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Emotional war on the homefront

The families of the men and women deployed overseas have their own personal battles.

Published November 14, 2006

[Times photo: Special to the Times]
Kristin Henderson, author of the book "WHILE THEY'RE AT WAR: The True Story of American Families on the Homefront."

It’s mid November, and 150,000 troops are still in Iraq. That means a lot of military spouses won’t see their loved ones at Thanksgiving.

“The fear that the person you love won’t come back is with you all the time, but at holidays, that absence is often felt most keenly,” said Kristin Henderson, author of  While They’re At War: The True Story of American Families on the Homefront (Mariner Books, 336 pages, $13.95).

Henderson is a Gainesville native whose husband is a Navy chaplain.
What sort of social lives do military spouses lead?
The spouses who are isolated are the ones who are most at risk, and that’s why it’s so important for the people around them — neighbors and friends and co-workers — to keep an eye on them. Only a third of military families actually live on a base. So two-thirds of active-duty families live off base, and all National Guard and Reserve families do.
How common is it for spouses to  sacrifice their careers?
Rand Corp. did this study of military wives, and they found that women who are married to military men make a third to half as much as their civilian counterparts who are married to civilians. So they’re already starting behind the eight ball before deployment begins. Then when the father or mother deploys, suddenly all the responsibilities at home increase.

Talk about the fear spouses feel that their husbands or wives may cheat on them overseas.
It certainly is a reality for both sides: Soldiers cheat while they’re away, and spouses cheat back home. The longer you’re apart, the fuzzier that other person becomes in your imagination.

I know of one couple whose wife went through a really rough deployment while he was gone. She was struggling with depression, she made bad choices in terms of drinking and partying, and she slipped into infidelity. He was at the same time being exposed to a lot of combat, and came back pretty brittle. But somehow they were able to forgive each other because they realized how frail each of them was. And they are happily married today.

What can nonmilitary people do for the military spouses they know?

I have a list of 10 suggestions on my Web site, .

Co-workers and employers, for instance: If there’s a spouse who’s crying at her desk, crying jags are very common, particularly during the first six weeks. The responsibilities at the home have increased, so maybe give her some more flexible hours so she can take care of the kids.

Teachers and day care providers can give kids going through a deployment a little extra attention, keep an eye on them, give them extra hugs. They may need a little extra tutoring because their parent may be too stressed and burdened with responsibility at home to give them the attention they need at home.

Churches can be really helpful because many military families turn to their faith during a deployment, and the church can become a real source of support for them .

Jay Cridlin can be reached at (727) 893-8336 or

[Last modified November 14, 2006, 08:02:59]

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