Challenges are unique for married-to-each-other military with families when duty calls
Deployment experience: LTC Mike VanDriel, USA, deployed to Iraq in 2008-2009 while LTC Martha VanDriel, USA, was in Iraq for six months in 2010. They have two sons. And with the youngest one autistic, the at-home spouse faced some unique challenges.
Q. What have you experienced that is unique to your situation?
Mike: Our situation might be unique in that we’ve both played the role of the deployed spouse and the at-home spouse.
Martha: Most of us think of a military husband as deployed with the non-military wife staying at home with the children. But in situations like ours, the stay-at-home spouse also has to handle the professional time demands of being a military officer.
As you can imagine, the competing demands are very stressful. We were blessed to have work chains of command who were very understanding when we were the stay-at-home spouse.
Q. As the spouse who stayed home while the other deployed, what were some of the struggles you experienced?
Mike: As a husband, it was hard for me to see Martha leave for a combat zone, and there was no way that I could protect her. I didn’t feel better until she was returning and called me from the continental U.S. For support, I relied on my men’s Bible study at church and our local OCF Bible study.
Martha: When I was getting ready to deploy, it seemed like a lot more people approached Mike and offered him help, than when Mike was deploying and I was at home! People assume that the husband will have a harder time taking care of the children while the wife is gone than the other way around. Another challenge was our son’s autism.
When Mike was deployed my command wanted to send me on TDY. We couldn’t just ask extended family to take care of our sons because the youngest’s non-verbal and autistic behaviors required care from someone who was familiar with him.
Providentially, we have a live-in nanny who has been with us for years, and she could care for our boys when both of us had to be gone. We still needed a family member to come and help as well.
Q. Martha, as a woman deploying, did you experience any specific stress in leaving your husband at home?
Martha: We were very concerned that our son’s autism might get worse while I was gone because he is very attached to me. We were blessed to have a local OCF Bible study group as well as several faithful Christian friends praying with us. He continued to make progress while I was gone, which was a tremendous praise.
Q. What effect did your deployment have on your children?
Mike: It really helped our boys—especially the youngest—to be able to see the absent parent via webcam once a week. It also made family re-integration much easier.
Martha: Mike experienced fewer disciplinary problems with our boys than I did because he’s the “bad cop” in the family. I asked our older son why he missed me when I was gone, and he said, “Dad is tougher than you are, but you’re a lot more cuddly and soothing than Dad is!”