Military Spouses End the Longest War in American History with Care and Love
*published first on LinkedIn 12/1/21
As the 20-year war in Afghanistan ended the American involvement on the ground, another mission arose over 3,000 miles away. Except this mission involved and ultimately required the expertise and capacity of a part of the military that had not yet been tapped into at this level: active duty military spouses living in the area of the Kaiserslautern Military Community, close to the Landstuhl Army Medical Center and Ramstein Airforce bases.
When 18,000 Afghans arrived on Ramstein within two weeks, military spouses on the ground as well as those still networked stateside came together for an undeniable force, providing numerous resources for the evacuees and to ensure troops were nourished during this massive undertaking.
At the end of the longest American war, it was the military spouses who brought love and kindness to what they had already sacrificed in the 20-year war.
As a military spouse of 17 years having just spent 4 years in Germany, the news of the Afghan evacuee mission hit home for me—even though I no longer lived in Germany. I had tears of empathy for the evacuees and pride for my fellow military spouses. It’s that feeling that brings action, or maybe it’s the action that brings feeling in such a way that that the emotion from hearing about the devastation of a community gets overshadowed, at least for the moment, by the power of unconditional love.
See usually military spouses are the ones to stay back and keep the home-front going. The children, the house, the school, the doctor visits, while the active duty spouse, usually the husband, goes off to another part of the country or the world to carry out the mission at hand. We only hear of the stories our spouse tells us. We hear about the active duty member living in harsh conditions or about the inhabitants suffering through the conflicts. As spouses, most of the “doing” comes in the form of worrying, or busying ourselves for distraction against all the “could’s” that our imagination paints a picture of.
But this time it was different. This time, the mission was in our backyard. This time we could see the refugees, the evacuees, the travelers forced from their home for a safe, more enriching life. This time we witnessed our active duty spouses working around the clock with limited options for food and drink. This time, it was the spouses who could actually “do.” And do is what they did and continue to do.
By force of a military spouses’ often un-noticed capacity—a separate valuable and necessary mission appeared. Spouses donated their time, their money, their well-being to the service of the military. And new missions appeared: “operation bottle buddy”, “operation get them fed”, “operation sew for Afghan evacuees”, “operation teach them English”, and many others.
Spouses made sure that that the military was fed, and that the Afghan evacuees felt cared for. They provided the “man” power to make sure the operation went as smoothly as possible. On a private facebook page, post after post unofficially tallied the many thousands of meals delivered, babies fed, psychological help delivered and the hundreds of children taught. And also the thousands of donated bags of clothing, blankets, and supplies sorted, the thousands of baby bottles sterilized, and the hundreds of hijabs and prayer mats that were hand sewed and donated. And then those of us stateside, still members of this fb group started posting about how proud they were. And then they started sending funds out of their pockets and asking for donations to go to spouses in Germany to buy supplies.
So here’s the thing- military spouses are often viewed as one-dimensional, stay-at-home moms/dads. In addition, military life and the institutional structure of the military can often limit opportunities for these spouses to demonstrate their skills and talents. But the reality is that many have advanced professional skills as well as years of unofficial training. And so it’s actually not surprising that when 18,000 people needed servicing PLUS the active duty soldiers themselves, military spouses were able to plug into places that weren’t planned for but was exactly where it was needed!
Unfortunately, most of us spouses know from experience that all these thousands of military spouses involved in making this mission actually work, will get little to no recognition. Let alone payment for their “volunteering” or a raise in the form of a promotion like their well-deserved active duty members.
And so as we end the longest American war in history, let it be known that it was active duty military spouses that lead their own operation to make sure that their sacrifices on the home front were not at ALL in vain on the “official” mission front.