Married to the military By Alicia Pattillo
Growing accustomed to living alone isn’t typical for most newlyweds. But when Monica Hannah’s husband, Arnold, began military service in Iraq before their first wedding anniversary, it was a necessity. She got used to very few phone calls and e-mails from her husband. When friends and family asked how Arnold was doing, she frequently replied, “No word yet.” Sometimes, she’d have to stare at the wedding band on her left hand to remember that she was married. But she held on. On July 8, 2008, Arnold called from Iraq. Monica remembered being in shock and barely able to stand up; his last phone call had been four months ago. “I just remember feeling as if I was dreaming,” Monica said. “His voice literally gave me chills.” Arnold told her that the phone lines had been down, that the Internet was shot, that it was so good to hear her voice. Monica could hardly speak. “Baby, I can’t believe it’s you,” she said to Arnold. “It’s been so long.” Then Arnold admitted he had sex with someone else, a woman 16
in Iraq. He quickly confessed that he didn’t love this other woman, that military service was stressful, that he had missed Monica so much, that the sex meant nothing. And then he begged for Monica’s forgiveness. Monica waited a while to respond. She very quietly said, “I can’t forgive you. My heart won’t let me.” Angry, hurt and frustrated, Monica screamed through the phone. “Do you know how many days I have stayed up late and cried out that God will bring you back to me?” she said to him. Monica hung up the phone. The next week, she met with a divorce lawyer. Although she eventually forgave Arnold for the affair, Monica said she left the marriage for other reasons. “I never wanted my husband to be in the military. I never thought he would actually be away this long. That’s not how I pictured our marriage,” she said. “To put your life on hold for a man is just stupid. Without trust, what do you have?” According to Pentagon statistics, the overall military divorce rate has leveled off this year after consistent increases in the past five years. However, since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, the divorce rate has risen from 2.6
Christol Brown and her husband, Eric Brown. percent in 2001 to 3.6 percent in 2009. “I loved Arnold, and, looking back, I could have stayed,” Monica said. “I know I would have put [the affair] behind me, but the worrying and him being so far away, I just couldn’t take my mind through it anymore.” Sometimes Christol Brown will go for days without hearing a word from her husband. On those days, her body is numb. But she doesn’t worry. She can’t. It’s a scary feeling for her. It’s uncertainty. One thing is certain, though. The next few weeks will mark the return of a soldier, a pastor, a father of four, a husband: Eric. “There’s a process coming back that he has to take,” Christol said. “But I know it’s so soon and it’s so close. I’ll have my husband home.” By now, Christol ignores the TV screen’s distorted images and news broadcasts from foreign locations. Every day she awaits the e-mail she hopes to receive from her husband, who has served in the military for 23 years.
Eric and Christol were married shortly after 9/11. He was activated soon afterward, but returned home after just a few weeks of service. Christol recalled the feeling of her husband’s leaving as “like part of you had just been ripped away.” “Nothing prepares you for it. It’s a shock,” Christol said. “It’s hard to be placed in that situation where you have no control. There’s nothing you can do. When they got to go, they got to go.” Eric, a chief in the U.S. Navy, is also a pastor at Community Church of God in Campbell. While Eric is away, Christol still maintains her duties and responsibilities as First Lady of the church, including Bible studies on Sundays and Tuesdays. Her faith in God carries her through the worst times. “Part of me has to stay strong because we have kids that look at me,” Christol said. “My faith comes in the Lord. I lean on the Lord. I confide in the Lord every day. That’s who I talk to, I pray with.” Although he’s in Afghanistan, Eric remains involved with his faith, Christol said. “He ministers while he’s over there,” she said. “Some of these soldiers, they want to give up. They want to come home. They don’t want to be there. To have a pastor among them to be able to minister to them is a blessing.” Eric prays for his enemies, as well as his fellow soldiers. At that point, Christol said, “they’re not your enemy. They’re just another person.” “Praying for the enemy that’s trying to kill you is something to be able to do that,” she said. And, at home, Christol continues to pray for her husband’s safety and for “the others that are over there because now I know what it feels like as a family.” She knows she’s not alone. “It’s many families out there that experience the same thing I experience,” she said. Fall 2010