A moving moment during Tuesday’s State of the Union address came when a military wife and her two young children were reunited with their soldier, just home from war. The reunion was a surprise for the mother and her children, and for the audience. Members of Congress cheered for three minutes and eight seconds of pure, bipartisan joy. I was happy for the family, of course. But I also felt nervous.
I’ve been a military spouse for 17 years. I know reunions very well; they are a tangle of sometimes conflicting emotions. Can I tell you what a military reunion is like for the person at home?
You wait. For weeks, you wait. The reunion date shifts. It’s a moving target. You get your hopes up, and then flights get canceled. You pray that he will just get out of the war zone. You bargain. You want him home as soon as possible, but you don’t mind him getting stuck for a month in Germany, or Ireland, or Dubai, just so long as he’s not somewhere with rocket attacks and IEDs. You add an extra week, maybe two, to the calendar your kids use to count down the days, so they won’t get their minds stuck on a certain date.
And then the day comes. He texts you that he’s flying out of the war zone. You’re so relieved, but you don’t let yourself hope, not yet. Your breath still catches. The base could still get rocketed. The enemy could still attack. Nothing is really okay until he’s out of the airspace, and even then, he’s on a plane, and planes crash. You can’t afford to be optimistic. Not yet.