By Nora Heston Tarte
Tanya Roberts, an Arizona native whose husband joined the Army in 1991, says the most challenging part of being in a military family is the unknown.
While her husband is deployed overseas, she has to worry about his safety, often not knowing when she will hear from him next, or even when he will return.
When her husband is working from his home base, currently in Hawaii, the possibility of another move is always right around the corner, and with a family of four, Roberts has to worry not only about how she will handle it, but how her kids will handle it.
Tanya survives by keeping a positive attitude. “One positive aspect to being a military family [is] the great friends we have met throughout this journey,” she says. “We support one another and go to all measures to take care of each other, especially during temporary duty assignments and deployments.”
The anticipation of the next homecoming helps Tanya make it through deployments, and now her kids get to be a part of the experience, too.
The Roberts family’s path has been met with bumps most civilian families couldn’t imagine – married in October 2007, Tanya and her husband Jim had their first child, Seth, on July 7, 2009. Three days later, Jim deployed to Iraq for a year. On December 2, 2013, the Roberts had their second child, Shayla. When she was 6 weeks old, they moved to Hawaii, and five months later, Jim deployed again. “Being a military family is challenging, just like life and being in any other family,” she says.
“I think the biggest thing is having to adapt,” says Nicole Schmidt, an Arizona native who left her family behind when her and her husband moved to a duty station in Oklahoma. “You have to be able to pack up your life, say goodbye to your friends and move to a place where you know no one at any given time.”
Nicole has learned to be flexible over the years. There are days when her husband, Brent, works long hours, weeks when he’s gone in the field and months when he is deployed.
“You have to learn to be both Mom and Dad when he is gone. I hear so many people who aren’t in the military say ‘oh no my hubby is going to be gone for the weekend,’ and I sometimes just want to say ‘try missing a year together.’”
Despite the struggles, Tanya doesn’t let it get her down. “You just put your best foot forward and face the challenges that come along with the lifestyle just as you would being a civilian family.”
Missing family has been one of the biggest obstacles for Nicole. “It is much harder being away now when you have a kid cause I just wish our families and friends could see our daughter grow up and go to her dance classes and pageants,” she explains.
How to Survive
Family traditions and technology help.
“My husband would make pancakes every Sunday when he was home and Seth loved to help him. So when my husband is able to call on Sundays, we make sure to include him with us making pancakes,” Tanya says.
“Technology is a great tool to have when loved ones are deployed,” says Nicole, who got pregnant on her husband’s rest and relaxation trip home halfway through his first deployment and spent her first six months of pregnancy without her husband by her side. He deployed overseas again when their daughter was 6 weeks old.
“Since he missed the first six months of my pregnancy, we Skyped all my doctor’s appointments so he could feel a part of the experience,” Nicole says.
Technology also helped their family adjust after Brent left for his second deployment.
“[Brent] had a Build-A-Bear made that had his voice telling [their daughter] goodnight and that he loved her. She still sleeps with that bear every night,” Nicole says.
Despite a brief stint in 2010 when Jim considered leaving the Army for a job as a firefighter, he has since decided to remain active duty for the foreseeable future.
“He quickly realized it wasn’t the right time to retire from the Army,” Tanya says.
With Brent’s National Guard time and active duty combined, he’s been “in” seven years. He wants to retire after 20 years.
“I married my best friend and, while our lives aren’t ideal, we make it work. I am always sad when he leaves even if only for a week. It makes me sad to think that he may not always be home and we never know when he may get orders to deploy again. I can’t wait for the day when he will always be home with us and we can go back to our home [in Arizona] and be with our families.”
Military Wife Uses Personal Tragedy to Help Others
Izabelle Meda-Gibson and her husband Alexandre have faced a brutal reality for many military families. She explains: “In February 2003, [Alexandre] deployed to Iraq. Life at that point stopped for me…War started on March 20, 2003, my birthday. Alex was in Iraq and I was in the U.S. not knowing what to expect next. Without communication from him, I felt lost.”
On April 1, 2003, Izabelle received a phone call from her husband letting her know he was safe, but that one of his buddies, and one of her childhood friends, had passed. Izabelle struggled, asking herself questions she didn’t have answers to, wondering if he was going to return.
As the months went by, things got scarier. Izabelle lost communication with her husband and resorted to looking for his name online on the list of the deceased. When Alexandre returned, he was stationed in MCAS YUMA and Izabelle attended NAU-YUMA. They got married in 2006 and had three children by 2009. In 2007, Alexandre was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress, a traumatic brain injury and other disabilities.
“I didn’t understand what it was that well so I would do my research and get familiar with what to expect,” she says. “I became his caregiver.”
“Even though Alex is here with us physically, mentally he is still in Iraq. In 2007, you didn’t hear much about PTSD; there weren’t enough resources. It was my husband, our daughters and I trying to figure it out.”
In 2011, Izabelle’s family moved to Phoenix so her husband could start treatment with Veteran’s Affairs and attend Arizona State University to earn a degree in science. Things didn’t go as expected and 2012 was a horrible year for the family. “Once again, I would sit in front of my computer looking for resources to help my husband find the support he needs.”
The Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org) has assisted the family, helping Alexandre find some peace within him, and allowing the family to attend various sponsored events. A group of veteran wives has also helped the family heal.To help families avoid the struggles she endured, Izabelle started her own organization, Through Their Eyes, a resource for Veterans of All Eras (facebook.com/CorporalMafia), to help veterans and their families find the resources they need to not struggle.
Izabelle also started a respite group for veteran spouses and caregivers that meet monthly throughout the Valley and her daughters put together hygiene and food kits for homeless veterans.
“My 5-year-old is starting her own program. While we attended a meeting at a local vet center the counselor gave her a teddy bear. She was so happy, she told me that the bear helped her feel comfortable and not bored so she got the idea to give monkeys to children at the VA. Her goal is to distribute them for Christmas.”
In February 2014, Izabelle was chosen to join the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (elizabethdolefoundation.org). “We [the foundation] represent Arizona’s military spouse and caregivers,” she says. “We had the opportunity to attend a luncheon at the White House in April hosted by Mrs. Michelle Obama. Here, we formed a coalition to help veteran caregivers.”
“I am a proud Marine wife. I have done all these things because I love my husband tremendously and all I want is to see him enjoy life once again,” she continues. “I am here to help military families and will continue working to help them find the support and resources they need.”