JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There are roughly 1.8 million active-duty military spouses in the United States and 5.8 million spouses of veterans.
Friday is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. It became a national holiday in 1999 to recognize the heart and sacrifice it takes to be the backbone of the family, supporting our troops especially when a spouse is deployed.
These are the stories of four military spouses who take this job very seriously. They are also teachers, coaches, counselors, veterans, and their biggest jobs military wives and moms. Their husbands have been deployed, at some point, leaving them behind at times that are never convenient.
Katti Brandt is a military wife and veteran. She understands both sides but says being a spouse and mom during a deployment is tough.
“Always something happens the day they leave. And right after that, you know, just prepare yourself. There are going to be multiple things to follow,” Brandt said.
“Closet doors are falling off the hinges, like pipes are leaking. It was just the craziest most odd things that could happen,” Melissa Amburgey said.
Hannah Burke is also a teacher and remembers this deployment disaster:
“My refrigerator went out and the ice from the icemaker leaks everywhere and I still had to drop him off at the base and get to work. Yeah, an actual leak in the foundation underneath the foundation,” Burke recalled. “It’s probably the worst one.”
Ashley McQuade is a military wife and ER nurse, so disasters can’t slow her down.
“The entire fence blew down in the backyard,” McQuade said.
You can’t make this stuff up, but these women are still surviving and thriving. It’s what they signed up for when they got married.
“I allow myself to have my moment, one temper tantrum, and then I pull on my big girl pants because, at the end of the day, you have no choice but to move on,” McQuade said.
Moving on alone is tough, especially when devastating news comes when your husband is out at sea.
“Finding out that at any moment, my son could pass away due to low or high blood sugars definitely took a toll on us,” Burke said.
Burke’s son was in the ICU diagnosed with Type I diabetes. They tried to send her husband, John, home right away but Hannah said “No, wait.”
“We were almost at the end of a 305-day deployment. I did not want him coming home to the airport and our son, knowing ‘Hey, you get to come home. Your son’s a diabetic,’” Burke said.
She wanted a proper homecoming.
“We needed that special moment as a family. For my husband to come off that helicopter, and my son to go chasing after my husband to reunite. And I think it made our 305-day deployment that much more special,” Burke said.
These wives fantasize about that moment that melts away the stress, that families remember forever and hold on to until the next deployment.
“When he came off the ship, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh! He’s actually here. This is the day. It’s finally here. He’s actually in my arms.’ I had my son all dressed up in a cute little outfit. So, we got lots of good pictures, too. So that’s my favorite one,” Brandt said.
These ladies all agree the sacrifice is all worth it.
“Without a doubt, I wouldn’t change being a military spouse,” McQuade said.
“I mean, I’ve traveled the world and I have learned so much about so many different heritages and cultures. And it’s definitely worth it,” Amburgey said.
“Take advantage of every place that you’re stationed, because you’re only going to be there for a few years. And then you’re going to miss it,” Burke said.
Amburgey, Burke and Brandt also serve as ombudsmen. They get the bad and good news first from the ship’s commander and relay it to the families at home. They’re also there to help keep spirits up. Each ship has an ombudsman.
“My mom was also an ombudsman, and I saw how much my mom helped families and this is a time before technology. I remember her sitting down making calls and letting families know what was going on with my dad’s submarine,” Burke said.
They also get the information to sailors about what’s going on at home. It can be very isolating for a military spouse until they get connected.
“In my situation, when I first became a military spouse and where we were stationed, I did not know the resources that were available to me for a while and once I got connected with the resources, I realized what was out there,” McQuade said.
Amburgey is the president of the Family Readiness Center. Part of her job is to boost morale and make sure families have the resources they need.
“I experienced through those deployments that we were there for each other. If one of us needed to go to the grocery store, two of us would go to the grocery, and then the other two would stay and watch all the kids and then a few days later we would switch,” Amburgey said.
No spouse is left behind. Brandt knows the importance of this connection from her time in the military to now being at home.
“When I shifted to the spouse’s role, it was a whole new world. I learned so much more happens on the other side and it does take more support,” Brandt said.
Support is what these ladies do. It’s just in their DNA.
“She raised me to be a volunteer. I’m a teacher. I’m there for my kids. I’m there for my families. I don’t want anybody to think that they’re alone, ever,” Burke said.
“If I can step in that role, I can be a voice and an advocate for them to say, ‘Hey, you have this. You can go here. You know this is available for you.’ I wanted to do that,” McQuade said.
For more information on Military Spouse Appreciation Day, go to https://veteran.com/military-spouse-appreciation-day/.