BY SAMANTHA YOUNG
This October, my boyfriend Jon started basic training for the Army Reserves at Fort Benning. Before meeting in our Masters year, Jon had already decided that the military offered discipline, an opportunity to learn and to travel. He felt the military would assist him in gaining valuable experience for a career in our shared discipline of International Relations: Peace and Conflict Studies.
We met at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, where we were both enrolled in the same Masters course. If you ever meet him, it’s pretty clear why it’s not hard to love Jon. There was only one area where I felt skeptical and that was in his choice to go into the military to launch his career in international relations.
Enlisting hadn’t even crossed my mind as the direction I would take to get involved with international diplomacy. I immediately thought of documentaries like “Restrepo” and considered the strain that having an enlisted partner would create for our relationship. But, my love for Jon and desire to support him was stronger than my fear of what he might have to face as a soldier and how that would affect us. So, I decided to make the journey with him that started on October 4th.
Since then, how I see the military and most of all everyone who works as part of this organization has changed completely. I am not the faceless partner of G.I. Joe. I am not alone. I am amongst a group of friends, who no matter how amazing and supportive, how many times they allow me to read his letters to them, or how often they listen to my updates on how many days before he comes home, they don’t actually understand.
They can’t know what it’s like to share not only my best friend, but part of my life with the military.
I actually know the answer to the question: “What are you going to do if he gets deployed?” thanks to the support of several dear friends who have told me about their own military experiences and sent me links to FAQ pages or Facebook groups, or the chance to share my story with people who understand. Through informed understanding, I have learned how to better support Jon, and how to treat my emotional and psychological transformation throughout this time.
In preparing for Jon’s departure, I thought only of how they would treat him at basic training. I worried how he would be psychologically impacted being out of communication with his family, friends, and me, and away from his hobbies and creature comforts. Yet, I didn’t think to prepare myself.
Once he was gone, I found myself almost going through steps of grief or depression. I had good days and bad days (thankfully mostly good), and I went through periods where I vacillated between feeling strong as his support system at home and feeling guilty for even thinking about how hard this was on me.
The worst part actually came after he had been gone for about three weeks. I still didn’t have an address to send him letters. On his first mail call, he didn’t get anything, and knowing that he had waited with such anticipation and not gotten any word from us broke my heart!
I hated that there was a gatekeeper to our communication and that I couldn’t even get him a message to tell him he hadn’t been abandoned at home.
I decided to be more active informing myself so that I could be the link between the little community of supporters we had built amongst Jon’s family, my family, his friends and the wider military world.
I asked everyone I could who had a connection to the military what to expect. That’s when I discovered that there are layers and layers of community built around a soldier and those who love him or her. All of a sudden, I was talking to military wives and mothers who were not only being good supports to their soldiers, but also to themselves and each other!
For the first time, I felt truly invested in Jon’s military experience and more importantly, the military seemed invested in mine. It offers me the greatest sense of relief to have someone who has already done this be willing to answer questions that have nagged me. Even better is the feeling I get when I know that I have given a measure of relief to Jon’s mom and dad, or his friends when I can answer their questions too.
It’s only five weeks now until I get Jon back for a little while before advanced training, and I am already planning what we will do to spend the holidays together. However, in this time we’ve spent apart, the opportunity to send letters and be independent has actually been good for me. I have proven to myself that I am an individual who can have a relationship with Jon but still be an independent person and can make myself really happy.
Also, it has helped both of us to put into perspective what is important to us and proved that as a team we are much stronger than we could have ever expected. It has also helped me to find my passion in mental health and military family resilience, which I intend to go back to school and study in the future. In the end, I guess I don’t feel so bad about having to share him after all.
Filed under: Military families, Reserves, U.S. Army | Tagged: Army Reserves, basic training, Fort Benning, military families support, postaday2011, Samantha Young contributor, University of St Andrews |