Families of deployed military service members cope with separation, anxiety

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Behind almost every soldier is a family — parents, spouse, kids, siblings — that must stay strong, and give up time and energy to let their loved one serve their country, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Dave Sivewright.

When asked what he’d like to see in a Veterans Day story, Sivewright, whose family lives in Ridgefield, had a quick response: Write about the families. Write about what they put up with, he said.

“Spouses need to be recognized on the home front for what they’re doing as much as we get recognized for what we do,” said Sivewright, who deploys for a tour in Kuwait in May. “Honestly, the focus is on the troops, and there’s not enough focus on the families holding everything down.”

Sivewright, 51, has been stationed in Utah for about a year and a half. Before that, he was stationed at the 104th Training Division in Vancouver. And before that, he served in California and Arkansas, with several overseas deployments along the way.

His wife, Kristine, 43, and the couple’s seven kids have struggled through cross-country moves, missed birthdays, spotty communication and long months apart over the years. It’s been hard, but for her part, she said she’d do it again if she had to.

“We knew that separation was going to be part of our sacrifice, and I respect anybody who’s willing to do that,” Kristine said. “Family members that keep the home front — I think that sacrifice gets lost a lot of the time. But is it worth it? I would say yes.”

Anxiety pretty much comes with the territory when any family member spends time in a hostile environment. She worries about her husband and 20-year-old son, who also serves in the military.

“At night, when it’s quiet and everybody is sleeping, that’s when you think about it more,” Kristine said. “Dave and my son are in God’s hands, and no amount of worrying is going to change things.”

Angela James, 40, who also lives in Ridgefield, said the same thoughts ran through her mind when her husband, Jeffrey, 41, was deployed in the Navy. He retired on Sept. 30.

“You cry a lot when the kids are asleep,” Angela said. “When the kids are awake, you keep your game face on.”

The couple have two sons, ages 12 and 13, who spend time with the Sivewrights’ three youngest sons, ages 11, 12 and 13.

Angela and Kristine met a few months ago through the boys’ youth soccer program. Having a connection with another family going through a similar experience has been a big help, they both said.

“It was a huge blessing to meet Kristine at a soccer game because there aren’t so many military families in Clark County,” Angela said. “Right off the bat, there’s an instant bond. The kids are in the same school, too, so they don’t have to feel like they’re the only ones going through this.”

The two families try to help each other when it comes to juggling jobs, kids games and other events in what often feels like their single-parent households.

“If you haven’t lived it, you don’t really understand what this life is like,” Kristine said. “It’s just great to have somebody that really gets it. You kind of share the load emotionally, and it helps you provide a sense of normalcy for the kids.”

Keeping active also is key if you want to maintain your sanity, said Janine Davis, whose husband, Army Maj. Jeff Davis, has been through countless deployments during their 18 years of marriage.

“It’s nerve wracking — especially when you’re hearing things on the news,” Janine said. “I try to stay busy, talk to friends a lot, talk to my family.”

Her father-in-law, who also served in the Army, helped her through some of the longer deployments, she said.

“He lived with us when Jeff was in Bosnia, and it was great to have him there,” Janine said. “He could explain things, help me understand what was going on.”

Even with that kind of support, it can be hard to maintain the intimacy of a relationship when your spouse is gone for several months, she said.

“You have to plan on being separated and know that he’s not going to be able to tell you what he did a lot of the time,” Janine said. “When (your spouse) comes back, you have no frame of reference. You have to work at (the relationship), and keep working at it.”

That said, though, Janine said she’d go through the experience again if she had to.

“I’m proud of him,” she said. “He’s proud to serve his country, and I respect that.”

Technologies such as the Internet, Skype and text messaging have helped somewhat lessen the emotional distance in recent years. For the Sivewrights, the ability to send video messages to each other has been a godsend, Kristine said.

“My advice to other families is to communicate as much as possible,” she said. “Just communicate. There’s always compromise. But if you try to talk as much as possible and make decisions together as much as you can, it helps.”

Talking to his family on Skype has been very beneficial — for them as well as him on his lonely nights away from home, Dave said.

“It’s tough to be apart, and it does put a strain on the marriage. I’m not going to lie,” he said. “There are times when we’re both just struggling. It takes a lot of compassion, a lot of understanding and a lot of communication.”

Knowing what the military life is like and the strains it can put on a family, Dave said he still wouldn’t change a thing.

“Oh, heck yeah. I’d sign up again, and she’d be right there with me,” he said of his wife.

Kristine agreed.

It’s important that her husband serves his country, she said, and it’s also important to understand that the families of those in the military serve their country as well, in their own way.

“Thank you to all of the soldiers and families that are willing to make this sacrifice,” she said. “Our family is one of many, and our country wouldn’t be what it is if not for those sacrifices of the soldiers and their families.”