*This piece previously posted November 9, 2011, some edits made.*
She is trivialized. She is marginalized. She is constantly taken for granted and parodied on television. And she is recognized only when in her darkest hour, she is handed the folded flag that once draped her husband's coffin.
American soldiers sacrifice things every day. They miss family gatherings, birthdays, and the important first words and first steps of their children while they live in tents and keep one ear open for the next rocket attack. Unit commanders do not schedule field training exercises to accommodate school Christmas Pageants, and deployments are not delayed to allow soldiers to witness the birth of a child. Squad leaders blithely repeat gems such as, “the Army didn't issue you a wife and kids,” when handing down orders that tear soldiers away from their families.
While it is never my intention to diminish the sacrifice of the soldier, I do think it is important that we recognize – especially on Veteran's Day – the sacrifice of the soldier's wife and family.
After all, it is the soldier's wife who holds the family together when he can't be there. She is a single mother who isn't truly single, a dependent who has no choice but to be entirely independent. She alone makes sure the kids get to school and church, takes them to the park, cooks them dinner. She alone bears the burden of explaining to them, sometimes daily, why Daddy has to be away for such a long time.
She waits patiently for half of her heart to return to her, knowing that if and when it does it may be broken and distant. She prays for his return, hoping against hope for the honor of helping him relearn to walk and to feed and dress himself.
Her heart breaks when he finally returns and her children are afraid of their own father. And just about every day, there is that thought lurking in the back of her mind that the next time the doorbell rings she will open it to her husband's commanding officer.
She truly “leaves her family and cleaves to her husband,” following him from one duty station to the next. Each time, she leaves friends, family, and possibly a job of her own. Each time, she has to box up everything she owns – or just everything she can carry – and decide what is important enough to keep. Often, she goes through all or most of a pregnancy and even the birth of a child alone and in an unfamiliar place. She may have friends and a good doctor, but the one person she cannot have by her side is the only person who would make the experience complete.
Don't just thank a soldier this Veteran's Day. Thank his wife. Thank her husband. Thank their children and their parents. Because every day, they sacrifice something for your freedom as well.