Sitting in the Camp Hovey, South Korea, Officer’s Club in the winter of 1994, the commander’s wife told a group of us younger spouses that no matter how many times her husband said his family was his top priority, the Army really came first in his life. She didn’t seem upset about her declaration, just stated it as a matter of fact.
Fast forward 15 years, my husband and I were living at Fort Hood with three young boys. He was training his unit, 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, to deploy to northern Afghanistan. New soldiers were arriving to the unit right up until the moment they deployed, while my husband and other leadership were staying late at work to train them.
One of my friends asked why my husband wasn’t spending more time at home with our family before the unit deployed. I wasn’t sure how to respond to her. That thought haunted me until the unit left for Afghanistan, and for several months after, too.
About halfway through the deployment one sergeant came home for medical reasons. We crossed paths in the squadron headquarters, when I was visiting with the family readiness support assistant.
Before the sergeant left the office, he pulled me aside and informed me, “You know, Mrs. Markert, before we deployed, I wasn’t really happy with your husband. He was working us so hard, right up to deployment, I just didn’t understand.” He paused for a few seconds, then continued, “Now I get it. Where we were going, we had to train hard so we knew what we were doing. I really appreciate how hard he works, and how much he cares about his soldiers.”
Then the thought occurred to me, that the time my husband spent away from me and his sons was time spent training other parents’ sons and daughters before they fought in combat. He was working hard to make sure his other family, the soldiers in the unit, were best prepared for their mission overseas. My husband was working in support of other husbands, sons and daughters, as a part of serving our larger, Army family.
A couple of years ago my husband was serving with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard. Our own sons were older and taller, and didn’t look much different than the young soldiers I saw standing in formations and performing ceremonies. I photographed the soldiers many times, and posted the photos online for the unit families.
While the soldiers may have at times found my paparazzi habits annoying, I often received emails from their spouses, parents, grandparents and other family members thanking me for a glimpse into their soldiers’ lives. I appreciated their comments in the way that only a parent could understand the pride of seeing their child performing the honorable duties of The Old Guard.
My husband is still often consumed with his work, while serving his nation, but also serving those around him. I know he does this because he truly cares about the mission at hand, and the team members working together on that mission. While performing his duties, he is away from his wife and sons for hours, days, weeks and even months at a time.
This doesn’t bother me now as much as it has in the past. I’ve accepted that the Army is not only his “other family,” but also our extended family. He’s not only serving his nation, but also serving the soldiers who deserve the best training, leadership and guidance that he can offer them. This makes his time away from us much easier to process and accept.
I now better understand what I think the commander’s wife was trying to tell us 20 years ago, one evening at a small officers’ club in South Korea. While her husband’s heart was always with his wife and children, he was also working hard to provide training and leadership to his larger Army family, too.
The sacrifice of separation from a soldiers’ parents, spouses and children is something that a military family understands all too well. While we’ve given up time with our soldiers, we’ve also gained a unique family that spans all corners of the globe.
I am very thankful for our larger, extended, Army family.