What Was I Thinking?

By: Balding Eagle | 19 May 06

I would like to think of myself as a mature adult, seemingly intelligent and capable of logical thought, a good father and husband with a solid marriage.  However, one may question my self-perception after this last week.  Despite appearing in newspapers, magazines, and on CNN for husband’s of female soldiers support, I to became a casualty spouse this last week.  Though I hang my head in shame, it opened my eyes to many things, and I saw many of the winged demons that contribute to a 53% divorce rate among deployed female soldiers. 

My story begins with not having heard from Grey Eagle over a period of time.  My email went unanswered, and only a couple of quick 5 minute phone calls assured me that no physical harm had come upon her.  But the lack of communication was unusual and I was slightly concerned for her stress level and emotional health.  Anyone who has been a long time reader of the website will have noticed that the lighthearted humorist approach that she took a year ago has long given way to a more dark, and deep reflections sometimes in her posts over the these months of her deployment.  Well, in addition to my other projects I also do some volunteer work here on post.  One day I mentioned that I had not heard from my wife in a long period of time, I guess hoping to hear some gossip like they are super busy with operations and missions right now, and was suddenly surrounded by four female spouses of deployed soldiers.  Sorrow and grief was cast upon me at the demise of my marriage, and was consoled through statements such as “you know this happens and is to be expected of female soldiers.  With so many male soldiers over there it is just a matter of time”.  I brushed away their comments with “no way, you don’t know my wife, there is a more logical reason.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, Grey Eagle is no saint, she has a better chance of being accepted as a Coyote Ugly bartender than as a nun, even in the most liberal of parishes.  But, her marriage and her family is something because of her past is something she cherishes very deeply.  So I dismiss this “support” as the mere attempt to gossip and gather the wagons in a circle to protect another spouse from the destructive powers of the female soldier. 

So a couple of days later I go to the bank.  While there I learn that my Power of Attorney (POA) has been revoked.  I am told by the cashier to see the bank representative.  I am steaming that the bank has managed to screw up my account as I am waiting.  Finally it is my turn, and the female representative tells me I will need to return with my POA, because this action was taken by my wife, and could only have been done so through their legal department generally in response to a soldier filing for divorce (they said it keeps the spouse from having access to the account when they receive the paperwork for the divorce).  The representative told me that this common and if I bring in my divorce papers when I get them and my POA then I can establish my own account and probably seek to renew my access to the current, at least long enough to transfer funds to the new account if needed.  I leave the bank in shock and dismay.  Suddenly the conversation I had a couple of days earlier with the woman I volunteer work with began to take on a new light.  I was falling into the spouse trap!  It is too late to locate my POA and return to the bank, so instead I fire off emails to Grey Eagle questioning what I had been told.  But they went unanswered that day.  The spouses in my neighborhood were standing outside discussing who they thought was having sex with who this week, which should have been my first clue to keep my mouth shut.  But in my despair, I had a sudden brain fart, and begin to explain the events of the week.  I had woman offering to assist me in packing our belongs and taking the boys and moving back home.  I was under a barrage of stories of female soldiers they had “heard” doing this and that and was lectured that I should have known this was going to happen and been prepared for it.  For the next 24 hours I had my yard mowed, food brought over, and woman acknowledging my boys as they came home from school.  A neighborhood “representative” sat in my living room outlining my options and pledging assistant to “get back” at my wife when my youngest son came home.  Again in a case of stupidity I sent him upstairs rather than throwing her out, so as not to overhear anything. 

Finally I have a few brief minutes with Grey Eagle in a chat online.  She says she is very busy at the moment and was not very talkative, but did say that she had done nothing to the account and had no clue as to what was going on.  That was all that was said, and then there was a period of no communication again.  The same bank representative that I had visited with before again gave me the same speech in a follow-up visit, but I was missing one document of my POA that granted me total financial access to everything.  So I return to look for it, but am mentally and emotionally exhausted by the week.  Now I am not ready to toss in the towel at this and accept the belief that this isn’t just some huge mistake.  So I do not wish to turn to my family or friends in fear that it may tarnish her image with them, and someone may even actually believe it.  So I turn to the online support groups that are listed by the Army.  They give me all sorts of information on how to contact Grey Eagle’s commander, file a complaint, and my legal avenues.  I am just wanting someone to tell me “Hey, don’t listen to everyone, I am sure there is a perfectly good explanation for this”, but I never got that. 

Finally a couple of days ago, I had enough.  I was prepared to just shut things down and actually began to contemplate that there may be some truth behind all that I was being told, and that I was just being naive.  Frustrated and not caring anymore I called my father, and talked to our mutual best friend a cavalry soldier who if anything he has no diplomacy or tact and shoots straight from the hip.  Both said, “pull your head out”.  “There is a war on…hello… and this is the Army…. This is not a social club and your wife isn’t on a cruise…. And I hate to be the one to tell you this but there are wounded soldiers out there, many who are grateful that your wife is not on the computer emailing you but in the clinic doing her job…. So go out get a couple of beers….get over yourself and take care of the boys….”  The men’s philosophy of life.  And it is exactly what I need to hear.  Later that day as fate would have it, Grey Eagle called and we got to talk for like an hour and I discovered that their workload is greater than the hours built into a day.  That there were many times she wanted to write, but would have to give up an hour of her 3-4 hour sleep time and just couldn’t get out of bed.  In addition, I returned to the bank.  This time the usual representative I was seeing wasn’t there, so I had to see the vice president instead.  He looks up things, makes a phone call and says “we are changing over to a new computer program and there isn’t a line on this new program for the POA’s like on the old program, but if you look at the bottom of the screen it says “999” which means indefinite, and should be a clue to the other bank employees that you still have access to the account.  “I am sorry for the miscommunication, this isn’t the first time this has happened.”  I will post a memo and you shouldn’t have a problem in the future.  “What!!” “That’s it!” “Your people made the assumption that since my wife is a female soldier that divorce would have been the only option here and not even taken the 3 minutes it took you to investigate and find out the answer”.  “The problems created more than just difficulties in my bank account, and all you guys got is I’m sorry”.

The reply…. “happens all the time…welcome to the Army gossip support group”.

Now I have to wonder how much of what I endured plays a factor in the 53% divorce rate of deployed female soldiers.   

I need a support group that mixes Jim Belushi with Jeff Foxworthy. 

Balding Eagle 

 


Grey Eagle: The Untold Story

By: Balding Eagle | 09 May 06

As I read Grey Eagle’s account of herself, I had to chuckle, for it embraces where we are now, and not the winding road on how we got here.  I believe her post it is a humble portrait, and I think now as she turns into the final lap of her deployment, maybe it is time to open the box, take out, and dust off the big picture of how she got where she is today.  There are many stories of soldiers and their accounts, hers is not the only one, but it is the one in which I see my wife as my hero.

Grey Eagle’s real actual name is Cinnamon.  She grew up in a very small east Texas town near Orange County and the Louisiana swamps.  I was amazed by the gators that roamed like stray dogs in the area the first time I visited.  Their small farm sought not to bring their yield to market for profit, but to feed the family.  I grew up a military brat, my father an officer, and went to high school in Athens Greece and never knew the life she came from.  From my up bringing this whole concept was alien to me, but I have grown to appreciate the hardships she faced.  As a small girl she entertained herself by shooting an worn basketball at a net hung on a old tree.  As the ball fell to earth it would land on one of the tree roots sticking up from the ground.  The ball would bounce in any given direction and she would have to give chase to it.  She learned that if she didn’t wish to spend her time chasing the ball she would have to improve her reaction time.  Improving over the years to avoid chasing that old worn basketball, she became quite the basketball player in high school and went on to earn a scholarship to play in college.  A series of personal events struck, and she had to return home without a degree and not long afterward became a single mother.  She became estranged from her family with whom it is now going well over a dozen years now since she has had any contact, alone she set out to change her destiny.  Raising her children she attended college and worked two jobs, finally securing a license and a entry level job with a pharmaceutical company.  By the time I came to meet her she had worked her way up to a mid-management position, and worked another job so she could provide whatever her children needed or wanted and never be without as she had been. 

Fast forwarding through our life, Cinnamon had become the director of operations and had reached the pinnacle of her career.  We achieved the American dream, suburb home, two new cars, and rising debt.  One day I was involved in a serious accident which resulted in a head injury and some brain damage.  It took many years of rehab to overcome the many things that result from such an injury, and it had changed me.  Faced with a seriously injured husband she no longer knew, or a lot of the time understood, she assumed both roles of the home.  Keeping things together she prevailed and we overcame many obstacles.  It was also during this time that 9-11 happened.  She began to see things as larger than just our little world.  Success, regardless of size was measured by our standards of comfort and possessions, and this churned and burned within her and left her unsettled.  Always a free spirit she felt restless and that there and to be more to life.  That the goals of life had to be more than the size of your mortgage.   By March 2003 we watched as the soldiers gathered for the invasion of Iraq.  We were addicted to following the embedded reporter (Walter someone from CNN) as he made his way across Iraq with the 7th Cavalry.  She saw the tired faces of soldiers, burned by the sand storms, days without sleep and the images of their faces struck a nerve inside her.  Underpaid, under-appreciated, dedicated, driven by a higher calling than personal wealth and motivated by honor, the soldier became a symbol of what she believed in. 

Placing a phone call to the recruiter she discovered that 34 years of age is the cut off for joining the Army.  She was 33 years old and the mother of two teenage sons.  We had to travel to Pennsylvania to locate a recruiter to sign her up.  Within few months of her 34th birthday she was sworn in, and shipped off to basic training.  Always someone would was sort of a health nut, and fit, she quickly discovered two things.  One that the Army’s pace was much different then just penciling in some gym time, and her joints and muscles hated her for that.  The other is that she was at least one generation older than all the other females attending.  Displaced by music, culture, pre-mature grey hair, and the difference in principles she earned the nickname “Grandma”.  This was not really a bad thing, because as time worn on the females turned to her for guidance, leadership, and this dysfunctional band became a unit, bonded and driven to graduate and become soldiers.  I remember when she discovered that she was having problems making the 2 mile run in the required time.  She discovered that while you can’t have your wedding ring, you can have a band.  She asked that I send her one so that when she felt like quitting she could look at it and know she could not give up.  She not only made her time, but graduated in the top of her class a few points shy of a perfect score.  One story that I believe tells you who Grey Eagle is was the day she had to qualify on the firing range.  As she began to prepare for her final qualification with the M16, the weapon jammed, and after clearing it discovered her weapon would not feed the rounds from the magazine.  She quickly removed the magazine and stripped the rounds out on the ground and placed them in the weapon one at a time firing single shot at the targets.  On that day she was crushed when on the final target she couldn’t load the round fast enough and missed a perfect score and Marksman badge by one point, and instead received a Sharpshooters badge.

When she decided to go active duty she researched the units and made two decisions.  She was going to be a 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagle” and wear the patch that legends and history gave honor to those who wore it.  And second she wanted the Air Assault badge.  She admired those wings and read about the 10 grueling days of Ranger type training it took to earn them.  It was settled she was going to be a Screaming Eagle.  When she went to MEPS to get her orders she discovered they didn’t have any opening for her at the time in the 101st.  Instead they offered her assignment to Germany and other very tempting locations.  But she stuck to her guns turning them down, until finally someone called the 101st saying there was a crazy woman who would only go 101st.   They created a slot and cut her orders.  Two months later we had sold our store and pulled into Fort Campbell.  Excited she reported to the replacement unit and soon discovered that her orders were for the MEDAC hospital.  Roughly what this meant was they are an attached unit, and so do not get to wear the Screaming Eagle, they generally don’t attend Air Assault since they are not a combat unit, and they generally do not deploy.   It had been many years since I had seen her cry like that by the news.  On every break they offered while she was in the replacement unit she went to anyone would see her, anyone who would listen to her and fought to have her orders changed to a combat unit and to deploy.  But on the morning of the last day in the replacement unit the 1SGT there told her he was sorry, but her orders remained unchanged and she would report to MEDAC the next day.  Sad, but trying to comfort herself in the fact that she was still an active duty soldier, she accepted her fate that morning.  After lunch she returned to the unit, and the 1SGT called her into his office.  He told her to be careful of what she wished for, and handed her new orders assigning her to the 426th BSB, Charlie Company (Charlie Med) who would be deploying with the division within 6 months.  I can’t recall seeing her as happy and as glowing with pride as the day she picked up her BDU’s with the 101st Screaming Eagle sewn on the shoulder. 

Having gone from executive to enlisted soldier was quite the journey.  We left all we knew behind and began a new chapter in our lives.  Some days are harder than other for her, as with all the soldiers there.  Changing in mid-life for anything can be a difficult task, doing it in the Army while deployed to Iraq has had its share of moments for her.  In the same way she learned to react to the basketball hitting the tree roots, she will learn to be the best soldier she can be, that is her character.

I remember about two weeks after being boots on the ground in Iraq.  They had mortar attack.  The ground shook, the explosions loud, the sound of .50 caliber machine guns responding to the insurgents disruption.  This was new ground for the executive mom from the suburbs.  When she called later she was more aware of her mortality and the hazards that they would face, and later she would become immune to.  But on that day she said to me “if something should happen to me, tell the boys not to be sad, their mom was doing what she loved and something she believes in, honey, I am where I want to be, understand baby, I am a soldier”

That is who Grey Eagle really is, why she my hero, why our sons have chosen the paths of their future, why we wait at home for her return and cherish the moments we have together until the next deployment. 

Duty, Honor, Country are not just words for a soldier, regardless of their branch of service it is who they are, and what they believe.  As you look over the Tribute pages, you see the same response from the loved one left behind.. he/she “were doing what they loved, what they belived in”.  That should tell us something about those who have sworn to protect us as a nation with thier lives.  Whether they are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, or stateside training for the war on terror they believe in something larger than themselves.  Because of soldiers, like my wife, America sleeps at night, never knowing the sounds and fear of terrorism.  Their dedication and devotion to the life they have chosen deserves our gratitude as a nation, and our respect as individuals.  I am proud to be the husband of a soldier.

 

Balding Eagle


Husbands Support

By: Balding Eagle | 01 May 06

Balding Eagle CNN INTERVIEW

My 3 1/2 minutes of fame were the longest 3 1/2 minutes of my life.  Never having done anything remotely similar to interviewing on CNN, I was nervous and guarded.  But, I do wish to thank CNN for a nicely done format, and all the effort they went to in interviewing the husband of Grey Eagle. 

When it comes to the husband’s of female soldiers I do not wish to come across as whinning.  I personally do not expect the Army to use the Family Readiness Group (FRG) to cater to me at the expense of the other 99 wives of soldiers in the room.  That woud be unreasonable.  But, what I hope to accomplish is the awarness that promotes husband’s like myself to realize that we are not isolated and to seek a network, such as through this website that provides support and resources to our situation.

Female soldiers maintain multiple roles.  In my case Grey Eagle is a wife, mother, and woman, as well as a dedicated soldier.  The soldier side of her I really never see.  That harden side that devotes 110% to achieving the acceptance and respect of her male counterparts rarely crosses over into our lives as a family.  Because somewhere in the 10 minute drive home, she is able to make the transformation into her free spirited persona that I am familiar with.  However, in Iraq she maintains the soldier side 24/7 and so I am faced with learning how to interact with someone I don’t know.  This can be a concern for some husband’s as they are not sure how to translate this change in their wives.  And in Iraq the wives can’t make the persona changes they performed when they were stateside.  In the email and few husband’s I have spoken with, this is the leading cause of martial strife and sets the wheel in motion for the breakdown of many marriages.  This is unique to our situation and falls short of the support required in the format of the FRG’s.  I don’t fault them, but I do think that there needs to be something central to the role of husband’s of soldiers.  I do believe that if networked into a real support group with contacts that many of the misunderstandings can be avoid, and maybe help fight the high divorce rate among the soldiers.  This is what I hope to accomplish.  I am almost 50 years old, former military, married for a decade to Grey Eagle and this deployment is the greatest challenge to our relationship and one of the hardest things I have had to endure in my life.   If I was 20 years younger and married 5 years less, I don’t know if the security I feel today would be present.  With no one to talk to, with no support, with no way to discover that what I am going through is not my marriage, but the result of the process of being a female soldier in Iraq, that she is a full time soldier right now but has not abandoned her role as wife & mother and that this is typical and will pass, with none of these features many misunderstandings develop.  

In the spirit of this subject, resources of this website will be devoted to establishing an informal network of husband support.  Hopefully husbands will embrace these efforts and this can be a starting point for a program long overdue.

Balding Eagle 

    

 

 

 

 


When Eagles Soar Together

By: Balding Eagle | 17 Mar 06

Grey Eagle and Balding EagleIt is a gloomy day, overcast, dark with drizzling rain. The perfect day for my mood. Today, for the second time I had to say goodbye to my wife, my soldier as she boarded a plane that would take her back to her other life. Yes, on this St. Patrick’s Day, Grey Eagle is in route back to Iraq.

I cherished each and every moment I had spent with her. For a short time, the world stood still and there only existed me and my wife. I never remember being so happy and so much in conflict at the same time, that I could give the best of village idiots a run for their money. I feel as if I just spent two weeks in menopause. In the end as I watched the plane taxi to the runway to carry my wife, my soldier on her first leg of her journey back to other life, a tear swelled in my eye. Not because she was leaving, my heart was carrying enough sadness to compensate for the goodbye. No, the tear was because I never managed to pull everything together in the short time we had to tell her how I felt. I just seemed never to find that moment when the opportunity presented itself, and my brain engaged in the correct gear to say just how proud I was of her. Not just because she had become a good soldier serving in Iraq with a goal and direction for the future. But because she had become someone I admired and respected. My father was career military officer, and the man I most respect in my life. Like her, he had to overcome many obstacles in his childhood, and as he was growing up. To me, lesser men would have folded into a bottle and given up. But he was able to channel the challenges of his past and become a great officer, leader, and shaped a military career that inspired others. I was never able to become the great man my father became. I have always regretted that. I became a good man, I would like to think intelligent with some various degrees of wisdom, but not that person of admiration and respect. It was not long after I met my wife and soldier at the airport to begin her two week leave that I saw in her the same admiration, respect, independence, strength and leadership that I see in my father. Oh, to be sure Grey Eagle has her own characteristics, personality, charisma, and at times can make a sailor blush, but in her own style and way she will, like my father, become a great leader and others will see the same admiration and respect that I saw in her during these last two weeks. I have never been more proud of her as a woman, as a soldier, as my wife, as I was during this two weeks of leave. I never told her that she had earned and deserved the spot on “The Wall” under my father. My tear carried the burden of my regret that I never found that moment to tell her how I really felt about her.

Life as the husband of a female soldier can be complicated. The woman, my wife that I said goodbye to 6 months ago was not the soldier and woman who stepped off the plane. She no longer need my arms for protection, to make decisions, to be the pillar she anchored herself to, she no longer needed me to lay next to her and pull her in close wrap her up and make her feel safe. She had grown, she was independent, she was solid, she was directed, she had become a soldier, worthy of the Screaming Eagle patch she wore on the shoulder and I admired her, she also scared the hell out of me. If you are a male or a husband reading this, you know we take pride in protecting the woman we love, we aspire to being that “rock” in their lives to which they seek refuge. Suddenly, I discovered that I was no longer the required “rock”, mortars, rockets, wounded soldiers and bodies and life at the FOB had taught her that what I already knew about her, she was stronger and more courageous than she ever knew existed within her. I spent two weeks feeling without a purpose, all that I had known before with her in the years before had changed, and I knew that I would have to change my outlook and my role to meet the needs of this soldier who stood before me with the respect and admiration I had not known since my father. Two weeks is short. I was always wanting to say the right thing, be supportive, and let her know that I understood and that instead of her anchoring to the “rock”, that there were now two rocks, side by side held together in place by love. However, as a positive, meaningful, insightful, or non-destructive thought would enter my head (and I had some really great thoughts), I would think “should I say it this way”… ‘no, too emotional’, “how about that way” … ‘no that comes off as uncaring’, or… ‘no, too much soldier, the household isn’t boot camp’.. ect… and all these thoughts would get mixed into a mental bowl and as I opened my mouth I would stutter, seem unsure of what I was trying to say, and then as I forced myself to produce a verbal response other than gibberish, the world’s stupidest comments, that would have made Al Bundy proud, seemed to just come out like nausea on a bad drunken night. For whatever reason, I could never get the thought I wanted to say to come out the way I wanted to say it. I found myself as a spouse in constant conflict. I wanted her close, then I would feel it would be too hard to say goodbye and push her away with some of the dumbest thoughts to filter through the human mind. There were days I am sure, that by the time she went to bed she felt like she was the birdie in a vicious game of badminton. I think by the time Grey Eagle departed for Iraq, I could have taken all the humiliating comments of a man in mental menopause and filled a book of bathroom literature and titled it “The Court Jesters Book Of Things Not To Say To A Female Soldier Home On Leave”. I can’t help but picture Deborah in “Everybody Loves Raymond” shaking her head side to side, saying to herself “idiot” (if you have never watched the TV show, this sentence may not make sense to you) as Grey Eagle laid her head back with a smile in the aircraft seat reflecting back on her two week leave. But I know, though she would never show it, there was a tear and mentally kissed me goodbye one last time.

As I walked through the airport, the strangest thought flooded my mind. For years, whenever we would stop somewhere for a cup of coffee to go I would fill the cup completely to the top, and despite the lid, it would always enviably always leak out onto my hand and drip to the floor. This drives Grey Eagle absolutely insane. Each time she would make that face of total disgust, give me the same speech about only filling it 2/3rds full so as not “splash out” and each time and I would nod in agreement and then the next time we stopped for coffee, yep, fill it completely full knowing it would drive her insane. Don’t know why I do it, thick head and stubborn I guess. You would think I my thoughts through the airport would be more insightful, more romantic, or solemn, but they weren’t. Just a silly thought about a cup of coffee and the thought maybe I should listen to what she is saying more often, and less of trying to prove something that I never needed to prove in the first place. I am going to need a two week leave just to sort out and process her mid-tour leave. But I believe the seed she left behind will grow and she will delight in the mighty oak that rises from that seed, for she has outgrown the protection of the shade from the weeping willow of the past. I still have a lot of work to do in the garden , but when it comes to my marriage, I would like to think I have a green thumb.

I believe that the first six months of a soldier’s deployment (with the exception of unusual circumstances) is the hardest and most difficult part of their deployment. Returning to Iraq they know what they are going back to, what awaits them, and now they can countdown for the day the 101st Airborne Division returns home. Grey Eagle is no different. The first six months were difficult for her, but eventually got her bearings and will be recharged and refocused for her second six months. She has made friends and learned from some of the soldiers of the Charlie Company, and was fortunate to have the friendship and mentoring of her platoon leader. She shares adventures, exploits, and friendship with the soldiers of the 542nd Air Ambulance “The Birds” who will always be a part of her life and memories. But this is a time of self discovery. It is a time, as in all wars before, where character is built, and the self-confidence for the future is established. It is a time where she will learn about herself, develop a independence and become forged, as were all soldiers before her, in the steel of war time. It is a time where she will challenge herself, not as a wife, or a mother, but as a person, a woman, a soldier. I see this in her in a way I have never seen before, and I know I can no longer be the harbormaster, but rather the lighthouse, standing against the elements of time, weather, and challenges whose light guides her home. Maybe as a spouse that is all we can be. However, take comfort. Harbormasters, they come and go, but lighthouses with their lights of love last forever.

So as I leave the airport to get on the interstate to go home, I stop at a convenience store. I go inside, replace my lighter, walk over to the counter where I pause and smile. I fill my cup of coffee 2/3rds full, place the lid on and with my cup raised I look to the sky…. “Here’s to you baby”

“Balding Eagle”