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What every military spouse wishes you knew

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As all military spouses and parents would tell you, something is sure to go wrong as soon as your spouse deploys or goes on temporary duty, and the road trip I embarked on the summer when my husband was gone to Afghanistan was no exception.

This would be my first summer alone with the kids, and I wanted to make some memories during my “free time.”

Well. Memories were definitely made, that’s for darn sure.

Picture this: it was the summer of 2007. The windows of the convertible were rolled down, “Don’t Stop Believing” was blaring on the radio and there was nothing in sight but miles of open road and a full tank of gas.

Oh wait, that’s the girls’ road trip in my imagination. Actually, it went a little something like this:

Windows of the minivan were rolled up because, let’s face it, it’s humid outside. Instead of my girlfriends, I was accompanied by my mom, and my then 7-year-old and infant in the back seat. The music of “choice” was something by Go Fish children’s group, but not cranked up too loud, because nobody wants to wake a sleeping baby.

We were happily headed to the east coast, and I was determined to enjoy myself at the beach. Then, the “something that always,” went wrong. Only it was much worse than the usual car breakdown, toddler meltdown or mamma drama.

My 7-year-old started acting strange, and her symptoms caught the attention of my nurse practitioner mom who urged me to take my daughter to the doctor. I agreed, and what I expected to be perhaps a UTI or small infection turned into a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. By the time we got to our pediatrician, my girl was in critical condition, and he rushed her to the ICU.

I didn’t know what was happening. Everything with our daughter had been normal as far as I knew. I called the American Red Cross, explained the situation, and they were able to locate my husband and fly him home. Thank goodness he was granted an emergency leave because we didn’t know how bad the prognosis was going to be. Fortunately, she became stable, but for Gentry, that meant there was no reason not to go back to war, so when duty called, he went.

And for me, his re-deployment meant learning how to keep our daughter alive on my own.

I would wake up multiple times throughout the night just to make sure she wasn’t in a coma. By day, my daughter was learning how to inject herself and to prick her own fingers. To date, my now almost 20-year-old has pricked her finger over 30,000 times.

As a military spouse, I’ve had my fair share of trials that I had to deal with alone, and my daughter’s diabetes is just one example. I could go on and on about the stories shared with me from military spouses struggling to do it all alone. As I reflect on all the things I’ve overcome as a military wife, I’m incredibly proud to be part of a community of spouses who make an albeit different but still difficult sacrifice.


My daughter walking to her daddy for the first time after he arrived home from Afghanistan. (2007)

Whether you are a military spouse or a single parent, my heart goes out to you. I know, firsthand, the difficulty of having to depend on … yourself. We don’t ever expect a sticker or a pity party. We just do what we have to do to make things run as smoothly as we can. We are resilient, and we learn to do things on our own.

As a military spouse, I am thankful to be part of the family units who protect and uphold our nation day in and day out. Whenever I load up the kids in the SUV on July 4 to go watch the fireworks, I always hope that all you military wives and husbands out there get to do something not only to celebrate your nation, but to appreciate all you do on a daily basis that isn’t always seen, but is holding up those who fight on the frontlines.

Renee Nickell, military wife, mother of four, author and Gold Star sibling to Major Samuel Griffith, USMC, penned her first non-fiction memoir after her brother was killed in action. “Always My Hero: The Road to Hope & Healing Following My Brother’s Death in Afghanistan” was released on June 14, 2019.

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