To mark Anzac Day, we asked #ArmyWife Greer Berry to share with us the ups and downs of being married to a person in the New Zealand Defence Force.
Google “army wives” and images of delicious looking women with fresh hair and plump breasts will appear, one perfectly manicured hand saluting their husband with the other hand delicately clasped around a glass filled with champagne.
Their masculine man-in-uniform* scoops them up in his oversized arms as their patent leather pump heels kick up in to the sky with glee.
They rip each other’s clothes off in a frenzy of passion while breathlessly panting about how much they missed each other during their months apart.
I won’t shatter your illusion completely; I do have a muscular man in uniform who loves to joke that the second thing he does after he comes home from a deployment is take his boots off.
But the reality is unfortunately a lot less glamorous.
In New Zealand, we military partners are a bit of a secret club, surrounded in mystique. Are our lives really as drama-filled as the television depictions portray? Do we husband-swap? Are there catfights? Are we all messed up? How do we “cope” and why we “let” our partners go away so often?
When Anzac Day rolls around, you’ll probably find us out at dawn services across the country. Often we’re standing alone, while our partners are part of the service, or deployed. We’re wrangling kids who are refusing to behave while our eyes fill with tears as the Last Post plays.
We look like you and we’re all around you, but you won’t always know our story; you don’t know the pain and pride we feel every Anzac Day, a unique pain of quiet reflection on what moving in this world means for us and our family.
Our families quickly learn that we can never expect our partner to be around when we need them or for important events.
Deployments usually mean a minimum of seven months away, sometimes 12 months or longer.
Even when they’re home, they’re never really ‘home’; training and exercises can take them out of town for weeks or months at a time, meaning there’s lots of missed birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and special events.
You quickly learn what’s important in life and you learn to value what you do have and ignore what you don’t.
I thought I’d address some of the most common question “army wives” get asked, in the interest of nosiness and raising the general awareness of our lives.
Do you husband swap?
Personally, no. One husband is plenty for me and even then I joke that he can’t ever leave the military because then he’ll never go away so he’ll just get under my feet. There are though, of course, exceptions to this. In some circles, there are relatively well-known groups who dabble in a bit of keys-in-the-bowl action. And who am I to judge? Long periods of time away from your partner is straining and does require extra work, so do what you gotta do, I guess.
I asked a fellow military partner what she thinks about husband swapping and her response was brilliant: “Fuck no, I’d killabitch”. So there you go.
Why do you let him go away for so long?
Firstly, no one “lets” anyone do anything. It’s a process. It’s their job. It comes with the territory. It’s not all bad.
Yes they often go to dangerous places and yes, they sometimes – nay, every time – come back a different person. Experience does that to us. But partners who stay home grow too, and time apart isn’t always a bad thing.
You get to choose what to watch on TV, you don’t have to wash their rank-arse uniform, toast for dinner is acceptable; you don’t have to hide your online shopping purchases.
There are financial benefits, too. For many military deployment means the ability to save a large amount of money to clear debt or add to their home loan deposit. That’s an opportunity not every civilian gets.
Also, it’s about letting them do what they’re trained to do. I often liken it to being an All Black and never getting to run on to the field and play a game. What’s the point in all the training if you never get to put it in to practice?
Do you get scared?
Yes. But as with most things in life, I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse to stop doing something. Phone calls in the middle of the night from someone telling you that Kiwis have died in combat overseas are the pits, and I’ve had three of those. But the only thing worse is the knock on the door, and I know of people who have had that. It’s a nightmare we never want to come true for any military family or ourselves.
Are army wives bitches?
Look, not gonna lie, we enjoy a rant as much as the next person. We do lead relatively stressful lives and the ability to sit down with someone who Totally Gets It means there are plenty of opportunities to bitch and moan about our situations. Like, if your partner is a civilian, don’t even think of whinging to a military wife about your husband going away for two nights for work. As a popular army saying goes: Get some time up. We will smile, nod and try and empathise, but inside we’ll for sure be screaming “TWO NIGHTS? TWO FUCKING NIGHTS? ARE YOU ACTUALLY SERIOUS?” then we’ll drink some more wine and let you sob in to our shoulder while saying “There, there” because we’re good bitches.
Life as a military partner isn’t for everyone; there’s a reason that there are high separation and divorce rates in the forces. The strains of military life mean we are prone to anxiety, relationship difficulties, stress, and issues with children.
But overall we are resilient people. We have perspective.
And we are proud, oh so proud, of the sacrifices that we and the servicepeople in our lives undertake.
Also, the tearful airport welcome homes and the homecoming sex after months away are generally great. So there’s that, too.
So this Anzac Day, spare a thought for those who also serve – the families. Wherever you are, I’ll raise my rum to the families who don’t get medals but so often deserve them for the shit we sometimes have to go through. We’ve got this.
*I say ‘man in uniform’ but the reality is that not all NZDF relationships are heterosexual with the male as the serviceperson.
Greer Berry is a recovering journalist, who is currently studying post-graduate psychology at Massey University in Palmerston North. She loves cleaning up after her two toddlers about as much as she enjoys slamming her fingers in a car door.