View Full Version : Spouses hold it all together

05-10-03, 08:43 AM
Spouses hold it all together
Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification Number: 20035818129
Story by Brian La May

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (May 8, 2003) -- They're all alone - doing family business, dealing with contrary, often stressed-out kids. They're stressed out, too.

And all the while, they wait for word. Word that sometimes comes in pieces that only enhance their bewilderment and anxiety.
But they somehow hold it together. Some even seem to rise to the occasion and tighten bonds, not only in their families but in the community.

For that, their service to their country is under the spotlight.

"Marine spouses are patriots. They support our Marines, whether faced with the daily sacrifices inherent to military service or (service members') time away from home - in peace and war," Maj. Gen. William G. Bowdon, the base's commanding general, said on the eve of Military Spouses Day, which is Friday.

Katie Wenning, wife of a Navy pharmacist, says it's not a stretch to call her ilk patriots.

"I'm willing to hang with my husband for serving his country - and being compensated about three times less than he could get working someplace else," said Wenning, one of a handful of military wives who sat down after a women's Bible study May 1 at Marine Memorial Chapel to talk about the rigors of military spousehood.

"A patriot? Yeah. We're sacrificing. We've raised four children, and we're just scraping by," Wenning said.

Flo Abney, whose husband is deployed to Iraq with Headquarters and Service Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group, counts herself a patriot, too.

"I think a lot of it has to do with just supporting my husband," said Abney, who has three children and is weathering her first deployment in her 12th year as a military spouse.

That sacrificial support for the ultimate patriots befits such a title, spouses say. While they've never seen combat in the conventional sense, they navigate a battlefield all their own.

"He left me home with three busy teenagers. Puberty is an added burden," Emmalyne Moreno, wife of a retired master gunnery sergeant with 30 years of service, said about her Operation Desert Storm experience.

"You can't just put them in playpens," she said. "They're driving, they're sneaking out. They think they're adults."

Sometimes, the sheer volume of responsibilities crashes down on left-behind spouses, Wenning said. That, plus the anxiety of long-distance, indefinite separations involving eminent danger and little correspondence, and you often have a recipe for a nervous breakdown.

"Many wives are on antidepressants, or should be," said Denise Levaut, a former GS-14 civil servant who's now on leave from her civilian employer under her doctor's orders. Stress is the culprit, she says.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Heather Canett, leading petty officer at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton's Mental Health Department, confirmed a surge in military dependent appointments since January, when troops started shipping out en masse. The department charted an increase of 100 appointments per month, she said.

Part of Levaut's problem is her background, including knowledge of the horrors of chemical and biological weapons.
"I know too much," she said. "I wish I'd never been to the Marine Corps Command and Staff or Naval Warfare College."

Conversely, she knew too little when word came on the TV news that a major from 5th Marine Regiment had been killed in battle. She said it took four days to find out who. Meantime, she did the math and just about lost control at the prospect her loved one might be dead.

"On two hands - those are all the majors they've got. It was hard," she said.

Even when there's no grim news, your mind speculates about his fate, she said.

"Your so used to picking up the telephone or reaching him on the cell," she said. "Then, all of the sudden, he just drops into a dark hole."

And you can't support him much.

"There's nothing I can do to help him - maybe send him (towelettes) or Tic Tacs," Wenning said.

Fortunately, support comes from close-knit groups like this one or the Key Volunteers. And some "super moms" really help to hold things together.

On her street in O'Neill Heights Housing, Wenning says the man of the house is nowhere to be found. Out of 12 households, nine service members are deployed. But select wives pick up the slack for all the geographically single parents, she said.

And those wives are pitching in even though they're swamped themselves, she said. Armed only with minivans and intestinal fortitude, they're winning - and helping other families win - their own war of sorts at home.

"They're taking (neighborhood) kids to extracurricular activities, home-schooling, making sure the lawn is mowed, the oil is changed ... making sure the teenage daughter is behaving with the boyfriend ... They're the ones behind the scenes holding it all together. They're undervalued," Wenning said.

And while they're doing all that, they've got to deal with kids' fears about what might happen to Daddy.

Moreno recalls fielding questions like that during the Gulf War.

"I'll tell you later. Just let me finish this package of Oreos and finish watching CNN," she remembered telling them, a confession that elicited laughter and nods of empathy from her chapel cohorts.

But Moreno believes wives are better equipped to deal with such questions nowadays - thanks to the Key Volunteer program and earnest efforts by commands to prepare wives for deployment, she said.

During the Gulf War, the program was in its infancy and wasn't much good, she said.

"My Key (volunteer) didn't call me for 11 months," she said, adding, "My husband was (among) the first to go and the last to come back.

"Since my husband retired at 30 (years of service), I have seen respect (for spouses) grow. When I came in, we weren't respected. We didn't matter because we weren't issued."

Abney, who served as a Key Volunteer at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., before transferring here, says the network not only helps wives, it helps the helpers - especially those with no other outlets.

"It helped me in that I've been able to help others when they don't have that connectedness," she said. "Helping others has really helped me a lot."

Such help, and other contributions by military wives, recently inspired praise from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who recognized spouses in an All Marine Message dated April 23.

"As we celebrate Military Spouse Day, I encourage each Marine to take the time to thank their spouse for a job well done," said Gen. Michael W. Hagee.

He congratulated them on their "many accomplishments" and extended his "heartfelt appreciation for your continued support and dedication."

Morales appreciates the kudos.

"Just to see the Marine Corps appreciates spouses is so wonderful - and it shows," she said.