Separated by the Call of Duty

Photo by Paul Sapiano

By Hope Still

The call of duty leaves many couples grasping to maintain the livelihood of their relationship over hundreds, many times, thousands of miles. Be it due to deployment, training in a far off base, or simply, orders to be stationed across the country or even the world, the wives, girlfriends, fiancées, boyfriends and husbands of U.S. service members must come to terms with the fact that they are unable to see their loved one every day or even every month; sometimes 12 at a time.

One might wonder how they deal with that.

“We talk a lot on the phone. Most of the conversations I have with him are at midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and when we do get to talk, sometimes it’s only for like two minutes,” Erika Swanson said. “But just to hear him, it sounds cheesy, that’s really all I need.” Swanson, 20, is a senior at SUNY New Paltz whose boyfriend is in the Marine Corps. He is currently stationed in California.

Phone calls help to keep couples together, but a call just isn’t the same as a loved one’s look or touch- it’s just a temporary solace. Letters, too, leave a trail of lover’s thoughts, yet it seems that most couples find this form of a long distance relationship only necessary when the military takes away phone communication in order to keep soldiers focused during training. Swanson recalled that her boyfriend’s phone was taken away during boot camp, which lasted about three months.

“I sent him letters almost every day; he sent me a few letters too when he had a chance,” she said.

Colleen McCormick, 19, a SUNY Albany student whose boyfriend is in the Air Force and stationed in Texas, said, “Communication is key if it’s ever going to work out. And trust- if you don’t trust the person, then you might as well break up.”

Swanson agreed. “You have to trust them, it doesn’t work unless you have a lot of trust,” she said. “I mean, I’ve met some people that are dating people in the military and they don’t trust them, and they just fight and fight and fight.”

While women’s magazines seem to cover every relationship issue under the sun, the lives of military spouses and significant others seems to stay well hidden under the radar. The silent struggle that these women and men deal with on a day-to-day basis remains confined to blogs and websites and out of the mainstream. As of 2008 about 1.1 million people are in active duty and 1.2 million in reserves in the US military, according to

“You just do it. You stay busy and don’t give yourself down time to let your mind wander.”

–Greta Perry

To start, support groups are an option for women and men feeling helpless. Greta Perry, the wife of a recent Army retiree and creator of a support blog called “Hooah Wife and Friends,” suggested in a recent interview, “You just do it. You stay busy and don’t give yourself down time to let your mind wander.”

McCormick said that it’s important to keep in mind what people, who are dating those in the service, are in for when getting involved in a relationship.
“When things get tough you have to remember that it was your choice to get into it and stay,” she said. “You can’t change your mind about who you love just because it’s too hard.”
McCormick, who hasn’t seen her boyfriend in four months said, “It literally feels like I haven’t seen him in years.”
Besides support, many in this situation find the company of friends and new hobbies cathartic to their distress. Support Web sites, and groups set up by the military itself offer numerous ways to keep busy, just as Perry suggested.

The Little Rebellion

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