On a recent evening, as Ridgefield resident Lori Volkman and her mother were discussing the case of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, charged with killing 17 Afghan civilians, they lamented how his wife must feel.
The two talked about the woman’s possible loneliness and feelings of condemnation. Volkman began to cry.
A blogger who writes about her husband’s deployments, Volkman turned to her blog’s website to write a public letter to Karilyn Bales, expressing sympathy and support at a time when she said most people were pointing fingers.
“I want you to know that I don’t condemn you for being married to a man who has been accused, even though there will be venomous vipers spewing their hatred toward your entire family,” Volkman wrote. “I know that no matter what, it isn’t you. I know that there is nothing you could have done to prevent what happened. And I know you are hurting.”
The letter, sent March 19, has gained Volkman, 40, nationwide attention and made her a face for military wives: She appeared on NBC News with Brian Williams in a segment titled “Silent Rank,” and on a CNN morning show. Her letter also was quoted in Newsweek’s online blog, “The Daily Beast.”
Since she published the letter to Bales, tens of thousands of people have visited her blog and more than 365 have left comments. The comments are overwhelmingly positive — something that Volkman admits is shocking to her.
“I hesitated before I clicked ‘publish,’” she said. “I know there’s a lot of anger associated with this.”
In total, the blog titled “Witty Little Secret” has received more than 110,000 hits since Volkman, a Clark County deputy prosecutor by day, launched it in September 2010 as a small way to cope with her Navy husband’s deployments.
“To have that kind of impact has been really great,” Volkman said.
Perhaps the most emotional surprise was receiving a letter back from Karilyn Bales. Volkman was typing at her home computer March 26 when the email from Karilyn Bales arrived in her inbox. She wasn’t shocked to hear from her, because Bales’ co-workers had already alerted Volkman that Bales had read her letter.
Still, the woman’s words brought Volkman again to tears. Bales wrote that she no longer watched TV news, but, instead, read Volkman’s letter and the positive comments from other military wives every night before bed.
“She said she cried so hard she was shaking. She said word-for-word it captured what she was feeling,” Volkman said. “As a writer, if your words move someone that much, it makes all the difference.”
The two women started writing back and forth and have talked on the phone once. Volkman hopes to continue the correspondence. “She’s the kind of person I would call my friend.”
As for her blog, Volkman said the letter was a departure from her normal tone. In other blog posts, she mixes emotion with humor in a style a friend likes to call “Bridget Jones’s Diary” meets “Army Wives.” Such topics includes disciplining a cursing preschooler, helping her children cope with her husband’s year-long deployment and, most recently, handling the hoopla of TV cameras in her kitchen.
Randy Volkman, a Navy commander who is now a reservist (his last deployment was completed in October), said he thinks his wife’s blog gives a voice to other military families, who may have not been able to verbalize the loneliness that comes with deployments.
“It’s almost like a relief for other people” to read Volkman’s anecdotes, he said.
With tens of thousands more readers, Volkman said she intends to stay true to the tone of her blog and continue writing from the heart.
“I’ve always written a blog for myself and my family,” she said. “I don’t intend to change that for more readership.”
“I have to eventually move on from this topic,” she added.