Friday, July 1, 2011

Reflections on Deployment

Recently, an article surfaced about some events that happened in Iraq with Peter's unit during their last deployment.

I debated quite a bit as to whether to publish anything about it, both because of it's sensitive nature and because talking about it would require me to take a much stronger political stance than I like to in most of my blogging.

I also got into a rather heated debate over the matter at hand (interestingly enough, after I had already written most of this up) with several other spouses on facebook, which ultimately ended in some less than gracious unfriending of me, which added to my hesitation to publish this. 

But life is not always as clear cut as it may seem in a newspaper article, and I actually have a lot of faith in my current stock of followers for being awesome people who can talk about difficult subjects in a mature and respectful way.

(And damnit, ya'll better live up to those expectations. Or else I'm never posting anything besides poopie stories ever again.)

Let me start at the beginning. 

Right about the time Peter's battery deployed in October 2009, I became a key caller for the Family Readiness Group (FRG).

As it was for the Army, an official course with lots of official guidelines to follow was required and came complete with a pretty official and personalized certificate.

Each key caller was assigned a list of 5-10 people to contact when a call down was initiated, and the first few months were of little consequence and limited mostly to reminders of meetings and special dinners and demands for updated contact information.

(Dear Army Spouses: The Army NEEDS to be able to reach you at any time during a deployment in case your spouse suffers some horrible tragedy. Please be kind and keep your unit's FRG updated on where you are physically staying and with an accurate phone number to effectively reach you, otherwise the poor key callers will be going off information provided by your former roommate to a questionable phone number which might be to your grandmother in Florida whom you were rumored to be staying with a month ago but who knows if you're still with her now. Ahem.)

And then January came along. And in addition to having a newborn baby, a husband somewhere in transit between Baghdad and New York, and two feet of snow in our driveway, we got a call down.

A call down about the non-combat death of a member of the unit.

Thankfully, those call downs are scripted and all you have to do is read the message to the spouses you are notifying.

But that can also add to the stress of the situation.

In a scripted call down, you are not allowed to say a damn thing beyond what EXACTLY is on the script. So after you have just read this simply delightful passage about the overseas death of somebody who works with their beloved husband (or wife, for non-field artillery units with female soldiers) and they start to exclaim "Oh my goodness, that's horrible!" all you can do is say "Yep, bye!" and get off the phone. Or they'll start to ask a perfectly reasonable question (the calls downs are not exactly the most informative as far as the emotional side is concerned) and all you can do is continue to reiterate the scripted line about "If you have questions or concerns, please contact the rear detachment" in lovely broken record fashion, which is even harder when you might actually KNOW more details than what is on the script.

(By the way, are you an Army spouse who really likes knowing what is going on? Become a key caller, they hear about stuff first.)

You also have to keep repeating the script over and over again, remaining composed and able to clearly read some of the most dreaded words to any military family 8 times in quick succession.

(I make reference to my work doing that on my resume as a personal skill, but I kinda doubt they fully understand what all that really entails and what it means about my strength of character and ability to keep it together in stressful circumstances.)

So that was our first deployed casualty call down. And it was hard. But the truth about the death is even harder.

It was a suicide, the brief account of which Peter gave me the gist of when he finally did make it home on baby leave and said it was under investigation which was why no details were being officially released.

(Side note: I had the horrifying nightmare that I'd manage to get pregnant three weeks postpartum and hold the distinguished honor of being the only wife in the battery to get her husband home twice on baby leave in one deployment.)

Well, the details have been released now (see article HERE), and it's not a pretty sight.

But honestly, what's even less pretty is how some of the other spouses from the FRG were reacting to it on facebook.

And I *may* have gotten into a slight argument with one of them over it.

(She started it.)

(And she then kept deleting my well thought out and articulate responses, which may have irritated me ever so slightly.)

But Army wives, please don't post shit-talk on facebook with very personal statements about other people connected to the Army (and honestly, I'd consider expanding that cover just about everything, since non-military bosses don't like it any more than the bureaucratic hoorahs do). Just don't. No good can come of it. Your husband really can get in trouble for it. And you can irritate people with blogs off onto long rants about your stupidity for such actions.

(As I'm sure a public blog forum is a MUCH better place for these things anyways....)

Several of the men mentioned in the article worked closely with Peter. Their wives were close friends to me, and their children were dear playmates to Kristina when we lived in New York.

I do not mean to dismiss the actions as being anything less than wrong, nor discount the reasonableness of other people having negative opinions about the incident and those involved.

But war is a nasty business, and we are all but human.

Admittedly, some of my lack of shock may be partially due to Peter beginning his military career and having his first deployment with the Marine Corps.

The Marines are much harsher by default than the Army ever strives to be.

But then, I also see the people in that report as real people, not just soldiers. And I saw the stress the investigation put on the wives back at home, who were already working their hardest to keep families of three children apiece functioning while simultaneously managing the FRG.

This picture was taken at Kristina's 3rd birthday party.

Capt. Fisher is on the left holding his daughter Kadielynne and pushing Kristina on the swing, while SFC Devos is on the right pushing his son PJ and drinking sparkling lemonade out of a bright pink plastic cup.

War is a horrible thing, and horrible things happen during it.

People in charge are given the responsibility for it whether it is good, bad or ugly, deserved or undeserved, fair or unfair.

I do not mean to wave away the article and deny any wrong doing, it was a horrible tragedy and individuals involved certainly did not act at their best at times.

But the article about it finally being published doesn't automatically change who those people as individuals were in every other context, and irregardless of personal opinion some things should not be posted on public forums any more than shouted in the middle of the supermarket.

(Fun party game: Shout out sentences one should never shout out in a crowded supermarket!)

Much like it's easy to make boastful statements about how you would always be perfect when raising children while having none, it's easy to judge people's actions in combat as unfathomable while safely and comfortably sitting inside your own home. 

The Army has done a full investigation, and has distributed punishment as seen fit and required by the governing military laws. That is enough for me, as it is not my place to harshly judge another in circumstances I can barely comprehend.

Mostly though I am just thankful that my husband and my family weren't the ones being put under such scrutiny, as Peter was not high enough up in the chain of command to be considered accountable (yet).


  1. Wow - I'm saying prayers for all those involved, especially Anderson & his family.

  2. Definitely an emotionally charged issue.

  3. My husband served on a court marshal for a very similar type of case. There are no easy answers and definitely no winners. Those accused of causing a suicide must live with this for the remainder of their do their families. It's very sad. But it's not surprising that it has caused such a high level of emotions among your FRG. Everyone needs someone to blame in order to make sense of this sort of thing. And it's always easiest to believe what you are told...even if it's not the full or complete story.