The first time I said goodbye to my husband, Erik, as he left for Afghanistan in 2005, I had no idea of what I had gotten myself into. Always the dreamer, my mind was filled with cliché scenes from romantic movies where a military couple’s time apart is cut down to a scene or two, ending with a passionate embrace on an air-field. My naïve dream was about to end…
Once Erik left for Afghanistan, I came to understand that although I hadn’t signed a contract with the Canadian Armed Forces, I did have a very specific role to play in his squadron. I performed this role, as every military spouse and family does, by keeping my emotional world in check. Back then, we were rationed 20 minutes over the phone each week. The hardest part, however, was when the phone did not ring – the military shuts down communication to notify the family of a fallen soldier when their relative has been killed. My heart would race until I spoke with Erik again and my mind would conjure up all sorts of terrible images.
For the next five years, my husband was gone more than he was home, over 200 days each calendar year on various deployments and taskings. My mission during that time: keep as much worrisome information from Erik as I could – having children helped to complicate things, of course. Being home alone when your car and furnace break down in the middle of winter is one thing; taking care of two babies when that happens is something else entirely. Our lives began to play out on parallel tracks. Homecomings did not bring the emotional relief I was looking for as the revolving door of deployment could turn at a moment’s notice.
As my connections with other military families deepened, I saw a widening gap of understanding between military and civilian families. Usually that meant civilian families were simply unaware of military families’ unique challenges. Other times, my emotionally-charged stories were met with: “But you knew what you got into when you married into the military.” “Well, not exactly”, is what I always thought to say, but didn’t. I often wonder how the families of the roughly 3,000 military personnel deployed overseas at any given time feel, when finding themselves in similar situations…
A turning point came this past summer when parliament moved to have the government create Military Family Appreciation Day (MFAD). The goal of MFAD is to officially recognize “the sacrifices Canadian military families make on a daily basis and the contributions of these families to the fabric of our society.” For the first time in 20 years since I became a military spouse, I can say that I experienced a feeling of connection to other Canadians, which was at once overwhelming and empowering. The military families I’ve spoken with tell me this means so much to them, because it signals to them that Canadians of all stripes care about and appreciate the unique service of the 60,000 families that make up this special group within our military.
The inaugural MFAD on September 20 is a milestone in our national calendar because it bridges gaps in understanding and communication between military and civilian families.
With the third Friday of each September enshrined as a day for Canadians to show their appreciation of military families’ “ongoing commitment to the safety and security of Canada”, I believe our families, especially the approximately 80,000 kids with one parent in the CAF, will finally be able to experience a greater sense of continuity between themselves and those unfamiliar with the military family experience. This may also help to educate Canadians about the frequent moves military families make, as each year within Canada, about 10,000 military families heed the call of duty by moving to a new town, and often to a new province.
After doing some research on civilian-run organizations that work exclusively on behalf of military families, I discovered the Together We Stand Foundation. Together We Stand (TWS) is a non-profit that distributes family gift boxes to the thousands of families with a loved one deployed overseas during the December holiday season. TWS worked with Gen. Andrew Leslie (Retd) (LPC) and several bi-partisan politicians to gain all-party support for the unanimous consent motion that created MFAD.
Being understood and appreciated are universal human needs. Today, on Military Family Appreciation Day, we military families hope to hear from you. Let’s help the next generation of military families feel better understood and connected to their civilian counterparts as they undertake a host of new challenges in supporting their loved ones.