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The Life of a Mom in Uniform

As a 21-year veteran of the U.S. military, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Veterans Day isn’t really for veterans. I mean, it’s touted as such and many people thank veterans for their service every November 11, but as the wife and mom of a family who has never known her in any non-uniformed capacity, I’m here to tell you that Veterans Day reminds vets not of their own service, but of the service and sacrifice their families have made.

When The Huz and I first met, I’d already logged five years in the active duty Army and had recently transitioned to the Nevada Air Guard. I cut short our first date because I had drill the next morning. From that alone he should have known that if there were subsequent dates, there would also be sacrifices.

Fast forward to March 2003, the beginning of the Iraq War – and three days after the birth of our son, Little Man. A co-worker called and said, “I can’t believe you picked the kickoff of a war to go on maternity leave! Thanks a lot!” To my co-worker’s credit, he was half-joking. We worked in a two-person media relations office for the National Guard, and when 50% of your staff is gone at the outset of a war, there’s not a moment’s rest. It’s one of the scant few times when SOMETHING BIG happened and I devoted my time to family above work.

Conway
Proud mom of two and a veteran of 21 years.

When my second child was due in 2006, there was an office pool with wagers on where and when the next war would kick off, all based around my due date. Fortunately or unfortunately, we were still mired in Afghanistan and Iraq when Sweetface made her debut. No co-worker took home the pot.

Between the ravishing clatter of life with toddlers, a husband changing jobs, deployments to three continents and dozens of stateside trips in between, I’ve missed a lot. My family has missed a lot of me.

“Happy Birthday” sung over the phone just isn’t the same as being there. Sweetface swears Santa Claus has a very good map because he can bring Mommy presents in a war zone. When a tooth was lost while I was in Antarctica, I had to think fast on the phone and told Little Man I’d talk to the Tooth Fairy, who lived nearby at the south pole, and ask her to bring him a golden dollar coin that night. Thank goodness my health insurance covers psychological counseling. The kids will need it after all the odd half-truths I‘ve fabricated in their formative years.

Missed anniversaries, Thanksgivings, dance recitals and school plays are all part of the package for a military family. Every time someone thanks me for my service, I remind them to thank my husband; he’s the one doing the bulk of parenting when I’m not there. I remind them to thank my kids for being patient and for understanding when I’m not there to hug them after a tough loss on the ball field or a knee skinned while roller skating. I remind them to thank my parents, who do more than their share of worrying about me and are loving surrogate parents to the kiddos when I‘m gone. They’ve picked me up and dropped me off at the airport so often I believe the Reno-Tahoe Airport has a parking space reserved for them.

Veterans choose their vocation and understand all the hardships it entails. Our families are merely along for the bumpy ride. A boyfriend with little exposure to the military probably doesn’t envision one day being a husband and sole caregiver for kids (and multitudinous cats, dogs and hamsters) while his wife is gallivanting across the globe for months at a time. Kids born into the military life don‘t know that some moms are home every day after school. They’re clueless that some moms are around for every holiday.

As I gear up for another three-month stint away from home, I’m prepared to miss my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary, Valentine’s Day (again) and Little Man’s birthday (again), but I’m still grateful. It wasn’t long ago when I came home, eyes red, from the funeral of yet another soldier killed in combat.I explained to the kids that I don’t cry for the troop lost. He chose the profession of arms and nobly died fighting for his convictions, serving our august nation. I cry for his family left behind who will be reminded of the hole in their hearts every family holiday, every milestone and yes, every Veterans Day. The family’s sacrifice is much more than the service members’. The family behind each soldier deserves the thanks this Veterans Day – and every day.

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