With a pretty extensive list of friends and family in the military I have heard all the arguments about which branch is the toughest, which job is the hardest, where is the true honor? Who’s more of a badass, a Marine or an army ranger? Is it tougher being a Navy Seal or part of Delta Force? But there is one job, a sort of unspoken hero that often gets overlooked. Although they may not be at the front lines and they may have never held a weapon, military wives (and husbands) just might have the toughest job in the military. True love is tested when those who have a piece of their heart go overseas to fight for our country. Alone for months and months at a time, often with children, military spouses sleep alone at night, attend functions without a partner and raise their children by themselves all because they believe in something. For my cousin Juarez and his wife Rebecca, it was a belief in serving this country and rising to the challenges that relationships sometimes face, no matter how big or small.
Juarez and Rebecca met Labor Day of 1999 and Rebecca remembers their first date on December 18th of the same year, her parents’ wedding anniversary. They quickly fell in love and were married on May 19, 2001. Rebecca’s father was a career soldier so she had no reservations about marrying a Marine. Would she need to learn a new culture? Of course. Would they have to move fairly often? Sure. Could her own career possibly get put on hold? Absolutely. But by no means could either of them have predicted that shortly after they were married the country would face one of the biggest challenges of a generation, the 9-11 attack.
Juarez joined the Marine Corps in 1999. After a 10-week course at Officer’s Candidate School, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Juarez served four years active duty and left active duty in 2003. In 2007 he was involuntarily recalled and deployed as a Captain from July 7, 2007 to August 8, 2008 as a Logistics Advisor to an Iraqi Battalion. He was deployed a second time in 2010 for a year in Afghanistan. His last deployment was October of 2013 to June of 2014 as the Operations Officer for the Civil Military Operations staff section of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
With one son (Nicholas) born in 2003 and another (Caleb) born two years later, Juarez’s first two deployments left Rebecca at home with two very young children. The third deployment, has been preceded by a third child, Victoria. All challenges Rebecca could not have expected nor planned for. Fear of her husband dying, fear of her children being without a father and fear of becoming a widow who would never find anyone who could love her and their two boys the way Juarez did were dangerous thoughts. Until his deployment, Juarez’s Marine status had had little effect on their relationship. With the exception of one move to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina there had been very little impact on their lifestyle as a couple.
Deployment brings challenges to all couples; in Rebecca’s case she felt the greatest strain when it came to parenting. Like other commitments, Rebecca and Juarez believe parenting is about the sacrifices you are willing to make to help your children achieve their goals. Like most parents, their hopes for their children are simple; raise children who will become productive members of society who are happy and fulfilled in whatever they choose to do. In order to do this, they make sacrifices, of both the financial, personal and professional nature.
“It’s very difficult to explain the limitations that a family has once one of the parents deploys or leaves the family for an exercise,” explains Rebecca. “When my husband is absent, I and the kids are of course unable to do the same things that I could when he was present in the home. He too is unable to participate in their lives as he would like, and although that seems as if this difference wouldn’t need to be explained, people often are very unintentionally harsh in their expectations.”
Juarez dealt with an array of emotions himself.
“A lot of frustration and guilt, particularly with leaving the kids,” explains Juarez. “A lot of
pride and satisfaction that my family was strong enough to pick up and carry on with only one parent…then it’s back to the guilt that they have to do it at all…”
All single parents understand that this means less time to offer support to friends and family. Outside relationships may perish as a result of increased responsibility and worry within the home, a notion that seems quite unfair given the sacrifice that family is already making.
“You quickly learn how blessed you are to have the friends who call to check-in. That can mean everything during deployments,” reflects Rebecca.
Despite the challenges that the life of a Marine wife brings there are definite positives.
“The best part of being a military wife is being married to someone with so much integrity and commitment to our country,” says Rebecca. “He and his peers understand the value of service and that commitment epitomizes what I believe is the true meaning of dedication.”
Although the road hasn’t always been the easiest, neither Rebecca nor Juarez would change anything. During his deployments Juarez has gotten to meet several Afghan persons of note including the late District Governor Manaf of Nawa and the Provincial Governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada. Rebecca has a great job as the Senior Director of Media Relations and Advocacy for a non-profit association. The two are raising three beautiful, well-adjusted children.
As for words of wisdom for those embarking on the military family journey? Be flexible and embrace the opportunities your life will bring. Recommending or not recommending a military career isn’t something Rebecca feels totally qualified to do because she has never served (though I sort of disagree).
“I couldn’t assume to know exactly how difficult it is, but I am so appreciative of the sacrifices of the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces, that I would hope everyone would consider it,” Rebecca says.
Juarez sees the military as a great opportunity for everyone depending on each person’s individual expectations.
“The military is not easily explained and never is what people originally think it is,” explains Juarez.
Ultimately what makes a military family functional? Love. And lots of it. I asked Juarez and Rebecca what their greatest accomplishments were and they both said each other. Although Juarez and Rebecca are blessed to not need any assistance many military families rate. Juarez notes that many exiting the military find adjusting to “normal” culture difficult and many struggle to find work. Createthegood.org, Operationhomefront.net and Fisherhouse.org are some great resources if you are looking to make life for veterans and their families easier.
“I believe in Socrates’ quote that ‘real wisdom is the property of God’- so not so much words of wisdom as general guidance: be suspicious of others claiming wisdom, stay humble, open minded and hungry for knowledge.”
-Major Juarez Morgan