real life

'Being married to a soldier is hard. But not loving him would be harder.'

WARNING: This post contains graphic images some readers may find confronting.

I smashed plates in the backyard once, while my husband watched on.

I was angry, so angry. Garth had just told me he was going back to Iraq for his second deployment with the Army. His first deployment was only a year before and he had been almost killed by a car bomb.

“Are you crazy”, “Don’t you love me?”, “How will I cope?” all crossed my mind. I had decided that smashing plates would be the best way to deal with the news. It helped, a little. So did some wine, then some tears, then the realisation the he was going and there was nothing I could do to stop him, and no amount of worry or fear could keep him any safer.

Garth’s wife, Crystal.

Three months later and there I was, on my own for the second time in as many years. Other people, especially non-military wives would often say – “I don’t know how you do it” or “I can’t cope if my husband is away even overnight” (insensitive to say the least).

But what choice did I have? It seemed pretty clear to me – I can be married to the most amazing, funny, selfless, dedicated, smart and handsome man I’ve ever met, whose job just happens to take to war zones for months on end; or I could not be married to him and be miserable. Deployments are hard, but not loving him would be harder.

I missed Garth terribly when he was away. I tried my best to keep busy. I had a new job – I was a nurse and was on-call often and had plenty of study to do. But the nights were lonely; it was hard not to be miserable at times. I really missed being in his arms and how he’d always tell me I was beautiful when we woke up in the morning. It was impossible not to worry, especially when he’d been hurt (in an IED attack) during his previous deployment in Iraq.

Garth in Iraq, at the time of the IED attack

I lived in fear of getting the call. Once, a man with a very official sounding voice rang – “Is that Mrs Callender?” my heart started pounding a million miles per hour and I immediately felt nauseous. “Yes” I just managed to squeak out. He continued “I’m just calling to let you know I could get you the flights you wanted …” I was so nauseous I don’t know what else he said. It was the travel agent I had seen earlier in the day to book the mid-deployment holiday with my husband. I don’t think that travel agent had ever heard someone so thankful to hear about a flight. I was so relived I’m pretty sure I told him I loved him.

The friends I made during our time with the Army were like family. I was lucky enough to befriend a group of partners who were the strongest, most dedicated, passionate and intelligent group of women I have ever met. Some were wives, some were girlfriends, some mothers, some to become mothers later on, but all of us loved a solider.

We clicked immediately, our partners all working in the same area, and after only a short time we were the best of friends. We met for lunch, we went to dinner, we danced, we drank and we laughed. We named ourselves ‘The Village’, after reading an article about spouses that follow their partners around for work. That was us, moving constantly, having to make new friends, find new jobs and the worst part, finding a new hairdresser and bikini waxer. It was this village of strong women who helped me through every deployment, every month alone and all those days of worry.

Crystal and Garth in a hospital in Germany, just after Garth was evacuated following the IED attack

By the time Garth’s third deployment rolled around we had had our first baby, a little girl. This time he was going to Afghanistan, and this time for longer – nine months in total. When he told me he was going away again I couldn’t believe it. “You can’t go,” I said, “we have a baby!” But then I realised we weren’t the first people in the defence force to have a baby. Men and women leave their families to deploy all the time. I also realised army wives weren’t ones to complain, they we usually pretty matter of fact, ‘well off he goes, not much I can do about it’, ‘dust yourself off and get on with it’ types.

I was pregnant with our second child at the time of Garth’s deployment to Afghanistan. It was planned, we knew he could miss the birth, but we both hoped like hell he’d make it home in time. Life with a one year old was fun, but as a single parent it was also exhausting.

Garth with his two children, four days after returning from Afghanistan.

There were so many milestones that he missed: new words, first everythings and all the wonderfully silly things only the parents of that child find widely amusing. I often felt sad he was not there to share those moments with us. He also missed the special moments in pregnancy, not being at any scans, not being able to feel the baby kick, and as he always joked, he missed having me as designated driver for 9 months.

We both wanted to know the sex of the baby so at my 20-week scan I asked the sonographer not to tell me but rather write it down and put it in an envelope. When we met in his mid-deployment break we opened the envelope together to find out our little girl would be getting a sister.

Four days after Garth returned home from Afghanistan our second beautiful baby girl arrived. It was an overwhelmingly wonderful feeling to have him home and to have our baby girl arrive safely. We spent the next 6 weeks as a blissful family of four, spending all our time together, having family and friends visit and just being very happy. But life as a defence family is never dull and 6 weeks after he returned home, we were packing up our house again ready to move to our next posting location.

I can’t say being married to a solider isn’t hard, but I can say it is worth it. I’d looked after a one-year-old on my own, day in and day out, while being pregnant, and we all survived.

To love someone who will risk their own life for the freedom and safety of others is an honour. He may not have always been there with me, but he has always been there for me, and for that I am grateful.

About the author:

Crystal is studying architectural drafting while caring for her (now three) little girls. She transcribed her husband Garth’s diaries, which became his memoir After the Blast, published by Black Inc. After the Blast is also available on Audible.

The photos provided and post have been published with full permission.

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