Saluting unsung heroes: military spouses

During Military Appreciation Month, we salute not only the brave men and women who wear the uniform but also the individuals who provide unyielding support from the home front—our nation’s military spouses.

During every critical turn in our nation’s history, the military spouse has been a calm, strong presence working to support the heroes who have placed their lives in harm’s way on our behalf.

On the bitter cold days of the winter of 1777, some of America’s original military spouses, then called “campfollowers,” arrived at the sides of their husbands, ready to serve and support the war effort.

As detailed by Betty Sowers Alt and Bonnie Domrose Stone in Campfollowing: A History of the Military Wife, “By accompanying their husbands and sharing their hardships, these women were setting a precedent for the millions of wives who would follow their husbands to forts and encampments worldwide during the more than 200-year history of the American military.”

Since America’s early days, military spouses have made constant sacrifices to support the service of our men and women in uniform. Most are required to endure multiple moves, packing up their families, leaving their friends and neighbors and relocating on short notice.

Upon arriving at a new base, they cautiously unpack, knowing that the cycle of repacking will begin all too soon. With each move, they must establish new doctors, new schools, new houses, new jobs, new friends, and new places of worship.

On top of this transience, they also face multiple deployments and the mixed emotions these partings bring. As their loved ones deploy, military spouses must assume the role of single parent and the sole caretaker of the family’s home and finances.

Perhaps no state has known more military spouses than Texas, home to 15 major military installations and nearly 2 million veterans. It is often said, “Texas defends America” and no more clearly is that evidenced than throughout the networks of closely knitted Texas military spouses who not only support their spouses but also provide critical support to fellow military families and rally the community around our service members when they need it most.

This year, I was informed of an extraordinary Texan who was nominated for the 2012 Military Spouse of the Year award. Mrs. Christine Gilbreath of Crowley has supported her husband, National Guard Army Staff Sgt. William Scott Gilbreath, during 18 years of service.

Christine was nominated by numerous friends and fellow military spouses because she has gone above and beyond to care not only for her family but the families of many other service members through her work as a Family Readiness Group Leader.

When her husband’s battalion lost seven soldiers in an aircraft accident in Iraq, Christine “was the glue that kept the families and spouses together during this very difficult time.” Christine took charge of coordinating funeral arrangements, which took place simultaneously in different locations in Texas and Oklahoma, and providing support to the families of the fallen.

One friend wrote, “Her dedication and tireless work during a very sad time for our soldiers and families was nothing short of amazing.” Throughout her husband’s 18 years of service, Christine has coordinated numerous support efforts, including initiating holiday gift drives for the children of service members in financial duress and establishing a monetary fund to help these families pay bills during tough times. She has traveled throughout Texas, visiting multiple bases and helping other spouses prepare for deployments.

According to her fr iends, Christine has never let her own burdens keep her from assisting others.

Among other hardships, Christine was diagnosed in 2003 with Multiple Sclerosis. With her husband deployed to Iraq, Christine was accompanied by her best friend, a fellow military spouse, when she received the news. Christine says if she could go back in time for one day, she would revisit that day and “sit with myself, hold my hand, and let me know that it will all work out, everything happens for a reason and, yes, there will be challenges, but none that I cannot overcome... Hindsight is a wonderful tool, being able to talk to my then self would be fantastic, but even that could never overcome the power and comfort of a Military Spouse by your side.”

I know all Texans join me, during Military Appreciation Month, in saluting Christine and the often unsung efforts of millions of her fellow military spouses. Thank you for your selfless service.

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2012-05-31 digital edition

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