Less than 1% of the population serves in the military on active duty. The spouses of those 1% are a much more diverse group than is portrayed in the media, which means that the problems, issues, and hardships faced by military spouses is often overlooked. As a former journalist I hope that my fellow journalists will start to look deeper at the lives of military spouses and the problems and dangers they face.
One of the hardest things for me, as a "left of left of center" journalist who became a military wife, was the switch from speaking out for those in a marginalized subset of the community to being one of the marginalized. Less than 1% of the population of the US is active military. Added to that is the small proportion of the active duty military that has been through one or more deployments. Some statistics put the number of active duty soldiers who deploy at less than 1% of the active duty soldiers at any given time. Not surprisingly, those soldiers deploy over and over again because once they have been through a deployment and have that experience the military wants to use those skills instead of training new soldiers to deploy. And of course not all soldiers have spouses. So spouses of soldiers who have deployed account for just a tiny portion of an already tiny population when compared to the rest of the US as a whole.
While the community of military spouses is very diverse, the media tends to focus on the stereotypical military spouses, what I call "True Believers". These spouses have usually grown up in military households and married into the military knowing military culture and customs. These spouses usually have two or more children, are stay at home mothers, and are unquestioning of military policy. In most cases they consider the Army abuses of soldiers and families to be a sacrifice that comes with military life and would never dream of demanding better treatment from the military for their sacrifices and hard work. Their blogs, many written by officer's spouses, are full of recipes, tips for housecleaning or shopping or child rearing, FRG notes, and happy pro-military rhetoric.
But not given much attention are the discordant voices within the military spouse community. The Liberal spouses, spouses who are Muslim, Sikh, or any other religion besides Christian. The atheists and agnostics. The enlisted and junior enlisted spouses. Anyone who doesn't fit the image of a military spouse that has been so carefully crafted over the years. Even less attention is given to the struggles military families face.
Did you know that military families have had to resort to using food stamps at twice the rate that non military Americans are using them? Did you know that military divorce rates are at the highest ever? In 2001 the military divorce rate was 2.6, in 1009 it was 3.6. Do you know that after a partner returns from a deployment the risk of abuse or death at the hands of their spouse skyrockets? I have sat by, horrified, and read headline after headline, day after day, of spouses killed by their soldiers. I have seen it happen far too often on our own post, including a man in my husband's unit who murdered his wife recently.
I also hear the spouses talk about the abuse they suffer, the rampant infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse of their spouses, and other problems that no one mentions in public. Why don't these issues come to light? Because the military's interest is in protecting their investment in the soldier and the soldier's training, not in protecting the spouse. Incidents that are reported to units or commands are ignored or swept under the carpet. Promised counseling is never given, and no one really does anything until one of the pair is dead.
Part of the problem is you my Liberal brethren. Conservative media only portrays True Believer military families, so it falls on you to find the other military spouses, the even more marginalized ones. But you don't. You create paternalistic pieces portraying military spouses as ignorant, poor, uneducated people who hooked up with a soldier for a paycheck and health care. You rail on the military and military policy (and rightly so, in some cases) but have no compassion for the soldiers and their families at the bottom of the food chain. Why doesn't your compassion for the poor, the marginalized, and the powerless extend to military spouses and families? Are we less deserving of having our voices heard because we chose to support the soldiers who are protecting this country? And they are protecting us - make no mistake -there is a real threat out there.
We have the same concerns that you do. We worry about how to put groceries in our cupboard, or what we will do if something goes wrong with the car. Military healthcare is pretty piss poor, if you'd bother to look you'd see that, and many people go without medical care for extended periods of time because of red tape, poor services, and other problems. But we worry about all of those things while also worrying about our spouses who are in harm's way, grieving for the friends who come home injured or in caskets, and trying to help their families deal with the loss.
We worry about feeding our kids and the quality of the education they are getting while we patch up bruises and cuts, offer sanctuary to friends whose spouses suffering from untreated PTSD are unstable, volatile, and armed. We share tips with each other for finding the best food pantries, coping during deployments, and diffusing a spouse's alcohol or drug fueled rages when they have PTSD or trouble adjusting to live in garrison after being deployed. We also discuss the futility of trying to get help through the military.
As someone who worked for over a decade telling the stories of the marginalized and bringing to light the problems of communities who were not well represented it was shocking to me to see how many of the complexities of military life are not represented in the media, and how little people really know about what life as a military spouse is like. Military spouses need to speak up more about some of the critical issues facing military families, but they won't speak if they're not going to be heard. We all know the Conservatives don't care, does anyone else? I hope so, but often it doesn't seem like it.