News: No long-distance calling for some married Soldiers
Story by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – At the beginning of his deployment in Iraq, Pfc. Michael Catlin would wait until the late hours of the night to talk to his wife back home because of the eight-hour difference.
"I'd throw the computer online and get the internet [running] and put on the webcam and fall asleep talking to her," said Catlin, an administrator specialist with the 10th Mountain Division.
Now, when Michael wants to talk to his wife, Pfc. Sara Catlin, the two are in the same time zone; in fact, they're probably in the same room. After finishing her one-year airborne contract commitment, Sara was able to join the 10th Mountain Division and deploy in September to meet her husband in Iraq.
As unusual as their scenario may sound, spouses deploying together in the Army has actually become a common occurrence. Within the Division Special Troops Battalion alone, also known as Task Force Gauntlet, there were as many as 14 married couples deployed together since June; Soldiers ranging anywhere from private to warrant officer and even chaplain..
In fact, the Army recently established a policy allowing spouses to live together in Iraq. The biggest benefit, however, is being able to see one another face-to-face while serving overseas.
"Oh, definitely," agreed Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Nygard, a trumpet player and vocalist with the 10th Mtn. Div. rock band, who is deployed with his wife, Sgt. 1st Class Melissa Sheets-Nygard, a woodwind quintet leader. "To be honest, we're each other's biggest support group over here. There isn't anyone else."
The Nygards married seven years ago, but met each other in 1997 while studying together at the Army School of Music. Their first duty station together was Fort Jackson, S.C., immediately following school. They connected then and have been inseparable since. Even deployment couldn't keep them apart.
"It was my worst fear that they were going to take him as a member of the rock band and leave me behind as an extra unwanted woodwind player," said Melissa, originally of Alvin, Texas. "And then, he would deploy, and I would sit back for a year and, one: not have a deployment experience in my career and, two: ... if he went and I didn't, that would be strange for us because we're used to doing the same things and going the same places."
Sgt. Anthony Hendrich, of Portis, Kan., and his wife, Sgt. Josephine Hendrich, of Oneonta, N.Y., are also deployed as a part of the band. They met before coming to Iraq and married in August while on leave. The Hendrich's had a wedding in each of their hometowns so both of their families could attend.
Upon their return from leave, they were able to share housing, which means less walking for Anthony who used to walk Josephine to her room in one direction after work every night and then backtrack to his own.
"We've [also] learned that she walks on the left side, and I walk on the right side," joked Anthony about being married in Iraq, explaining that the muzzles of their rifles would smack against each other otherwise.
During their time off, these couples will usually catch a movie together, head off to Morale, Welfare and Recreation events or grab a drink at the coffee house on base.
These couples' ability to spend time together, support each other also means they are able to gauge one another's well-being. They know what the other is experiencing.
"I was prepared for bullets flying, and when I got here, it's – I know it's not safe, I mean, you need to define the word safe – [but] it's a lot safer than I thought it would be over here," said Melissa. "I'm actually not so worried when he goes out ... I think it's because I'm here, and I can see how he looks before he leaves; and when he comes back, he doesn't seem rattled."
Josephine also agreed with her level of comfort with the conditions she's found in Iraq.
"I didn't expect it to be so quiet. I mean, there doesn't seem to be a lot of fighting out there. There could be, but I don't' know much about it. If there is, it doesn't seem like very much," she said.
Of course, just because these couples are together, it doesn't mean their deployment is without stress. The Nygards, for one, moved to Fort Drum, N.Y., just before deploying and had to manage their household goods and pets just before leaving.
Military couples who share a deployment also don't have the benefit of a spouse back home preparing for their return or keeping a sense of consistency. Also, the simple pleasures of daily life as a couple aren't available to some of the spouses because they are here in Iraq instead of back in the States.
"There are a lot of things I wanted to do [to] kind of play the traditional wife role" said Sara, a human resource specialist originally of Victorville, Calif. "And here I'm not able to do that. I can't decorate a house... I can't cook dinner ... I can really hardly even decorate for Christmas ... but overall, I was just really happy to be here."
For some of these Soldiers, there is a lot of unfinished business left behind in order to deploy together, and for some, the level of stress was high before having to come to Iraq. But in retrospect, they have little doubt about their decisions.
"I think that stress [we went through] is definitely worth having her over here, and I know she can say the same for me," Jeremy said.