The Army Wife

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Jeanette Mulligan cooks dinner on Good Friday.
Photo by Christopher Sims

The two-year-old boy can't pronounce the name of the country in which his father has spent nearly one year out of the past two. "Daddy's a-back," Liam Mulligan says.

"Daddy's in Iraq," translates Liam's mother, Jeannette Mulligan. "That's how [Liam] says it: 'Daddy's a-back!'"

"Daddy's a-back!" Liam repeats.

"Right!" says Jeannette with apparent cheerfulness.

Jeannette Mulligan is forty. She's from Baltimore. She and her husband Clinton have been together six years. She has a 13-year-old son from a previous marriage, a two-year-old, Liam, and Olivia, who's five.

"Watching the kids missing him is a hard thing," says Jeannette. "I'm always telling the kids that their daddy loves them and their daddy misses them and he's thinking about them and he's praying for them, and every once in awhile [Olivia will] ask me to stop telling her that, because she doesn't want to think about her daddy missing her. And at night, sometimes when she says her prayers, she would always start off with, 'Dear Jesus, could you tell my daddy that I love him and this is Olivia.' And now, she just skips past that, talks to her daddy, and she'll say, 'Dear Daddy.'"

"Daddy, I love you so much and I hope you could come back in five minutes," says Olivia as she prays. "My mom misses him, Liam misses him, and Josiah misses him, and I miss him. … Please, Jesus, can you tell my dad? Can he come here, please?"

"It's Friday, February 11th, and I am driving in my car," says Jeannette into a small audio recorder. "This is the only time that I have to be alone sometimes!"

She has red hair cut stylishly short. Her ears are pierced four times each. She and her family live in Fort Bragg housing. Their winding street is lined with identical tan duplexes and carports. The subdivision is named "Ste. Mere Eglise" after a French town captured by 82nd Airborne paratroopers on D-Day, 1944.

"But a thought that just came to me was, constantly missing the spouse that's gone and not really being able to show it."

It's early 2005 and Jeannette's husband, Sgt. Clinton Mulligan, is in Iraq for the second time since the war started. This time, his unit left in December of '04 to provide security for the upcoming Iraqi elections.

"I get in the car and the song on the radio is, 'I'm missin' you and nobody knows it but me,'" says Jeanette into her recorder. "OK, so that got me crying. But I have to get it out of my system before I get to my friend's house, because she also has small children and a husband who's in my husband's unit, and it's kind of a sisterhood ethic that we don't get each other started."

Jeannette is active in the Family Readiness Group for her husband's battery. It's a volunteer group, sponsored by the Army, for spouses to stay in touch and support one another. Clinton Mulligan is in field artillery. The Army bars women from those jobs, so all of the spouses in Jeannette's Family Readiness Group are women.

"What is frustrating is hearing the crybabies," says Jeannette. "The ones that are just crying because they've got a three or four-month deployment, or the wives who are just ballyhooing about how hard their life is. ... Their feelings are real. I understand that. They are overwhelmed, they're frustrated, they're angry, they're sad, whatever. But when you become a military wife, you know what you're getting into. You're signing up for the military just as much as your spouse is. … My husband likes to tell the kids, 'Suck it up and drive on, soldier,' and that's kind of how I feel with some of the women. … Come to me when you're just overwhelmed and I will give you a hug and I will hold your hand and take you through the steps … and I'll watch your kids if you're sick and you can sleep on my couch, and that sort of thing. But you know, know when enough is enough. When you're strong enough, mentally or physically or emotionally, get back on the horse. We can't afford that luxury of just letting it all go to pot. We have people that depend on us. That's just something I was thinking of."

Continue to part 2

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