By Julie Barrett
Over the summer I participated in an icebreaker activity that really seemed to
resonate within me. Our group was instructed to pair up with someone else and share
with them an identity (religion, race, gender, marital status etc.) we were most proud of,
and one we found the most challenging. My answer was unique as I chose being
married as both an identity I was most proud of and yet found the most challenging. That
icebreaker activity was about 6 weeks ago, which just so happened to be around the
same time my husband, Trevor, asked me if I would be willing to write a blog based on
my experience as a military wife. My initial reaction was “of course!”, but as I sat down
to write it out, I had no idea where to begin. To be honest, it’s very difficult to put into
words a journey that has been so powerful. I initially wrote the word “turbulent” to
describe the journey, but I feel that turbulent comes with a negative connotation to most
people. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of negative experiences I endured as a
military wife that I would rather forget; yet at the same time there was a lot of good.
To begin, it’s fair to say Trevor and I started out this new life as a very naïve
couple. We literally jumped on the Marine Corps high-speed train, left our old lives
behind and never looked back. Some would say we got married too young, or too quickly, we simply just wanted to be together. We were 23 years old the first time Trevor left for Iraq. Although it was 14 years ago now, I remember cleaning out our house,
helping Trevor pack, and seeing him say goodbye to our new puppy, Kobe. Even as the bus pulled away, the magnitude of Trevor going off to war still didn’t hit me. It only took a few hours for the anxiety of war and the racing thoughts to enter my mind that evening. In fact, I think I had only slept a few minutes the entire night. Before Trevor even left the United States, I was already hearing the doorbell in my head and wondering what I would do if it rang and men in uniform were there looking at me with a blank face? Those fears set in and it was terrifying.
I remember when Trevor did make it to Iraq and was lucky enough to finally call me. Our conversations were almost always interrupted by irritating static, or our dialogues would be so delayed that we would constantly be talking over one another. I vividly remember several phone calls when Trevor would warn me not to watch the news over the next few days, or if I didn’t hear from him from the next week or month, not to worry. One day in particular stands out in my mind, when I received one of those frightening calls. He shared with me that they
were going to be a part of big event in Fallujah and that I shouldn’t listen to any media
reports and just wait for his phone call, whenever that may be. He abruptly hung up the
phone and I had to return to work with a smile on my face. Those were the moments I
remember the most and also where I feel I grew the most as a person. I had no choice
to be strong, but also to have confidence in Trevor and believe that he was going to
make it back home.
I am very lucky that Trevor came home not only once, but twice, from such a
devastated, war-torn country. The first homecoming was such an adrenaline rush;
seeing the ‘Welcome Home’ banners decorated along the highway, witnessing Marines meet their children for the first time, and catching sight of the convoy of buses pulling onto the base. It is all very surreal, but at the same time, the best feeling in the world. The honeymoon phase of being reunited after the first deployment lasted about a week.
Then I started noticing some changes in Trevor. He would get very easily agitated,
stayed up extremely late and therefore slept in late whenever he had the chance. He
isolated himself from me and clearly missed being around his buddies as much as
possible. He struggled to open up to me about what he experienced at war and hardly
ever opened up about what he was feeling. It was like living with a complete stranger at
times. You see, back then the Marine Corps did a fairly decent job at preparing you for
what to expect prior to deployment, and some vague information about what to expect
during deployment; however, no one prepared you for life after deployment.
The adjustment after war found our marriage put to the biggest test. When Trevor was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps we started our life back in the civilian world. I could tell as the days went on I could tell something was wrong, Trevor pushed me further and further away. He yearned so much for the constant comradery that he had been experiencing every day for the last four years. Even though he could not see his Marine Corps buddies, he did spend most of his time with his childhood friends, playing video games, going on hikes and golfing. But it wasn’t the same. Trevor was filling the gap of having people to hang out with, but inside the demons were starting to appear, and no one back home could ever possibly understand, including me. In fact, later I would learn that Trevor was actually harboring me from sharing the details of his war experiences to protect me and my feelings. But the desperation to try and understand him at the time was overwhelming. I remember becoming so desperate one day after one of Trevor’s
outbursts, that I called the Canandaigua VA asking if someone could please talk to me
and if there were support groups for family members of Veterans. Sadly enough, there
were no programs put into place at that time for families of Veterans. When I think back
to this time, how great would it have been for a company like Op-Six to have existed?
Trevor could have easily been connected with other Veterans going through the same
experience and perhaps we could have had some crucial resources at our finger tips,
not only for him, but for me as well.
Eventually Trevor worked up the courage to go to the VA himself for some
counseling and slowly started facing things that were troubling him. I am proud of him
for not succumbing to the proverbial medications that were being thrown at Veterans at
the time, and finding ways to heal by leaning on his friends and eventually opening up to
me and other family members. We may have gone through a dark time in the first year
of transitioning to civilian life, but we have come a long way. Trevor is now dedicated to
helping Veterans and connecting them, bridging that gap that was non-existent during
his transition. Being married for almost 15 years and enduring all that we have, has
been and continues to be a struggle; yet I am proud to say that I still consider Trevor my
best friend and am proud of him for his personal growth, strength and desire to help
others. In a difficult period of life and experience, when sadly most military couples end
in divorce, we have persevered.