by Theresa Owen
Stacy gave up her career in Washington to join Mike at Fort Bragg. Following the attacks in 2001, she took the lead of the Family Support Group for her husband’s Airborne infantry company during a deployment to Afghanistan. She became the contact point, source of communication, aide and calm for military families during a war while raising her husband’s belligerent preteen daughter alone. The wives babysat each other’s children, buried each other’s dead, argued, gossiped and prayed. Then Mike came home. Unable to readjust to civilized life, he spiraled into self-destruction and was about to ruin their lives. This was different than previous redeployments. Something had changed.
Smoking Joe is the most badass officer I have known in this generation, and his wife Beth is the most effective and genuine military spouse I knew. I was fortunate to work with them twenty years ago at Fort Bragg and was thrilled to see he recently commanded all of the 82nd Airborne Division, then moved on to the Pentagon this year.
Beth was one of two wives who inspired the character of the battalion commander’s better-half in my latest novel, We Held the Fort. I have no doubt she could run Fort Bragg on her own if need be. Having such a dedicated couple still serving our military gives me hope for its future.
We Held the Fort is my attempt to show the dedication many military spouses give and how their struggles are unique. I also tried to depict the cultural changes which are debasing our military. Everything that happened in this novel is something I witnessed or experienced. Because there is nothing more attractive to me than a man with a cause, and wearing boots, I dated military men for ten years before deciding to move to Fort Bragg. And ultimately, I moved there because I was offered a teaching job in a poor district. Despite Fayetteville being a dumpy town in the middle of nowhere, life was incredibly meaningful there for me. I loved being a military wife. My two sons were born at Fort Bragg. I volunteered to help military families in hopes it would keep my husband safer. Unfortunately, my life with the military came to a heartbreaking end. It was not a heroic end, nor was it uncommon.
The military and other uniformed services have developed a dark side over the past twenty years. Painkillers, antidepressants and steroids are rampant and encouraged. Have an injury? Take a pill and carry on. Marriage is falling apart? Take a pill and carry on. Need that Army Strong look? Take a pill and carry on. These temporary solutions are creating larger long term problems and destroying lives. Domestic violence in military families and rape of fellow soldiers have increased dramatically. Now military members returning from combat sit through short intervention talks just before being released, but if a soldier claims to have concerns, he is held back from going home. So the returning soldiers nod their heads, sign away the military’s responsibility to their actions, and carry on.
This novel does not discuss possible reasons for these changes, but simply tries to expose them for conversation. Remaining silent to what I have witnessed would be accepting misconduct and I can’t do that. Although there is a broader cultural issue, I find the current Army mission is indicative of the wrong direction it has taken: “To fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.” Considering this statement does not mention the nation’s protection, nor the honor of our servicemen or citizens, but rather the taking of land ‘in support of combatant commanders,’ it is prophetically fitting for a time of perpetual war.
My fellow military spouses: your sacrifice was beautiful!
My next book is an historical novel about the life of Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman decorated with the Medal of Honor and whose name is on the awards given to Army spouses for exceptional service.