Earlier this year, I set the goal of reading more books by and for military spouses and finally made it to my third one! I was initially drawn to Under the Sabers partially because of the sensational backstory and because it was set at Ft. Bragg, where we’re stationed. I was prepared for something very similar to Home Fires Burning, and in some ways that is exactly what I got, but in others the two books couldn’t have been more different.
Summary: “In the summer of 2002, Army wives were in the headlines after Biank, a military reporter for the Fayetteville Observer, made international news when she broke the story about four Army wives who were brutally murdered by their husbands in the span of six weeks at Fort Bragg, an Army post that is home to the Green Berets, Airborne paratroopers, and Delta Force commandos. By that autumn, Biank, an Army brat herself, realized the still untold story of Army wives lay in the ashes of that tragic and sensationalized summer. She knew the truth—wives were the backbone of the Army. They were strong—not helpless—and deserved more than the sugarcoating that often accompanied their stories in the media.
Under the Sabers tells the story of four typical Army wives, who, in a flash, find themselves neck-deep in extraordinary circumstances that ultimately force them to redefine who they are as women and Army wives. In this fascinating and meticulously researched account, Biank takes the reader past the Army’s gates, where everyone has a role to play, rules are followed, discipline is expected, perfection praised, and perception often overrides reality. Biank explores what happens when real life collides with Army convention.”
It’s hard to profile individuals and accurately portray the wide variety of human nature, but Biank did a fairly decent job of selecting diverse women to follow. Rita is the newest Army wife and while at first she struggles to find her place in the both the community and her marriage, I think her story is possibly the most compelling because of how she contradicts so many stereotypes. Delores and Andrea Cory’s husbands are high ranking and they are so ingrained in the military lifestyle that it’s hard to imagine them existing outside the Ft. Bragg bubble. But then they both go through unspeakable tragedy and have to reexamine everything they though they were. And last, but certainly not least, is Andrea Floyd, one of the four Army wives murdered by their husbands in just six weeks. But her story is even more complex than a simple newspaper headline would lead you to believe.
Each wife presents an interesting look at a slice of Army life, and more broadly military life in general. But what frustrates me the most is that taken individually, each story doesn’t do the entire military spouse community justice. The sensational stories are the ones that make for entertaining reading: the affairs, the abuse, the death. I understand that’s compelling entertainment for the average person, but it’s still so stereotypical! For every military spouse living a Lifetime movie, there is another military spouse living a completely normal and boring life (or as boring as you can get in the military) without any of the dramatic bits. Frankly, I wish those stories were told more often.
Overall the book was a compelling read and for someone outside the military, it’s probably pretty educational, or at least seems that way. But for those of us living it every single day, I thought it was a bit dramatic and didn’t really touch on the coping skills or mechanisms necessary to get through this life. If a new military spouse picks up this book looking for tips, I think he/she will walk away disappointed and perhaps a bit overwhelmed with worry.
Have you read Under the Sabers? What were your thoughts? Do you feel that portrayals of military spouses lean towards the overly dramatic or stereotypical?