I savored Alison Buckholtz’s book, “Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War,” both as a timely read during my “military engagement” and a promising eye opener for a nonmilitary audience.
Her book honestly explores the emotional trials facing military wives during their husbands’ mandatory comings and goings, as experienced during her family’s first “sea tour” at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
The stories form a sobering, yet somehow heartening, window into my future, since I will be marrying a naval flight officer in August.
It’s a window Buckholtz says she peered through as an outsider, having married later in her adult life and her husband’s career than most of her contemporaries – and with an established civilian worldview in hand.
As a skipper’s wife, she stepped into what is often a full-time leadership position among spouses, especially in their husbands’ absences.
Buckholtz said she hopes her “foreigner” perspective on raising two small children and maintaining sanity during her husband’s seven-month deployment will invite nonmilitary readers into the experience she now calls her own.
Into her personal memoir, Buckholtz threads stories from dozens of wives and books about military life, weaving a tapestry of struggle and triumph that encompasses the diverse military community around her.
The wives’ common ground, she finds, is not love for their husbands or their country, but endurance.
Although Buckholtz uses pseudonyms for the women, anecdotes from their lives give a voice to their families’ silent sacrifices.
There’s Pippi, a sailor’s wife whose messy trailer and unplanned pregnancies make her “a country song in the making.”
Run-ins with Pippi at homecoming parties or the grocery store helped Buckholtz – otherwise distanced from enlisted wives by the military’s social hierarchy – better understand the trials facing some poorly paid enlisted families.
And there’s BobbiJo, Buckholtz’s “favorite Army wife,” whose seasoned wisdom and tenaciously positive approach to military wifedom was just a phone call away during Buckholtz’s weakest moments.
It’s clear the how much effect these women had on her during what was the hardest situation her budding family had faced yet.
But the seven-month separation that inspired the book pales in comparison to the 14 months her family was preparing to spend apart when I spoke to Buckholtz a few weeks ago.
Scott recently got tapped for an Individual Augmentation program that pulls naval personnel to supplement on-the-ground Army troops in the Middle East.
After finishing her book about the priceless benefits of living in a military community, Buckholtz made the tough decision to move with her kids, Ethan and Esther, back home as Daddy headed off this month for a year in Baghdad.
“The deployment in the book was seven months, which had been the longest we’d been apart as a family,” she said over the phone while packing boxes in their Anacortes home before moving to Washington, D.C. “We’re just trying to figure out the lessons from the last deployment. One of those is that our extended family was important in keeping morale up.”
In the midst of a hectic move, Buckholtz took a moment to answer a few questions about her book.
What do you think readers will get from your book that they couldn’t get from the many other texts about military life?
What I wanted when I first married my husband was to try to understand what military life was like today, and I couldn’t find any that talked about the escalated deployment schedule of post-9/11.
There are a lot of books by those who were born into the role and who approached it with an enthusiasm and “joie de vivre” that I didn’t feel.
We’re not representative of military families, but I try to open the curtain a bit on today’s military experience – both the challenges and the rewards.
Military families often talk about the struggle between being bitter with their situations and sounding falsely upbeat. Where would you land yourself on this spectrum?
It’s definitely a roller-coaster life. Sometimes you do feel positive and that happy front isn’t a faade, and there are other times that you feel like you could never handle the challenges that life puts in front of you.
Right now, we’re looking at a yearlong IA, a cross-country move and the prospect of telling our kids that their dad may not be around.
I know we’ll make it through, but being able to speak openly and honestly about the challenges is really helpful to me.
I think there are a lot of military spouses that think they have to be as stoic as their husbands. That never worked for me.
I think talking about it out loud helped me. It made me a much more loyal and committed American and military spouse.
What has been some of the feedback from this book, especially among other wives?
The best response I could get is the response I’ve gotten, which is “You’ve put into words what I thought only I experienced.”
The response from nonmilitary people who have written to me is that it really changed the way they look at service members and their families.
I’ve had a bunch of people who’ve told me they now say thank you to sailors and soldiers in the airport because of the way my book opened their eyes. That’s very gratifying to me.
Whitney Coleman: 253-597-8546