Friday, June 25, 2010

Army Life - the Family

I have spent quite a bit of time on a military base as my daughter is a disabled Veteran, and her husband is currently on his second deployment in Afghanistan.  Fort Campbell straddles both  Kentucky and Tennessee;  Megan and many others have nicknamed it Kentuckasee.  It is at the eastern edge of Tornado Alley, and I can't figure out if it is in the south or the mid-west.  The weather tells me it doesn't matter; the daytime temps have been over 90 since I arrived, though I have not experienced any of the horrid storms Megan tells me rip through here. 

The Army base houses the 101st Airborne DIvision, 5th Special Forces Group, 160th SOAR (ie: the pilots from Black Hawk Down), and other DIvisions.   It is the most deployed base in the US, with about 1/2 of the soldiers in Afghanistan/Iraq, and by late summer, even more will be deployed.

The wives (or as in the case may be at times, the husbands) generally live in on-base housing with their children, unless the spouse is higher ranking and they are able to afford their own house off base. It's a mini city/community, complete with a PX (general department store), commissary (the food store), a Class 6 (where you buy the booze), a hospital, several gyms,a museum, and more that I haven't experienced yet.

To get on and off the base, I must show ID to gate guards.  In order to drive on base, I have to get a special pass, and in order to shop in ANY of the stores, it must be a medical situation.  Since my daughter just had surgery this time around, we had to provide a doctor's note, fill out MORE paperwork, and then I have to present my ID, her Military ID, and the paper to buy something as simple as milk. I suppose they are concerned that civilians will come on base and take advantage of one of the few perks of being in the military; to buy cheap cigarettes and booze, and no tax.  I am only interested in food and toys for the kids, and an occasional bottle of wine.  

From time to time you hear artillery - large booms rock the house, and at night, when I sit on the back patio, I can see and hear helicopters and planes buzzing around the base.  As you drive on base, rows of various kinds of artillery and vehicles (Humvees, large aircraft etc.) can be seen lined up, waiting...for something.


I have met many of the women who are Megan's friends, most of them raising their children on their own when their husbands are gone.  It is a tough life, where women have to be mothers AND fathers and live virtually single lives without the perks of BEING single (ie dating and sex!).  It is a little Peyton Place, where women form bonds in order to survive long deployments, to try and keep depression and frustration at bay.  It is a hard life raising kids without the help of a man, save for the Housing Maintenance guys that come around to fix what is broken on base.

PTSD is a big buzz word here...many of the soldiers come home with it.  Lives get shattered, hearts and homes broken.  I strongly suspect that many here should be on anti-depressants but many of the women Megan knows are on them or on anti-anxiety meds.  If I were here for a longer period of time, I too would join the ranks of those who mark time by the number of butts in the ashtray, and the pills left in the bottle. 

In this age of technology, solders can call home. Many of them have internet access (which they pay dearly for and it hardly works) unless they are stationed way up in the mountains. Family interaction can be done via web-cam as my granddaughter proudly tells me.  This softens the blow, but is a poor replacement for flesh and blood, real hugs and kisses, baths and bedtime stories. It takes a village, or in this case, an entire military base to raise a child.

I am taking my 5 year old granddaughter back to NY with me for a few weeks.  She looks forward to it as much as I do.  She will see her Yiyi, and get to roam the lush Hudson Valley, visit her grandparents, great grandparents, zoos, farms, work in the garden, swim in a myriad of pools and streams.  For a little while she will be spoiled rotten, and maybe forget for a while that her best friend has been moved to another base, that her daddy is far away. 


My daughter is getting her degree (in spite of her recent recurrance of cancer and her other disabilities) in social work so that she can help the families here. They are greatly in need of someone to listen to them, to help them access the things they need the most; counseling, daycare, medical support, and more.  She is a brave girl, and a strong girl, but she too needs help.

I will go home heavy in heart, knowing that I leave them without the help they need, without the zaniness that I sport. We see bumper stickers asking us to support the troops, but it's the families that need the support as well - the struggling lonely spouses, the children missing a parent.  Say your prayers for the soldiers, but also for the families they leave behind.

Patti

3 comments:

dlm to the world said...

My best to all.. Megan is amazing, much like you. It;s nice to know you are spending time together, though not in the ideal circumstances. Thanks for sharing.

Jennie said...

Patti,
I've been away from this land of truth and heart for too long, I'm so happy to have a computer to read your lovely blog again. This is one of the more moving passages you've written; it's bittersweet and beautiful. My thoughts and well wishes to you and your strong daughter.

Best wishes and high hopes,
Jennie

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing piece of writing. I live in the UK and I'm sure this also sums up the lives of military families left behind. All good wishes and positive thoughts to you and yours.