Mamamia team writes:
Last week brought the news that five Australian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, and another two have been injured.
As our lost diggers are flown home today, we’re thinking of all the families of our soldiers. Here’s a moving insight into their lives:
Kate Stone-Crouch writes…
Imagine this: your husband is away for work. He has been away for a little while, and sometimes it is hard to keep in touch, so every chance you get to communicate is taken. He sends you a message over Skype – can you talk? Of course! So you turn on the camera, make the call – and he interrupts his greeting to take off his sidearm and body armour. The ‘little while’? Six months. The commute? Downtown Kabul, Afghanistan. Welcome to life as the wife of a serving officer in the Australian Defence Force. Sometimes it really, really sucks.
It is extremely hard to explain defence life at times. For example, my husband is a Commander in the Royal Australian Navy – so why is he in Afghanistan? Only the Army is there, right? Well, no – there are a number of RAN and RAAF personnel on the ground, doing various essential jobs. Over the past 14 years together, there have been a number of separations – 6 months being the longest – and my husband can’t talk much about what he does; not because I won’t understand, but because what he does simply can’t be talked about. This makes ‘how was your day, dear?’ a very short conversation.
It is also difficult when Defence is in the media in a negative light – which sadly is fairly frequently. I don’t excuse the bad behaviour that occurs in the forces in any way, shape or form – it is despicable and usually the work of inadequate bullies. What I do think is that these twerps would behave the way they do in any walk of life, but the profile they have in Defence means it is brought to national attention much more readily. I do know that our personal friends within all three forces are honourable, loyal men and women who just want to serve their country – which is not something that a lot of people have the inclination towards or the stamina and drive to follow through with.
Life is currently doubly tough as the situation in Afghanistan is so fraught. The announcement a few months ago of the deaths of two American officers had me petrified with gut-churning fear, as the only announcement for some time was ‘two NATO officers killed point blank in safe zone’. My husband was in that zone, and in lockdown – so impossible for me to contact. I had a few hours of sweating before feeling absolute relief – and also guilt that two families in the US were getting the calls that I was not. Very hard to reconcile the two at times.
I am not saying life with the RAN is bad; we have had some amazing adventures including two stints in Indonesia. Admittedly the first of those two postings started with the bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, but we were facing it together, as we did the 2004 Tsunami and an earthquake a few years later. Being along for the ride is sometimes scary as hell – but in the past, it had been scary as hell together. With Afghanistan, events are beyond my geographical and literal reach.
Is it an easy life choice? In some ways, yes. If you love to move around, have few family commitments and can cope with separations, then great. The friendships you form with other people in the same situation are deep and tend to last for a very long time. And of course – there is the relationship itself. If you love your partner, then naturally you embrace their job. The thing is though, that being a defence partner is more than ‘embracing their work’, just as for people like my husband, being in the forces is more than just a job; it is a calling, and I don’t say that to be flippant. You can’t do what he does unless you genuinely believe in what, in his case, the Navy stands for.
We have lived in 3 states, 3 countries and 11 houses so far in our time together. We have no kids – for medical and admittedly lifestyle reasons – and our two cats are used to being fostered to their loving grandparents. I have early onset Parkinson’s and at times being alone is very difficult to take – not just because I miss him, but because I need some help doing things (mind you, having about 15 jobs on the go does take my mind off his absence). Being busy is the greatest thing a defence partner can do for their own sanity and that of their loved one.
Would I change what he does? Absolutely not. If I tried to, it would mean that he wouldn’t be my husband anymore. He loves his job. It is a part of him, and has been for over twenty years – why would I want to take that away? I have issues with parts of defence life, but his love of what he does is not one of them. So I just keep rolling along at the moment – and wait for the next ‘Hey Kato – um, how do you feel about, say, the Embassy in Paris?’
A girl can dream, right?