outcome of the war, how long it will last, and just how involved U.S. troops will be.
You are not alone. If you or someone you know needs help, here are some resources:
Military One Source: bit.ly/3HjtKRg
Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255
Women Veterans Hotline: 855-829-6636
Vet Center Call Center: 877-WAR-VETS (927-8387)