Before I was an army wife, or even a mother, I was Melissa. Strong and independent. I put myself through college, earning a B.A. in English, then a Master’s in Education. When my husband first entered the Army, pieces of me began to fall by the wayside until I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. Years of war, parenting by myself, and trying to remain close with a husband who was rarely there, wore on me. It was a slow process to try to find my voice. But, one step toward my friend, Christina Piper–one pleading sentence of understanding–began the fire that ignited Her War, Her Voice. Now, I stand proudly with him. But not as a wife who must always be on display. I am, first and foremost, still Melissa. I have a voice. I have talent. And I have the ability to ensure I never lose these aspects of myself again. Multiple deployments and constant separations have nearly broken me and my relationship. Our marriage has been pushed to the brink of divorce. But, yet, we thrive. After many struggles, I have finally realized: We are in charge of our marriage and I am in charge of who I am. Not the military. And certainly not a deployment. I have two children, a daughter and a son. I am still strong, still independent. Only now, all that falls under two words: military wife. As the co-founder of Her War, Her Voice, it has become my mission and my passion to ensure no military spouse ever feels alone or without her voice again.
The Her War, Her Voice Team
I have almost always been an Army Wife. I got married the day after I turned 18 to a soldier fresh out of Basic. He was abusive–mentally, emotionally and physically–but feeling trapped, I stayed for seven years, bearing three children in that time. I finally got the courage to leave and was a single mom for two years (though in reality I was a single mom the entire time). I spent those two years trying to find myself. Later, I fell in love with a man I had met when I was 16, and all these many years later we got married. He was also a soldier. This time, however, I was different. Stronger. More sure of myself and what I wanted. We have been together for 5 years, and we have 5 total children, a boy age 12 (going on 30), and 4 girls, ages 11, 9, 3 and 2. Two of my children are special needs, so our journey occasionally has random tangents. All of them are home schooled, and we live on a mini farm. We have been through deployments, transfers, injuries, happy times, and sad ones. There have been his battles on the front line, and our battles at home. There have been times we have nearly broken, but have been resilient enough to bend, though sometimes barely. I found HWHV when I was at one of those breaking points. Chris and Melissa opened their hearts to me and bared their souls. I found a home in them, and learned that I was never alone. They have been through it all, and were willing to share their journey with me to help me along. Now I am ready to share mine with you in the hopes I can do the same for someone else.
At the beginning of this adventure, my husband and I said our vows, then he took an Oath to serve our nation in the Army in only a few days time. In our nearly fourteen years together we have experienced six duty stations, numerous separations, and battled life threatening and chronic illnesses. We have two daughters, ages 11 and 3, with ongoing complex medical and educational needs, and social impairments. We stand together and navigate this life and its challenges for them and for each other. We have spent more special days apart or at the hospital than we have celebrated. My husband has stood by us as he watched both of our daughters and myself battle death, and we stood by as we sent him off to war. We have fought on two fronts, overseas and at home. Are we battered? Yes. Am I scarred? Certainly. But never fully broken. In all of this I have learned to live “outside the box” and have found within myself the ability to draw upon creativity and resourcefulness to make things happen. In fact it was a moment of need that led me to Her War, Her Voice, where I found a community of acceptance, support, friendship and love such as I have never known. Now, I am writing my own unique definition of strength. No, I really DIDN’T know what I was getting into, but I love this wild ride called military life, so I’m pretty okay with that.
No one believes me when I tell them that I was the quiet, geeky nerd at the back of the class. I had few friends and was painfully shy. One Thanksgiving Day in 1989, I was introduced to the man that would take all that away. My Soldier introduced me to the Army life and it has never been a dull moment. I like to call it my roller coaster ride. Seven months after we were married, he left for Desert Storm with me five months pregnant. That taught me the first lesson in independence and resiliency. Among the many deployments, TDYs, NTC rotations, and Schools, we have been raising four Army Strong Brats. They embrace the challenges of growing up Army (the PCS moves, making new friends, sending Dad off on deployments) and fear them all at the same time. Especially the months that Mother Army takes Dad away. My Army experience is vast and complex. I grew up with a Dad that served two tours in Viet Nam. PTSD was a living, breathing being in my house. Not just my Dad’s, but also my own. I have been a PTSD victim/survivor for 30 years and finding new ways to make PTSD known and easier to deal with is my passion. I grew up in an Army town. I married a man that grew up an Army Brat and has served 24 years of Active Duty with no wish to retire any time soon. I was volunteered in Germany before the days of internet and cell phones to take care of the Families of our unit. I have served as a Family Support Group Leader, Family Readiness Group Leader (and yes there is a huge difference between the two), and everything in between including the job that I do today that allows me to take care of Soldiers and Families every day. The Army has cured my shyness and given me the strength and knowledge that lets me stand up and say loud and proud: “Hello Friends, my name is Tricia and I can’t wait to get to know you.”
Her War, Her Voice Press
All About A Heart Apart:
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Check out Channel 13 television interview about A Heart Apart and Her War, Her Voice
Read all about the first donation of A Heart Apart:
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A Heart Apart in Army news:
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Interviews with Chris and Melissa:
Read more about why we started this on Mom of Brats
Check out Chris and Melissa’s interview on Army Wife Talk Radio
Read about Her War at Department of Defense
Read about why we started Her War, Her Voice here.
Both Melissa and Chris are featured in the Heart of a Military Woman book!