It is both an honor and a distinction to be a Green Beret, the best-known Special Forces unit within the US Army. Green Berets undergo two years of intensive training, after a minimum of three years regular army service, and master a foreign language. They work in twelve-man teams to undertake sensitive missions that require quick maneuvering. It’s a prestigious, dangerous, and unpredictable job. Which creates perks and problems for the women married to them.
I met with five women married to Green Berets. All of the husbands have been deployed to the Middle East at least once. Some, as many as four times.
Aurelia had a six-year-old son and a beautician business when she married into the army. Soon after her wedding she stopped working full time because her husband’s life was so erratic, she could not depend on a regular schedule. “I was a planner. Now I’ve given that up. We never know when you’ll find things out; when you’ll be deployed.”
Being comfortable with an unknown future is a daily part of a Green Beret wife’s life. Cathy remembered, “When I was a kid I used to think if I couldn’t envision the future I would die. Now I’m an army wife. I don’t pretend to know the future.”
Christine added, “I remember I saw a woman on TV saying she would wait for her man. I thought she was nuts. Four months later Ben and I married. A month later he got deployed. And I waited. You wait.”
“We do so many things that we don’t think we can.” Lisa rounded out the group and the general consensus. “How many of us have had babies by ourselves? The other wives help. Things other people do as a couple, we do among ourselves. You feel strong about what you can do.”
Cathy picks up, “True, The army makes strong wives. My sister freaked out when her husband was gone for two days. I thought she was such a wimp but then I realized that’s a long separation for her.”
The stress of war, both in the battlefield and at home, has become a national concern since recent veterans have such high incidence of mental health problems, suicide, and PTSD. Are these concerns different among Special Forces? Lisa believed there were fewer problems among Special Forces because the guys are so tight, and Cathy confirmed. “Ben did five deployments; three in the regular Army and two in Special Forces. There is this big gap in the regular Army in ability and expectations. The emotional range of the troops is huge.” But Natalie observed that the soldier’s closeness makes loss even more tragic. “John lost seven guys in this second tour in 2006. He just shut down.”
Which made me inquire about the wives’ roles while their husbands are gone. Aurelia said, “Being in the Middle East, it’s a 24/7 job. We talk, but there is no reciprocal conversation. They want to know what we’re up to, but they can’t tell you what they’re doing.” Natalie added, “Our mundane problems at home are a preferred break from whatever they’re addressing there.” Cathy continued, “As spouses, we expect them to compartmentalize. We can’t help them, but if they can express what has happened, the better it is.”
As our time came near a close, Peter, Cathy’s husband, joined the conversation. “We have to disconnect ourselves emotionally from our families. It’s important, and difficult, for others to understand that. Then I have to work hard to reconnect when I come home.” Coming home is always a time for celebration, but one that seasoned wives approach with care. Some want their children to greet dad right off the plane, others arrange a couple overnight time, and let the children come in the picture later. The transition from solider to husband and father is complex.
Will these guys retire after a twenty-year Army career? Cathy laughs, “The husbands all fantasize about retirement. They think it will be so awesome. You lead this life for 20 years. There’s no planning. Then they move from a place where everything is prescribed to having lots of time and you have to make your own decisions.” It’s another difficult transition, fraught with potential and pain. Perhaps the key challenge for Green Berets, and their wives, is constantly adapting to change, to the unknown.
How will we live tomorrow?
“If you ask that when they’re deployed, the answer might revolve around life without them. Will they return? My husband is retiring in three years and four months. I am counting the days.” – Cathy
“We are told that we are not our husband’s job, we are not in the Army. But we are. As my husband grows in his career, I have to be seen. Commandeers need to know that I am supportive of my husband and will hold this end down when my husband is called.” – Lisa
Note: All the names in this profile have been changed as requested by the conversation participants. The photos are promotional images from the TV series.