When You Both Serve On The Frontline

By Nilaja Montgomery

I have been a Soldier for eight years, my husband has been one for 12, and we’ve been married almost 11. If you’ve already done the math, you know that I joined after being a military spouse for three years. 

 

In ways, I thought it was a good thing that I joined after my husband. I already sort of knew what I was getting myself into. Boy, was I wrong. See, my husband spent his first nine years of active duty service with the 75th Ranger Regiment. My husband didn’t know anything about the conventional Army. He still doesn’t, as he still is a proud member of the Special Operations Command. I eventually joined Medical Command and my husband is now part of the Signal Corps.


To say that our experiences in the military have differed on every front, is only the tip of the iceberg. 


How did it begin? I left my wonderful job with Lifetime Fitness to join him at Fort Benning, Ga., after we got married. During this time, the unemployment rate in Columbus, Ga., was at 14 percent. I filled out around 75 job applications before I finally got a call back, and then finally got an interview. I worked for about a year, but I was barely making enough to pay my student loans.


My husband joked that if I joined the military at least I’d be an officer, since I had already graduated college. As he geared up to deploy, I started looking for recruiters. I ended up having a Ranger Wife as my recruiter and we came up with a plan. At the time that I began my Active Duty Contract, I was going to Basic Training in hopes of making it to Officer Candidate School. 


 I pinned 2nd Lieutenant on February 4th of 2009. My husband was my first salute.


After graduating Basic Officer Leadership Course, I found myself in Iraq about a month later. At this point, my husband had been twice. He was deployed while I was in Basic Training, but he made it to my graduation. He was deployed while I was in Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC), but when I found out I was leaving for deployment, his unit sent him home to spend some time with me. 

 

We were on our second honeymoon. We didn’t talk about his deployments, we only enjoyed our time together. We had just bought our first home together and wanted to enjoy the moment. The one thing that has been a theme for all of his deployments is the need for him to detach himself emotionally from every mission and every decision. Politically, he can’t afford to be emotionally invested in any mission, they always change. 


Every Commander-in-Chief brings with him a new purpose, and likely a new war. I like to think of my husband as a computer nerd with a badass wrap sheet. He doesn’t have a social media footprint. Nor does he regularly engage in social activities. Then there is me, a complete extrovert with a heart to save lives. After-all, that’s what I raised my right hand to do.

 

The motto of my BOLC was to, “Train to save.”  And that’s exactly what I did on my first deployment to Iraq. I entered as a replacement for the Evacuation Platoon Leader and my main job was to manage all Casualty Collection Points and ensure movement to Germany for any injured person assigned to our Forward Operating Base. I had a few additional duties such as Brigade Medical Supply Officer and Convoy Commander, among others. 


It was around 2:34am on a hot Thursday morning that I began to learn what it meant to detach oneself from feelings and emotion, as the sound of rockets and mortars roared into Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kalsu. 


It was that night that I had made peace with myself and finally decided that I was going to die.  Obviously, I didn’t die, However, a small part of me died that night and I will never forget it. The rest of my time in Iraq was mundane. I did my job without passion, and I just waited for the time to come where I would be the one in the body bag or on the next flight to Germany to be patched up. 


My husband and I were headed for divorce. Let’s be clear, he didn’t want the divorce, but I did. I didn’t see the point of marriage or love, I was depressed. We lost a few people that day. One of them was a contractor whom I had worked very closely with during my first trip as a Convoy Commander when I first arrived to Iraq. I remember his stories of his daughter and how she had just had a baby. He couldn’t wait to get back to her and spend time with his family. This was his last trip to Iraq. 


There was a young girl who died, who had just joined the Army and this was her first deployment. She was young, barely legal, and we later found out that she was pregnant. 


I didn’t cry for either of them that night. I didn’t cry for a long time.  While I was dealing with my numbness, my husband was partying every chance he could get. It was very unlike him. I would try to call or email him after a rocket attack, and I wouldn’t get ahold of him for days. The straw that broke the camel’s back was this night of complete horror.


I have never seen as much gore, maybe on a movie screen, but never in the flesh. After all the dust had settled, coming back to my Containerized Housing Unit (CHU) and trying to reach my husband, with no avail, had me feeling the loneliest I have ever felt. I already felt alone and here I was getting shot at and left for dead, while he continued to party it up back home. I was disappointed and devastated. I was tired. I hadn’t slept in days. I decided that moment, that I just needed to remain alone. What’s the use? What is the point of it all? I began to get angry. I withdrew from everything.

 

When I made it home, I was different. I wasn’t the lively person I had once been. I hadn’t changed drastically, but I wasn’t as happy and carefree as before that deployment. 


No sooner than I returned, Logan left on another deployment with his unit. We continued in this fashion for a couple of years. Always putting off talking about serious matters until we were both home and safe. We never really resolved anything, feelings or the lack there-of continued to plague our relationship. 


I began to regret ever joining the Army and regretted marrying a Soldier. On my birthday in 2011, I got a call that one of the platoon sergeants in my company committed suicide. It hit me hard. I immediately found another way to deploy, to escape it all. This time I was with the Army Bands Program. My husband was already deployed so, why not.


Not even six months later, I found myself back in Iraq. But this time was different, I was singing with a band. I loved almost every moment. But when I wasn’t on stage, I wasn’t happy. I cried a lot and still felt alone. Upon return, I realized that I didn’t want to be in the Army anymore. I turned in my packet to separate as soon as we moved to Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash.

 

During my transition period, a recruiter found me at Starbucks. I still don’t know how she found me, but she approached me and asked about my medical career and how I was spiritually. One conversation with her and I began counseling and soon joined the Reserves. 


Shortly after that, we were blessed to find out we were having a baby. We decided to do some marital counseling, then my husband left again. He returned when I was seven months pregnant. During our counseling sessions, I found out that his partying was nothing more than an escape from the reality that I was in harm’s way. He never wanted me to be in a deployment setting. But he couldn’t control that. I could die and he didn’t want to think about that.

 

He soon decided that the Ranger Way of Life wasn’t going to cut it anymore so he moved over to the Officer lifestyle. We had our son and adjusting to being parents didn’t come as easy as we had imagined. As my identity changed, I never felt comfortable in it. I felt a constant lack. I felt like I was a failure at being a soldier, then I felt like I was never going to be a good enough mother. I kept looking to my husband for reassurance. And due to his lack of emotion, I never got it. 


One day he yelled to me,” Get a fucking job!” That was all the reassurance I needed, I completely shut down. We went back to counseling and it seemed like we were doing great. Then, it all came to a head last year. He was struggling with his identity moving from enlisted to officer and leaving Ranger Regiment. I was struggling as a full-time student, a mother; and a veteran. We finally decided divorce was inevitable and began all the steps for that. 


Bank accounts were separated, cars were refinanced in individual names; I separated our cell phone plans. We were done, we were separated for months. During many of my counseling sessions, the bottom line always came to the fact that I never truly wanted a divorce. I just wanted things to get better. I ultimately always wanted my little family, and I wanted us together.

 

During our time of separation, my tribe rallied around me. They flew in, and they called non-stop. They prayed for me. They took me out for drinks. They cooked for me and watched my son so I could cry.


After much more counseling, both individually and jointly, we realized that we didn’t want to live separately. After my husband moved back home, we didn’t looked back. Our son amazes us everyday. My husband and I have a bond that has been unbreakable. This military life is hard, marriage is hard, but we can thrive. We still go to counseling individually. I have a new found respect for myself and more self-worth than ever. We have read and continue to read books on emotional intelligence and marriage, and are also working with our son on emotional intelligence. Our family is strong, I am in awe of where we are today. I am completely happy with my military family. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.


The greatest tragedy is a person too busy making a living, they forgot to make a life.

-Anonymous

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