As uniform as the military strives to be (pun intended), there is a huge amount of variation from branch to branch, post to post and job to job. Each individual has a unique military experience based on a whole variety of factors. The same can be said for military spouses, perhaps even more so than the actual military personnel. Karen Houppert explores this wide variety of experiences and just what it means to be a military wife in Home Fires Burning: Married to the Military-For Better of Worse.
Houppert shares the stories of seven Army wives at Fort Drum right as the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2004/2005. Many of their husbands are deployed, but the few who are home aren’t necessarily the same men these women married. Each woman has a unique story, a unique set of challenges and a unique perspective on the military.
I was most fascinated with the historical context Houppert put each wife’s story in, drawing from Army wife handbooks from as far back as the 1940s. For a lot of the women profiled, it didn’t seem that much had changed since WWII, despite the military’s (best?) attempts. Isolation, money troubles, domestic violence and lack of employment all affected the wives’ satisfaction with the military.
I found myself most drawn to the women who were actually a bit contradictory in nature. There’s Ulli Robinson, a 27-year-old German who, after an adjustment period, went whole hog into the Army lifestyle: volunteering with the FRG, attending all the social functions and being terribly satisfied with being a military wife. But she doesn’t necessarily support every aspect of the war and questions whether it’s right or not.
Heidi Klaus-Smith is seemingly the exact opposite. Volunteering didn’t come naturally to her and she’s not certain that the military wife lifestyle is for her. She feels isolated from living so far from post and even though she loves and supports her husband, she’s not sold on the war. She suffers backlash for voicing these concerns and publicly criticizing the military, which leads to a lot of self-doubt. All she really wants is to belong to a community and feel as if she has a purpose.
Despite their seemingly inherent differences, all of the women profiled sought connections, support and meaningful lives beyond their relationships. That’s something we’re all after, even today. But I do believe the military spouse community has come a long way since 2004. Just look around on the Internet! Social media and blogs have created virtual communities that allow people to widen their support networks. Thanks to the Internet, women (and men) are finding careers and starting their own businesses.
All that being said, there’s definitely room for improvement, especially when 20% of spouses would prefer their spouse left the military and only 64% of spouses are satisfied with military life.
Have you read Home Fires Burning? What were your thoughts? Do you think the military spouse community is better off now than they were in 2004? What do you think is the one area that needs the most attention when it comes to military spouses?