The Army Wife

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Olivia Mulligan looking for her father.
Photo by Christopher Sims.

Jeannette records as she drives herself and her children in the family's minivan.

"It's Sunday morning, March 27th, and 6:30. And we are driving like maniacs. We cannot let him get off that plane without seeing us, and all the hard work we put into these signs."

It's a cool, gray Easter morning back at Pope Air Force Base, next to Fort Bragg. Several hundred soldiers come off a commercial jumbo jet onto the tarmac. They're in desert camouflage and red berets, rifles strapped to their backs. They march in formation into the big steel shed where they said goodbye to their families four months ago.

Jeannette and the three kids wait behind a rope line with a couple of Jeannette's best friends. Their husbands are also somewhere among the identical-looking soldiers standing in straight lines.

Jeanette can't see her husband. No one can.

As a 20-piece Army band plays, tears stream down Jeannette's face. For a few moments, she marches in place.

An officer shouts into a bullhorn, "All right, fall out. Take the rope down, come down and meet 'em."

"Take the rope down," says Jeannette. "Oh my God! O.K. you guys, keep an eye on each other! ... I don't see him!" She stands and waits, her eyes scanning the bustling crowd of soldiers and family members.

Mulligan family reunion.
Photo by Christopher Sims.

After a long minute, Clinton Mulligan sneaks up and embraces his wife from behind.

"I'm right here," he says.

Jeannette screams. The two hold one another tight for a long time, saying nothing.

During this deployment, Sgt. Mulligan's battery was mostly in Baghdad and Mosul guarding forward operating bases. He says it was more boring than frightening.

This probably won't be his last tour in a war zone.

"For right now, I see myself staying in the military for about 20 years," says Clinton. "I like to think of myself as being hard-core. I like to better myself."

Clinton sees the military as a good way to support a family, and a mission. His father was a Navy man. Clinton says he grew up being taught the value of sacrifice.

"And thats the way the universe works. ... What you give out, you're going to get back ten-fold," says Clinton. "I try and give. So far, it's been coming back to me pretty nicely. ... I mean, you look around: ... surround sound, big TV, car. You know, family, kids, big house. Everything that I could possibly want, you know?"

The avarage Army soldier's pay is $37,236 per year.

Source: Defense Accounting Service

A sergeant at Clinton's level earns about $26,000 a year, plus combat bonuses, health coverage, and free housing on post. Jeannette says she likes the job security. Still, marrying a soldier took a lot of getting used to, even though she grew up in a military family.

"I know my dad had told me when I got married, that on the I.D. card where it said 'property of the United States Army,' they're not talking about the card, they're talking about the soldier on that card," says Jeanette. "That's something that - I had a hard time coming into this, and my dad told me I had to stop thinking like a civilian."

Jeannette says she supports her husband's career. She wants to help him relax after his time in a war zone. But she needs a break, too.

"The first day that I got to sleep in," says Jeannette in her last audio diary entry a few days after Clinton's return, "and the kids didn't wake me up and daddy had let the dogs out and fed them and fed the kids and changed diapers and did that whole little morning thing, it was just a small thing, but boy did it make a world of difference. Sometimes when you're strong you don't realize how much you're carrying. Until you're not carrying it anymore, until somebody comes up alongside you and says, 'Hey, let me take part of that.'"

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