To honor the men and women in the service you must always honor their families and loved ones. Every day that our troops are fighting overseas is another day that a spouse, mother, father, or child go without a fiancée, son, daughter, sibling, parent or loved one in their daily lives. The strength it takes to support a loved one in the military is something to be honored and commemorated. I interviewed two women: Susan Laskey, who was engaged to a Vietnam Veteran in the late 1960’s and Erica Oliari, who is currently engaged to a serviceman in Afghanistan. Both women had no prior involvement with the military before they met their fiancées. Though these two stories may be separated by decades of time, they are faced with many of the same challenges.
Alexandra Laskey: What does it mean to you to be a military spouse?
Erica Oliari: “To me it means being Greg's support system. I am willing to put my problems aside and be his "cheerleader" when he needs one. It also means doing whatever I can do make him smile and not feel so far away from home.”
Susan Laskey: “I was very proud to be engaged to a man who had served our country. He had traveled the world and seemed so knowledgeable and grown up, not like the other boyfriends I'd had.”
AL: What exactly is the position your fiancée has/had in the military?
EO: “Greg is in an infantry unit and he does base security. He escorts officials and generals to different bases and he spends a lot of time in towers over looking the outside of the base where he monitors people coming in and out of the base.”
SL: “Bruce joined the Navy because he didn’t want to be drafted into the army. He worked as a Gunner’s Mate on a destroyer called the “USS Collette.” The ship went up rivers, was given coordinates by soldiers in the jungles and would shoot missiles inland.”
AL: When and how do/did you get to communicate with your military spouse?
EO: “I Skype with Greg at least once a day. On average twice a day and when our schedules match up, three times a day. When the Internet is down, he borrows his roommate's international cell phone. We’re very lucky. With the job he has, he doesn’t leave the base very often. It’s an 8.5 hour time difference so when he’s waking up I’m going to bed.”
AL: Susan with modern technology it is very easy for Erica to communicate with her fiancée, what were some ways you or your friends could communicate with the men in Vietnam?
SL: “Writing letters was the main way to communicate with the boys in the service. It was a very scary time because you would rarely hear from the men you cared about. Occasionally we would get a phone call, but that was very rare. Erica and other families are very lucky to have modern technology and be able to communicate with their spouses on a daily basis. Bruce had just gotten out of the service when I met him. He was going to school on something called the GI Bill. It meant that boys who served in the military got their education paid for. So, I got to see him every day at college. It was very strange to see older boys, in army jackets and navy pea coats in our college classes alongside long hair, peace loving hippie types.”
AL: What are/were your hopes for your future with your spouse?
EO: “I hope that we're happy. I hope that we never forget how difficult this year and a half has been and never take our time together for granted.”
SL: “Our hopes were large and our wallets were bare. He was going on to graduate school and I would get a teaching job right out of college. Teaching jobs were at a premium, and art teacher jobs were especially rare. I was very lucky to land a job right away. We had no money but it didn't matter because we had youth and love. I drove our car to my job and your dad rode his bike to school. We lived in the Graduate housing on the University of Rhode Island campus.”
AL: What are some positive aspects of being a military spouse?
EO: “One positive aspect is that the military has many resources and benefits available for military spouses and their families.”
SL: “As a retired soldier there were specific companies and government agencies that gave you better rates on things like insurance, banking and loans. Bruce loved being a sailor and all the travels that he did when he was in the navy. Some friends that he made while he served were friends for life. It was almost like being in a club with a strong self of camaraderie. As a military spouse, I was a part of this group too. Upon Bruce’s death, the government paid for his gravestone.”
AL: What are some negative aspects of being a military spouse?
EO: “Being separated from your spouse is the most negative aspect. Also, the Army expects to be first in a soldier’s life, which means you come second especially when deployed. The army makes the decisions for its soldiers and you don't have any voice.”
SL: “Some boys who served in Vietnam returned home with severe emotional scars. When we socialized with other retired servicemen, the stories they would tell about being in battle were horrifying. After a few beers their "demons came out" and it was very sad to see such intelligent and patriotic young men so psychologically scarred.”
AL: Do you think men and women in their twenties should be more involved with the war going on right now?
EO: “Yes. Regardless of how a person feels about the war itself, everyone should fully support the soldiers overseas who are sacrificing their lives for us.”
SL: “Yes. This group of American “twentysomething’s” is a wave of Americans who have no personal interest in protecting our country's freedom. There seems to be no sincere patriotism any more. The good American life with the freedoms that it brings us is simply taken for granted. Our soldiers fighting in the Middle East are there to protect the rights and freedoms of other people in other nations. The folks at home are insulated from their plight as soldiers and generally speaking, seem to have no interest in the battles that they are fighting.”
AL: What is your opinion about the war going on right now?
EO: “I believe the initial reasons for the war were valid, but I think it has become too costly and irresponsible over time. I believe the millions of dollars that are spent on the war everyday could be put to good use here at home.”
SL: “I don't think our troops should be fighting and dying over there. This is not our battle to fight and I believe that this war is being kept alive to financially benefit specific groups of politicians and independent companies.”
AL: Susan what was your opinion about the Vietnam War while it was going on?
SL: “That we never should have been involved in it. Vietnam was a conflict not a war and young men were drafted based on their birth date. Many young men moved to Canada to avoid going into the service. They felt that Vietnam was not their battle to fight. They were called Draft Dodgers. Many are still in Canada. When soldiers came back from their stint in the service there were no support groups for them to join and help them assimilate back into society. The atrocities that they saw made it difficult for many of them to join normal society. Many turned to drugs and became society dropouts. It was a guerilla war that our boys were forced to fight in and were not properly trained for. If they were lucky enough to make it back to the USA there was not enough support for those who returned home with horrifying physical and/ or emotional scars.”
AL: Any additional information you would like to share?
EO: “Being apart from Greg has been very hard, but we stay focused on the rest of our lives. It also has made us appreciate the time that we do have together and in the long run I think it has made us a stronger couple.”
SL: “Going into the services, from high school, used to be an option for many young people. They were taught life skills, loyalty, camaraderie and a strong sense of patriotism. I feel that this option is no longer available to America’s youth. The men and women go into the service today are immediately sent to fight in a war that is not ours and is impossible to win.”
I think it is important to point out that both women interviewed do not think that the military should be overseas anymore. Susan’s response about the men serving in Vietnam coming home with emotional and physical scars is very bloodcurdling. Soldiers would go to an infirmary and once they were cleared they were just sent home and expected to return to a civilian lifestyle. Today if soldiers come back and cannot physically support themselves, the government gives money to their families to help take care of them. Spouses of injured veterans are able to quit their jobs and focus on giving their wounded loved ones the support they need. It is important to understand the hardships of the military coming from the spouses that pledge their loyalty to the men and women serving overseas. When honoring our servicemen, always remember to honor the families that they leave to protect and serve our country.