By Ken Olsen
(Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved)
Josh Buck read his daughter a bedtime story on the eve of his second deployment. He tucked her in and gave her the news. “Daddy has to go back to work tomorrow,” he said. Little Reagan leapt up and closed the bedroom door. “No,” she told her father. “You stay here.”
That moment in August 2009 illustrates the conundrum the Bucks and other families face when they weigh whether or not to stick with the multiple deployments that now define a military career, or get out and try for a more stable life, albeit in a sour economy.
“I think this deployment is harder,” says Josh’s wife, Deanna. “He is missing her 2-to-3 year. And we are at the potty-training age. So I don’t get a break.”
Josh missed his daughter learning to count to 10, speak in sentences and ride a tricycle. Moreover, the family worried Reagan wouldn’t take to her father when he came home on R&R in late March. She did, Deanna says. “She was so sad for the longest time after he left again.”
Now, even before he’s returned home from his second deployment, Josh has learned he is already scheduled for a third combat tour in August 2011. That’s if he stays in the Army. “If he goes, it means he will miss her 4-to-5 year, and she will be starting school,” Deanna says. “Do we want to one day know what it’s like to live a real life?”
The Bucks, who were high-school sweethearts, did not expect to find themselves questioning an Army career. He is a combat medic whose sister married one of the men he served with in the 82nd Airborne Division. Deanna’s brother is an Army Ranger.
Josh’s first deployment lasted 15 months. He made it home on R&R four days before Reagan was born. When his tour was finished, his daughter was already 7 months old.
“Kids change everything,” Deanna says. “It’s really, really hard for me because I get to the point I count down the days and the weeks. I feel like my life is on pause, waiting for somebody to hit play.”
Deanna is surprised to find she doesn’t get support from the places she expects it. Some other Army wives criticized her after she posted a note on Facebook about how sad she was that Josh had returned to Afghanistan. “They said they ‘hate all of these Army wives who whine – it’s only a deployment.’ That’s easy to say if your husband is stateside. I’m sorry – I love my husband a lot. I don’t want to send him off to war.”
The family’s personal security is a great concern while Josh is deployed. “I felt some real serious anxiety when he went back to Afghanistan. I have an alarm system. I have a dog. I have guns. (And) I have this horrible thing where I can’t sleep when he’s gone. When he’s home, it’s like a great weight is lifted off me.”
There’s also the grind of keeping up a house. The air conditioner broke in April, just as spring temperatures headed for the 90s. Deanna waited more than a week for a repairman to check it out, only to learn it would take another week to get the parts necessary to get it running again. Deanna loaded her 2-year-old in the car and drove 250 miles to her brother’s house in Savannah, Ga. The garage door broke the morning she planned to leave.
“Everything always goes to crap when the husband is gone,” she says.
The couple thought Josh would have at least two years at home after his current deployment ends this fall, one reason they bought a new house. If they don’t leave the Army, the Bucks not only face the prospect of spending every other year apart, but also of moving to different posts every two to three years, or even overseas. Reagan would never stay in the same school for long. If they leave the Army and sell their house to move home to Texas, they will have to repay the $8,000 first-time-homebuyer’s tax credit. They also worry about Josh’s ability to find a job, given the recession.
“I hate how everybody thinks that you can’t survive in the civilian world,” Deanna says of pressure she feels from the Army to stay. “My parents do it. Lots of people do it.”
Deanna also knows Josh feels he needs to do more for his country. “He told me if he does get out, he will always feel like he needs to be there until the war is over.”
Although she says she would never tell him to quit, if it were up to her, they would put the Army life behind them: “Eight years is enough to sacrifice.”
Deanna Buck’s story is part of the special report “Behind the Blue Star” about how military families are faring after nine years of war. The special report, written by Ken Olsen, was featured in the September 2010 issue of The American Legion Magazine).