We've just finished a push on Armed Forces day with Breathless Press. Many chose to review the anthology Serviced. But, being in the armed forces is about more than a day, or even a week. It's a lifestyle, a way of thinking—and not just for the service men and women, but for their support system. Whether its family, community, or their local VFW halls, there is more to being in the army then putting on that uniform. I've had this idea to do a series of guest posts from people on both sides of the track—deployed/enlisted and the family that are left behind.
My first guest is actually someone who's seen both sides of that track. She's fellow author, Natalie Petrovoskii. Give her a warm welcome and be sure to talk to her in the comments section. Ask questions, tell her hi, whatever blows your hair back J
First, welcome and thank you for agreeing to do this. I know it can be a very personal thing.
Thank you for having me-it is great to be here! I am not often the one being interviewed.
How long were you in the armed forces? What branch? And your position?
I joined the armed forces as part of an Infantry regiment when I was 18 years old and served for six years. Originally I selected the Infantry trade (woman have been allowed to serve in combat trades for some time in the Canadian military.) After I had my two oldest children I decided to re-muster as an Administrative Clerk.
Why did you join?
I joined for several reasons. As a teenager I was an air cadet and for the first time found a group of people where I felt I fit in. I had a great time in cadets and made lots of friends. I saw military service as an extension of that. My Grandfather and two Great-Uncles served in WWII in the Air Force-my Grandfather was shot down with his bomber crew and evaded capture for several months before being liberated. He made it home, which means I am able to be here today! My two Great-Uncles were both killed in action at ages 22 and 26,and I often think of the ultimate sacrifice they and many other young men and women made for this country. They are the reason we are able to enjoy the many freedoms we have and I personally feel that should never be forgotten. I think it is possible to lend support to men and woman serving even if you do not agree with the military/war. None of us join up because we want to kill people-we join because we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves and make a difference-here at home or abroad.
What was your favourite part of being in the service?
Definitely NOT the food, lol. In all seriousness it was the sense of comradeship, no matter what we were doing. Nothing says friendship like your buddy inspecting your waterlogged feet for skin breakdown after wearing wet combat boots for days at a time. The times when we were called out to assist during a disaster in our home country were also very important because it showed people in our own backyard that the military is not just a bunch of gung-ho killers-we are there to help in the worst of situations.
Can you describe what it's like to put the uniform on? What it means?
For me when I put on that uniform I was representing my entire country-I was making a statement and standing up for what I believed in. I felt pride and kinship with those that had served, fought and sometimes died before me and all those who would after I was gone.
What's the hardest part?
The hardest part is when you lose a buddy. When somebody you trained with and saw every day is suddenly gone it hits you that there is danger involved, that you are not invincible. As time goes on you remember them and the sacrifice they made. You never forget.
What would you say to someone considering going into any branch of military?
I would say that you have to be prepared for the very real possibility that you will be called on to enter the theatre of war. Whatever your position is in the military you are a soldier first and if it comes down to it you could be sent anywhere at any time, and if you are not prepared for that then don't sign up. That being said it is a great experience because there are so many things to experience and places to go.
Now, the other side of the coin, being the spouse of someone who is deployed.
What went through your mind when your husband was deployed? Having been in the service yourself, you had a good idea of the dangers. Better than most of us who only have a general idea.
The first time my husband deployed he was sent to Rwanda during the genocide of 1994-a horrific experience. I was very afraid and tried to prepare myself that he may not come back. The military had support networks in place to help us but really it was the other spouses that I clung to because they knew what I was going through. I had a 13-month old and was due to deliver my second child while he was away. I spent my entire pregnancy alone and really embraced the military community.
How do you cope?
Most of the time it was very difficult-especially as I watched the full horror of the genocide unfold on television. I tried to stay focussed on my daughter and my soon-to-be born son. I went to deployment nights to meet up with other families of deployed members. I wrote letters and sent care packages and lived for the occasional satellite calls that were patched through a ridiculously long network.
Is there a secret to getting through being separated like that?
For me I think the secret was to remember that he was helping people who needed help the most and I could do without him for a while. Being around other spouses helped me a lot. I could say anything and they understood me, they shared my fears.
How did you feel differently from being the one left behind from when you yourself were the one on assignment?
It was definitely harder for the military to pull the wool over my eyes because I knew how things worked. I knew who to talk to if I needed answers and fast. It was also scary because I knew all too well what he was facing there and the danger he was in.
What is the single best thing a spouse/significant other can do for their loved one who's deployed or sent off across the country for training or other assignments?
The MOST important thing is to stay connected-through letters, packages and phone calls when you can get them. The hours during deployment/training are long and there is a lot of time spent doing the "hurry up and wait" thing. Just having that taste of home helps keep dark thoughts at bay-you have no idea what they are seeing and/or experiencing on a daily basis and it could be the worst thing imaginable. It could also be mind-boggling boring so entertain them! Messages from home are so important, I can't stress that enough. Soldiers spend so many holidays away from home, they miss birthdays, anniversaries, funerals…even the birth of their children while in service to their country. There are many soldiers who have nobody to write to them, and there are organizations out there that arrange for people to write to a soldier serving. Care packages are great-include things like packaged spices, wet naps, soap, shampoo, lip balm, magazines, pictures, and recorded television shows, anything that will lift their spirits.
Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog today.