Katie sits down for a chat with her dear friend Jenny, a military wife and new mom to her beautiful boy Samuel. What is life like for a young mother with a husband proudly serving our country overseas?
First of all, Jenny, we want to salute you and your family for the great sacrifices that you make in order to serve our country. The work that your husband does to protect our country is admirable, and we know that you must be very proud of him. I can attest that becoming a mother is one of life’s greatest joys as well as presenting life’s greatest challenges. We’d be honored to hear your story of being a military wife and new mother.
How did you and your husband first meet?
This is actually somewhat of a humorous story. My older brother, Jared, and my husband, Justin, became good friends in college after they met on the crew team. During my junior year in college, Jared called me and asked if I would be willing to be his friend, Justin’s, date to their senior ball. I agreed and purchased a plane ticket. About two weeks before the ball, my brother called me to let me know that Justin no longer needed a date. I was surprised and a little hurt. I begged my brother for more information and he finally told me that Justin saw my picture and decided that he would go alone. At this point, I was furious!
Approximately one month later my family and I flew to New York for my brother’s graduation, and I could not wait to meet Justin Liesen so that I could give him a piece of my mind. The afternoon after the graduation ceremony all of the newly graduated crew team members gathered at the boat house to receive their 2nd Lieutenant bars. I met Justin for the first time on the roof of a building on the bank of the Hudson River. I tried my best to dislike him, but he was so sweet and super cute! This was not the awful and mean guy I had pictured in my head.
Later that summer, Justin came to visit my brother. During his visit we had an opportunity to get to know each other better and I realized that I was actually starting to like my sworn enemy. One evening we were talking so I decided to mention the fact that he broke our date to the ball, and I explained to him how hurt I had been. Justin apologized profusely and explained to me his side of the story. I learned that when my brother set me up with Justin for the ball, he had explained to Justin that I was his “kid sister” and that he would not be expected to “babysit” me for the entire evening. Focusing on the key words of “kid” and “baby-sit”, Justin was beginning to wonder exactly how old his date was going to be. Then Jared showed Justin a picture of me that was taken when I was a sophomore in high school. Based on my brother’s description, Justin thought that he was going to show up to the military ball with a 14 year-old kid. Deciding that would be inappropriate, Justin respectfully declined the date. He told me that he received quite a surprise when a 20 year-old showed up at the boat house instead of a 14 year-old high school student. After we cleared up that huge misunderstanding, we started dating. Five months later Justin asked me to marry him, and we have now been married for almost five years.
How did you feel about entering a marriage, knowing that your husband would be serving away from home for long periods of time?
In the beginning of our relationship I think that I over-romanticized the idea of being a military spouse: perhaps a cross between An Officer and A Gentleman and The Way We Were. As our relationship progressed, I realized that this was not the case. Justin was moved from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to Fort Lewis in the state of Washington about three months after we started dating. Once we became engaged, Justin was then relocated to Vilseck, Germany so I did all of the wedding planning myself. Due to the distance during our courtship I got a small taste of what it would be like when Justin would actually deploy and I did not like it. However, I knew no matter how difficult the deployment or the duty station I would follow Justin anywhere and wait for him during any separation. Two deployments later, I can honestly say that I still would.
Was your husband home when your son was born? How old is your son now? What ages has your husband been there with you two, and what ages has he been away?
Thankfully Justin was able to be home for the birth of our son, Samuel. During a deployment a soldier is given some time off called R&R. Justin scheduled his 15 day R&R around the time of my due date in hopes that he would be present for Samuel’s birth. Early in the morning on the fifth day of Justin’s R&R my water broke. After an emergency cesarean section due to Samuel’s complicated position in the womb, we met our amazing son together for the first time. Ten days later, Samuel and I drove Justin to the airport and we said our goodbyes. Justin missed the next seven months of Samuel’s life. When he finally came home from Afghanistan Samuel was one week shy of eight months. Justin has been home now for three months and Samuel is eleven months old. Justin has missed so many little milestones during his absence and will miss more in the future, but that is something that we do not like to talk about. Instead, we focus on how wonderful life is now that our family is complete again. Samuel lights up every time he sees his Daddy, Justin absolutely adores his son, and I get such joy out of finally getting to see them together.
What have been the greatest joys of being a military wife?
There are many and I am not saying that facetiously. There have been several wonderful things that have come about because I am a military wife. The military has helped pay for my Master’s degree, they have provided my husband with a good job during a tough economic time, and through the military I have met some amazing men and women. I think one of the greatest joys of being a military wife for me has been the ability to travel. I have always loved to travel, and when I was a little girl I would want to hear stories about exotic locations and adventure. I wished that I could have stories of my own to share one day, and now I do. The military has granted my husband and me the opportunity to do things and see places of which we had only dreamed. We have ridden camels across the desert in Egypt, spent the night in an igloo in the Alps, learned to scuba dive in Malta, hiked Mount Vesuvius near Pompeii, and walked along Omaha Beach in Normandy. Now that we have Samuel we have slowed down a bit, but we want him to see so much. Already he has been to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, seen the Blue Angels in Virginia, and visited Superman in Metropolis, Missouri.
What have been the greatest trials of being a military wife?
Tough question! I believe the greatest trials of being a military wife, aside from the deployments, is the lack of control. We generally have no control over where our families are stationed, when our spouses leave for training or deployments, what time they get off of work in the evenings, what days they get off for vacation, what hospital our children are born in, and, when they are deployed, when or if they are going to be able to call us. Now, I am not trying to insinuate that nonmilitary families do not have to deal with situations similar to these at some point in their lives; I am just saying that these are daily struggles for me. I do not know what time to start dinner because I never know if my husband will be home at 5:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. I am afraid to plan a vacation too far in advance because there is a great chance that something is going to come up at work. I do not even know for sure how long we are going to be in one place. We are usually told three years, but that number can fluctuate depending on how the military’s needs change. All of the uncertainty and frequent moves also means that finding jobs can be difficult. Last month, National Public Radio announced that there is a 26 percent unemployment rate among military spouses. I say all of this to underline my point that a lack of control can be difficult to bear at times.
Where do you find support when your husband is overseas?
I find support in a myriad of places. My nonmilitary family and friends are supportive, listen to me when I need to vent, and can usually offer great distractions for Samuel and I when the situation calls for it. No matter how wonderful the distraction, however, at the end of the day Samuel and I still come home to an empty house. When the silence gets too heavy I know that I can rely on my fellow military spouses. For me, these friends become like family as we navigate a deployment together. After Samuel was born and Justin had returned to Afghanistan these friends came together and offered so much support. One friend in particular was there for us daily, because she had gone through a similar situation when her son was born while her husband was deployed a few years earlier. Her advice became invaluable.
– Stay tuned for Part Two of our interview with Jenny, coming up next week!