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Military Life Exerts Extra Demands On Families Married to It With AM-War Widow, Bjt

May 28, 1994

Undated (AP) _ They get no basic training. No one tests them for mettle, or promotes them for bravery, or gives them medals. But in marrying into the military, soldiers’ spouses enlist in a life of unique demands.

Contrary to the image of the lone trooper bunking in barracks or a berth at sea, more than half serve the country with a family in tow.

Among the 1.7 million members of the U.S. armed forces, 58 percent are married. They are parents to almost as many dependent children: 1.5 million.

For this reason, said Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Doug Hart, families are important to the U.S. military’s sound operation.

″If you’re not taking care of the family, you’re not taking care of the service member,″ Hart said.

But at the outset, those families need to be made of the right stuff.

They will be challenged by the strain of long work shifts, frequent moves - the average is a new address every 2.2 years - indefinite absences, uncertainty, and the possibility of sudden death. Those with children often function as single parents.

The military spouse can’t expect to hold a job or establish any career but a portable one.

And while spouses of servicemen and women must be independent, able to cope on their own, they need the flexibility to give up the reins and resume a marital partnership when their spouse returns.

″The military does place expectations, not only on service members, but also on the families, in terms of holding the fort down,″ said Gary Bowen, a professor of social work at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who does research on military families.

The numbers of women, men and children cut adrift from this life by an active duty death is unknown, but their numbers since Vietnam are relatively few. In fiscal 1993, the U.S. military logged 1,244 deaths. There were 1,332 in 1992, and 1,787 in 1991.

Families invest so much of themselves in the military way of life that when their connection dies, they lose far more than do families in other occupational spheres.

″In many cases, these spouses and loved ones left behind are losing more than a spouse,″ Bowen said. ″They’re losing an identity, a community and a lifestyle.″

Perhaps the biggest question for the survivor is what to do next.

″Most widows are told not to make any major decision in the first year. Our widows don’t have that luxury,″ said Shauna Whitworth, the civilian chief of the Army Family Liaison Office at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

″Being a widow when you’re real young is a lot different from when you’re a widow at 65,″ Ms. Whitworth said. ″The decisions you make. ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ is a bigger question.″

For many, the immediate answer is to go back to their hometown, or someplace near what they have come to feel is their real home.

″Generally, I see an awful lot of them, even some that go home immediately after the death, they will gravitate toward the military,″ Ms. Whitworth said.

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