I would like to introduce my wife, Tamara Stath Hagerman, whom I have asked to share her perspective with all of you. It is important to remember that those who serve within the special operations community are a unique and special type of person, but the women of our lives are also exceptional and deserving of respect. These strong and brave women are exposed to a life that is very different and difficult, yet they serve their country and families tirelessly and unselfishly. These are the women of the Navy SEALs. – Chris Hagerman
“The best thing that ever happened to me was him. The worst thing that ever happened to me was him.”
These were my thoughts as I watched him walk away. Walk away from our eleven-day-old daughter, and walk away from me and the life we had built over the last two years.
What the hell was I thinking when I married this man? I was not prepared to be a single mom, nor was I prepared to be the sole caretaker to our home and our life. So much had happened in the past twelve months. I was completely unprepared for what life would hold for me for the next six months while he was deployed. What does this mean? My husband is gone for the next six months?
First Training Trip
Looking back at our first deployment, and how long spouses are at war or on deployment now, I can easily tell my prior self to cry a river. In fact, I am in so many ways blessed by my husband’s current presence in our lives, but I’d like to tell the story of what it’s like to be a SEAL wife. It’s my own perspective, for better or worse…
For the uninitiated, the worst part of a deployment is not actually the deployment itself. It’s the hundreds of training trips that lead up to the deployment that actually wreak havoc on the heart and mind of a military spouse.
Training trips are small teases. A loving spouse who has been accustomed to a steady life of crazy, but local hours, begins the downward spiral to deployment through a series of trips. They become a series of good-byes in a precursor to the Big Good Bye. Each trip is its own small version of hell because a newly-married, pregnant wife mourns the absence of her husband as if he were leaving forever. Every trip shows her what life will be like for the six-month deployment.
What happens when your husband leaves for a month-long training trip? For me, I tried to be Superwife! Yes, I donned my husband’s old Dolphin shorts as sure as the Man of Steel’s cape, and decided that I would figure out how to cut the grass. As I now know, cutting the grass is not rocket science, but to my twenty-three-year-old self, it was as mysterious as splitting an atom.
During my first foray, I accomplished the semblance of a short buzz cut to my grass. The new blades that my husband had installed before leaving on said trip, were so low, that the effect of my work was brown stubs barely sprouting from now-visible dirt. Not to be a quitter, I convinced myself that this was the way the yard had always looked until my neighbor, a salty World War Two veteran, asked me if I needed some help. I knew I had ruined the yard my husband had put so many hours into the creation of.
During a six-month deployment, I could have hidden this mistake. On a month-long trip? Not so much. Oh the tears I shed as motorists and pedestrians alike stared at my abomination!
First Military Funeral
Not every tale from a military wife’s perspective has a happy or funny ending. The first military funeral I attended aged me at least ten years. I still retain the memories of the sounds, smells, and gut-wrenching sights of brothers-in-arms, mourning their loss of a kindred soul.
This particular funeral was for a member of my husband’s BUDs class. This sailor lost his life in a training accident. I would be lying if I did not admit that my thoughts that day selfishly came back to my husband, who was on the same training mission.
His wife spoke of him that day, so very bravely fighting back emotion that I can scarcely bear to even think about. She spoke of him, not as a sailor, but in the ways that all SEAL wives could relate; the ways in which he was human – as a soul mate, a lover and companion to her. I will be forever haunted by both her fortitude in testifying to his memory, and in her sharing of the intimate details of their lives together as a married couple.
Her words that day haunted me through many sleepless nights I spent wondering about the safety of my own husband – the wondering if he would share the same fate. I spent my time that day praying to God that I would never be called to do the same, and questioning if I would be able to honor my husband as eloquently as she.
I wonder, all these years later, if she knows how deeply honored so many of us were to be in attendance to witness the most fitting tribute I have ever known.
There were other funerals, all of them tragic, but it was this one which will be forever etched in my mind as the day that I realized that my husband was not invincible, not immune to the casualties of this lifestyle which he had asked of me to partake.
September 11, 2001 found me in California, with our newborn daughter, visiting my husband’s parents while he was deployed. My mother-in-law woke me around 5:45 that morning to tell me that America was under attack.
My blood ran to ice.
My husband was at the end of a deployment, and as far as I knew, in Turkey. My immediate concern was for him. What would this mean for him? How would his life inevitably change? I spent the day alternately caring for our daughter, and glued to the television for any scrap of news I could find. I prayed that the phone would ring, and it would be him telling me that he was fine, and somehow these events were not to affect him. A young mother’s dream, I know – but I couldn’t allow into my mind the alternative.
As time wore on, my blissful ignorance turned into panic and paranoia. I know that I did nothing that day to reassure my in-laws, who were also looking to me for some sign that their only son would be fine. I imagined the worst. What would become of our daughter who might lose her father, a father she barely knew? What would become of the life we had built together? Unlike many Americans who wondered, “What just happened?” I was thinking, “What will be?”
Several days later, my husband was able to call, albeit briefly. He confirmed my worst fears. He was going to war. What happened over the next two months, I will never know, but I stand here, on the other side of it, praising God Almighty that we managed to dodge a bullet once again.
Marrying a man in the military, especially a SEAL, is not for the uncommitted, nor for a woman who lacks independence and creativity. The SEAL wives I have known over the years have been a mixed group. As years pass, some of the marriages make it, some don’t. I could never judge or fault any wife who simply states that she’s had enough of the life. It’s not an easy one to endure for a lifetime.
On the flip side, the rewards of being married to a man who would willingly give his life for our great country’s honor, defend our way of life, and die for his brothers-in-arms is great. I am proud to be married to that man, and proud to have that man raise my children.
For me, there is no greater love than that.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Act of Valor movie)
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