Real Life Challenges of a Military Family

The release of the Academy Award Winning film, American Sniper, stirred a lot of emotion nationwide.  As Americans, we want to know more about Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy SEAL who served four tours of duty in the Iraq War and has been dubbed the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.

While Kyle’s military service is undoubtedly commendable, American Sniper also focuses on something lost on many Americans—the struggles and difficulties of family life back home before, during, and after deployment.

These family struggles aren’t just Hollywood fiction.  My husband, a helicopter pilot with the West Virginia Army National Guard, was deployed to Iraq from 2006 to 2007 at a time when insurgents were actively shooting down U.S. helicopters.  No less than 36 helicopters were shot down and/or crashed during those two years.

I was seven weeks pregnant when my husband was first deployed.  We were newlyweds of only four months.  My husband came home almost a year and a half later as a first-time father to our seven-month-old son.  Like Chris Kyle and his wife, Taya, my husband and I worked to reconcile military life and family life before, during, and after his deployment to Iraq.

Military Family

In 2011, we faced a second deployment.  My husband was sent to Kosovo for a yearlong peacekeeping mission.  The hardship we faced was not the threat of his helicopter being shot down, but the struggles and logistics back home.  By this time, we were the parents of a 4-year-old son and three more children—a 2-½ year old son and 1-year-old twins.

Like Chris Kyle, my husband had to juggle both military life in a foreign country and family life an ocean and many countries apart.  Like Taya Kyle, I once again assumed the role of “single parent.”  It is a round-the-clock, selfless, and exhausting job.  I give credit to you single parents out there that give everything they have for their family.

Together, my husband and I managed daily challenges in living, working, and parenting apart from each other.  It was a roller coaster of emotions as we once again said our goodbyes.  It’s a ride of ups and downs every military family must face.

There are five emotional stages of deployment:

  1. Pre-Deployment
  2. Deployment
  3. Sustainment
  4. Redeployment
  5. Post-Deployment

Pre-Deployment is marked by denial, anticipation of loss, and concern over getting affairs in order.  Deployment consists of relief in finally starting the process, sadness, numbness, and feeling alone.  Sustainment is evidenced of establishing new routines, support sources, feelings of control, independence, and confidence.

Redeployment occurs as homecoming approaches, which brings about feelings of anticipation, apprehension, and “nesting.”  The final phase, Post-Deployment, is characterized by a honeymoon period followed by a loss of independence and tension in reintegration.

American Sniper portrays this emotional struggle of military couples in the face of deployment with exceptional accuracy.  As Chris Kyle once said, “it’s not just [the troops] at war—it’s also their family.  Their family is having to go through all the hardships and the stresses.”  Having lived it, I can relate on a very personal level and encourage all Americans to understand and appreciate the sacrifices of both our military and our military families.