It’s Veterans’ Day, 2019, and I find myself reflecting on my service. I have many fond memories, but what stands out is how I allowed myself to get sucked into a pity party and missed so many more opportunities to be a better leader and form lasting friendships. Instead, I let my anger and frustration take over – making someone I don’t recognize now and never want to go back to.
What caused the anger and frustration? I was disqualified from submarines for psoriasis, an auto-immune disease I now have well controlled using medication not available to me back in 2004. At the time I was facing a medical separation from the Navy, I had made Chief in 2003 – just 11 years after enlisting – and I had mentally committed to staying for 20 to ensure my son had health insurance the rest of his life.
I didn’t want to leave submarines, I wanted to leave my family even less. In 2005 I was sent to Norfolk, VA; to be stationed on an aircraft carrier. This was the beginning of the end for me, I left my family in Connecticut because my son was doing well in school and we thought he’d be better off. We also thought it was temporary, that I’d be able to get back to some type of shore duty in Connecticut. We were wrong.
From Virginia I was given the option to go to Diego Garcia (a small island in the Pacific), Japan or Cuba – all unaccompanied. I opted for Cuba, thinking it was a (1) year tour. Turned out to be almost (2) years, because the government couldn’t balance the budget and the military had no money to execute transfers. I made some friends and I have great memories from Cuba, but I wasn’t able to get home to see my family too often.
When I finally got shore duty it was to Maryland; so my wife and I agreed it was time to move. By now she’d effectively been a single mom for over 5 years, to say it had put a strain on our marriage is an understatement. We had (2) years together in Maryland before my world crashed around me – she got sick and I took her off life support on 4 April 2012; just months before I was supposed to retire (June).
I fought, and won, the ability to stay in until 31 December 2012 – earning a (6) month reprieve to get my affairs in order and figure out what I was going to do with my life. Over the next eight months my son and I adjusted to life without my wife, figuring out how I could be both provider and caregiver. I realized, albeit much too late, just how much a military spouse does when the active duty service member is away.
I write all this to encourage other active duty military to thank your spouses; acknowledge what they are sacrificing for you. If they are like my wife was they don’t tell you anything negative while you’re away, rather they keep a positive face on and let you know what they did when you get home.
I learned this lesson too late – I let myself get sucked into a cycle of negative emotions that did nothing but drag me down and make me someone no one wanted to be around. I’ve since learned, and I’m in a much better place; and I wish I had learned this lesson while my wife was alive. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, take the time to value your partner – thank them for being there, allowing you to execute your mission.