The family lugged the heavy packed bags into the trunk and squeezed in their small car. On the way to the airport, the conversation was bubbly and lively, taking in the last moments with their son and brother. The short 20 minute drive to the airport was not long enough. Waiting for his plane to start loading passengers, the talking slows and the scene becomes solemn. They say their final goodbyes, hugging with tears rolling down their faces, unsure of when he will be home again.
He is in the military, and just like the other million military families in America, sons, daughters and spouses must leave to fight for our country. The turmoil and stress put on the families of those in the military is often overlooked, but being a military family offers pride and new opportunities unavailable to other families.
When Ben and Betsy Moskowitz’s son, Nick, enlisted in the Marines, they were both hesitant as to what the future held for their son, but had to stay supportive of his decision. After the 13-week-long boot camp, where all communication is cut except for letters, his family packed up and drove the almost 12 hour drive down from Ohio to Parris Island, South Carolina. Watching him graduate bootcamp brought proud tears of joy to their eyes as they were able to embrace him again.
Nick’s sister, Amy Moskowitz shares, “Graduating boot camp was an accomplishment he was very proud of which made everyone in the family feel proud and happy for him. At graduation, I knew that joining the military was the right decision for him. This experience has only made me view him with an even better lens than I was before.”
At that same graduation, Brittany Wimmer watched her now husband, TJ. She expressed the enormous amount of joy after seeing him after being apart for 13 weeks, “In that moment it didn't even matter how long it had been since we had last seen each other or how hard it had been being away from him. I was too proud of him to even worry about what we had just gone through as a couple. It truly made all the time we spent apart worth it when I saw who he had become and just how proud of himself he was.”
While everyone is proud of their son, daughter or spouse, having a family member in the military offers many daily hurdles that must be jumped over in order to maintain family order and strength. Military life, stress, anxiety, moving and deployment challenges families daily.
At a young age, Yenah Joe’s family had to move multiple times when her father’s assigned military base was changed. She now lives in Korea where she believes that, “Living the military life and moving has been a blessing. Moving to new places, especially overseas, opens your perspective on the world and different cultures. Since I go to a small Department of Defense school in Korea, I get to do a lot of different things and travel a lot.” Traveling and gaining new friends and experiences has helped Yenah grow into the person she is today but, “Moving has its downsides, like losing contact with friends, anxiety and uneasiness”
There comes a time where a family member is deployed, often being put into dangerous situations, separating them from their families. Deployment can create a ripple of stress that runs through the family affecting parents, siblings, spouses and children.
Wimmer’s husband, TJ, is stationed on a non-deployable base but if there was a day in the future where he had to be deployed, she would be extremely worried. A best friend of hers from high school did not make it back after his first deployment as a Marine. Although she would be supportive of her husband, “No one honestly wants their loved one to be put in danger.”
Spouses of those deployed now must care for the family, home and themselves. The increased amount of responsibilities, financial issues, loneliness, fear, sadness and quickly becoming overwhelmed felt by the spouse can spill over onto the children of the family resulting in behavioral problems. Military children face separation anxiety, temper tantrums, falling grades, eating disorders and other long-lasting emotional problems when a parent is deployed.
Research done by Child Trends, a nonprofit that focuses on improving the lives of children and their families found that, “Young children are at a higher risk of harm because of their emotional dependence on adults and their developing brains’ susceptibility to high levels of stress. The negative impacts of high stress can impact young children long term.”
David Murphey, Child Trends researcher and author states their concern that, “children exposed to stressful events, particularly traumatic stressful events, will have difficulty learning to cope with emotions, to do well socially and academically, and even have problems with their physical health.”
Working as a military police officer, Wimmer’s husband has inconsistent shifts changing every six months. Although her son is just the young age of two, she already sees the negative affects when he is crying asking for his dad, when he would not be home for 12-13 hours. Having a father in the military herself, Wimmer knows how hard it will be to see her children have to go through growing up with a father who must work or go to training for multiple months. She adds the positives that, “They will have an amazing role model to look up to. They will always feel loved and safe when he is around and that makes me happy to know.”
When the Moskowitz’s found out their son, Nick, was being deployed to Japan in 2014, there was a mix of emotions. While mother was sad he was being deployed, father thought, “it was a good opportunity to travel and see foreign lands” with sister agreeing, “I felt relieved that he was not going to a more dangerous place. I knew friends who had been deployed to Japan and my brother seemed excited to travel there so I was not too worried. Selfishly I also felt sad that he would be traveling away from home for so long and be missing the holidays.”
After deployment comes reintegration. Adjusting to a spouse or parent after deployment can be hard due to changing schedules and a shift in the environment in the home. Military members who have seen and experienced violent action during their deployment face a harder time adjusting back to civilian life making it harder for families to continue their regular routines. Children often have a hard time reconnecting to those who left them and may suffer from trust issues, always afraid they will leave again. The military homecomings seen on the internet do not show the hard realistic readjustment that must occur afterwards or those whose family members would never make it back, but only the happy families of those returning.
Living much of the first year of her marriage separated from her husband, TJ, Wimmer found it hard to adjust to living together again. She realized during her time apart how dependent she had become, but was able to change explaining, “This lifestyle has made me extremely independent in more ways than one. I now know I can function on my own without TJ being right next to me. I also don’t have my family to fall back on when the times get rough due to our distance and that has made me emotionally stronger as well. I am beyond thankful for how much personal growth has come from being a military spouse.”
Having a family member in the military positively affects so many families by making them stronger as a unit. Family members learn ways to cope with stress, cherish the small moments and to be thankful for what they have.
Through keeping in touch by phone, skype and social media, families can stay connected to their loved one. Talking to others who are going through the same situation helps you know that you are not alone.
Holidays can often be a time where family comes together, but frequently, military members are unable to come home on leave. Parents Ben and Betsy Moskowitz agree that, “We can’t spend every holiday together so it makes us more appreciative of holidays we do spend together” and that, “When he’s on leave it has brought the family closer together.”
A family member in the military puts everyone to the test on if they are able to stay together as one and support each other. Wimmer mentions, “We have grown so much already as a couple. I feel like anything that is thrown at us, we will survive and grow from.”
While nothing is set in stone with the military, with plans constantly changing, families are able to stay together, cherish time spent with each other and support each other as they go through the good times and the hard times.
Sister, Amy Moskowitz shows the resilience her family has, “From the day my brother enlisted in the military to the day he graduated boot camp to the day he moved to a military base or was deployed- our family stuck closely together and leaned on each other for support. We grew closer together.”