About Me

I am Roland Burton.....ok, so I'm not "actually" Roland Burton, but if you watch the show "Army Wives", then you are familiar with the lone male military spouse. I've been married to a Soldier since 2006 and that is exactly how I've felt throughout the years. I've only met one other male military spouse during this time, but I have connected with a few wonderful female military spouses over the years that have accepted me with open arms and made the transition from duty station to duty station much easier. We have two beautiful girls and we love the military life. My name is Dee and I am a "Real Life Roland"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2 months or 60 days or 1,440 hours or 86,400 minutes or 5,184,000 seconds

I’m finally over the two month hump and I honestly feel like I’ve accomplished something! This is the longest that we’ve been apart since we’ve been married and the longest I’ve ever had our daughter by myself. The house, while not quite up to her standards, doesn’t exactly look like a tornado’s blown through either. I think she has little fairy helpers or something, because I don’t know how she managed to work a full day, do our daughter's hair, wash/fold clothes, and still get a decent amount of rest. I helped out a little, but this experience has really shown me how much I hadn’t been doing all these years!

I’ve come to the conclusion that the ability to communicate using various internet resources could possibly be some sort of enemy ploy to drive me crazy! I didn’t realize that internet speeds as slow as they have over there still existed. Most of the time, it’s just enough to tease you into thinking that you’re going to be able to have a decent video chatting session. Other times, it just cuts out for no reason and you’re left wondering if everything is ok. And then, there are the days when you don’t hear anything at all, not even a quick message to say “I love you”. Those are the worst. Sometimes I wish things were like when my Dad deployed to Desert Storm and all you really had were letters in the mail, video tapes sent back and forth, and the occasional phone call. That way I wouldn’t worry as much if I didn’t hear from her for a day or two. Technology creates unreal expectations and can sometimes make you forget that it's still a war zone and communication will never be normal.

I still battle insomnia, but it has gotten a little better. I have some days where I get a little sad. When I have a bad day at work, it’s depressing that I can’t call her on my break to vent. Most of the time, I’m so busy during the day that it doesn’t hit me until it’s close to bedtime. That’s when my wife and I normally have a few moments alone…my favorite part of our busy days. I still haven’t slept on her side of the bed. Not sure why. I guess I’ve just gotten so used to staying on my side of that huge king size bed that it’s natural. I don’t think I’ll get used to rolling over and her not being there.

Our daughter misses her mother dearly. She seems to have taken on some of the characteristics of her mother that our house is missing during this deployment. During the morning drive, she constantly reminds me to drive safely. When I’m cooking, she reminds me to be careful and not burn myself. That toddler has the nagging down to a science! She wants to paint her nails like her mother and style her hair in a similar fashion. I picked her up from daycare today and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the teacher had taken the afro that I dropped her off with and turned it into a nice set of braids! That’s one less thing that I have to do, so to say I was grateful is an understatement. Our daughter seemed to like it, as she smiled and told me that her teacher made her hair pretty….but as soon as we got to the car, she said “Daddy, can you fix my hair, I don’t like it. I want my hair like mommy’s!”. I guess when these braids run their course, it will be back to the afro like mommy.

It hasn’t been all bad though. Yes, I count every day and mark the calendar as if I'm in prison waiting for parole. Sure, I miss my wife like crazy. Still doesn’t get easier to explain to our daughter when she asks “is mommy coming home yet”, that it’s still going to be a while. But it’s also given me a chance to create a bond with our ever-changing little girl. I’m spending more time than ever just being there for her. I’m focusing on projects that I’ve put off for far too long. It’s shown me the things that I haven’t been doing around the house and how to be a better father and husband. This isn’t an easy journey, but I know that at the end of it all, I’ll be a better man and we’ll be a family that can endure anything.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I'm not depressed, I just want to be alone!

During deployment, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression. According to WebMD, some of the symptoms of depression are:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

Now, we also have to understand that there is a difference between simply being sad and depression. There is going to be, in most cases, a period of sadness and change associated with deployment. This is normal. It is not uncommon for people to have some of the symptoms of depression, yet not be suffering from depression.

I have had people express concern about me being depressed because they say I haven't been acting like myself. And you know what, to an extent, they are right! But I assure you, I am not depressed. At times, I have difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and decreased energy; because I am working a full time job, taking care of the house by myself, and chasing behind a toddler without the woman whom I grossly underestimated the extent to which I lean on her for help! 

I feel guilty at times. I'm a man. My natural tendency is to be a protector. I married a woman who loves being a Soldier and serving her country. There are moments when I feel guilty that she is in a war zone, while I rest in the comfort of our own bed. But I remind myself that my job is important here and my support helps her to stay focused.

Insomnia has become a part of my life. I can't explain where it came from, but it started with the deployment. It has gotten a little better though. There are a nights here and there that I can fall asleep at a decent hour, but most nights require a sleep aide. I'm at a point where it's manageable, and that's the most important thing to me. Getting only a couple of hours sleep a night is not healthy.

Am I more irritable than usual? The answer would have to be yes. Deployment is stressful for the servicemember and the family. I worry about my wife and I have a lot on my plate here. So some things that I would let roll off my shoulder before, really irritate me now. 

And, I have lost some interest in activities that I once found pleasurable, including sex! Sex is a big deployment concern for many couples. What you do when those urges arise is up to you.That being said, I'm a firm believer that cheating is never the answer. For me, I try to turn my attentions elsewhere when sexual urges arise because I don't want to focus on a desire that can not be fulfilled. Even if you and your spouse had a very sexual relationship prior to deployment, you have to find your mental "off" switch! If you don't, you can allow the lack of sex to consume you and lead you to make a huge mistake. I've seen it happen to couples plenty of times in my many years of affiliation with the military.

In addition, I probably don't socialize as much as I would normally like to. I still get out a decent amount and I talk to friends/family all the time. But on the weekends, after a stressful week of work, most often I'd rather just relax at home. I've got projects around the house that I want to accomplish. I've got video games and movies that keep me entertained for hours.I have a toddler that loves to spend time with her daddy. When I'm home, I'm happy. It's my place of refuge. I work with people all day; everyone needs some time alone.

WebMD has a depression assessment that I decided to take, just to see what it would say. I answered as honestly as the details I shared above. Here is some of what it said:

Your answers aren't like the ones usually provided by people suffering from major depression, dysthymia, or other types of depression. However, depression symptoms can fluctuate greatly and vary between individuals. Only your doctor can properly diagnose and treat you.

Please see your doctor so that you obtain a complete evaluation and diagnosis.

Everyone feels sad at times, and that occasional feeling may last a few hours or even a few days. A major change in life -- including illness or a death -- may be followed by weeks of sadness. However, this doesn't necessarily define a person as depressed or lead to a depressive disorder.

As stated, it should not be used in place of a doctor. I know myself and I also talked to my doctor when I started having insomnia; I'm not depressed. I do have periods of sadness, but I've been going through a major life change, so this is normal. Often times, people with good intentions will try to diagnose a condition based on what they went through, read, or heard from someone else. If you feel like you may be suffering from depression, talk to a professional. You may find out that what you are going through is normal. Or you may find out that you are indeed going through depression. And if you are, that same doctor is much better equipped to get you the assistance you need than the friends with good intentions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meet our FRG Co-leader, Dee!

This week has been filled with long days and short nights. My daughter and I have left the house in the darkness of morning and returned to the darkness of evening. I will admit, I was a bit nervous about my first interactions with the Family Readiness Group (FRG). Last month, I went to the monthly steering committee meeting to discuss the Battalion activities, but there were other male Soldiers present that helped ease me into the setting. This week would be a little different.

The first meeting was our small groups. It consisted of the various Company FRG leaders and Co-Leaders getting together, discussing various events, and sharing ideas. As it currently stands, I'm the only male in a FRG Leader/Co-Leader position. I thought I would be uncomfortable, but that honestly wasn't the case. The ladies made me feel very welcome. Before we got started, there was some small talk and not once did I feel like their conversation was filtered due to the presence of a man.

During the meeting, I learned a lot of things about the activities that would span the rest of the calendar year. I also learned various techniques for distributing important information and tips to get people to contact you back. There are some people that want to be involved in FRG functions, and others that just want to know when their spouse will be back from deployment. By the end of the night, I felt I had contributed a decent amount to the discussion and had a new sense of comfort around these nice ladies. I didn't feel like I was surrounded by Army wives, I felt like I was simply surrounded by Army spouses who could share similar experiences; gender became the last thing on my mind.

The next meeting was our Company FRG meeting. It was supposed to be potluck style, so I did like I always do with this type of event....I ate ahead of time. As a Pescatarian (basically a vegetarian who may eat seafood), there typically aren't a lot of options for me at an event like this. I'm glad I did, because to describe the turnout as slim would be an understatement. I brought drinks, the FRG leader brought a beef dish and desserts, and that was all we had. Only three other people showed up, not including the Battalion Commander and Company Commander. We were able to put out some useful information and discuss some things with the volunteers. I was honestly disappointed with the turnout. I expected more people to be involved. But on the way home, I realized, there is a reason for everything. This small group that showed up gave the FRG Leader and myself an intimate setting to connect with a few people that seriously want to be involved. We are both new to the positions we have, so there was no pressure of coming into a established group and not living up to an expectation.

To any men, or women, that have never been to an FRG meeting (or your Military branch's comparable group), you really should stop by. It's an opportunity to meet people, and if you have time, to volunteer. Plus, it's the best place to get all of the information about what's going on in the Military community and if your spouse is deployed, they will be the ones to get you all of the important details you may be wondering about.

A lot of us guys use the excuse that there are no guys at these meetings, so we're not going. We say that these groups cater to the women spouses. When I met the (male) Company Commander, he told me that our job in the FRG is to disseminate information. Our main concern is the people that communicate back with us and the ones who want to actively be involved. So if only women want to be involved, then that's what spouse events will be catered towards. So men, we must be the change that we want to see. We must get involved and support these events. If we don't, we have no room to complain.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wars within the War

During this time of war, in addition to the regular attacks on our troops by enemy forces, there have also been other types of attacks. These "green on blue" attacks are "friendly" forces killing our troops. In 2011, there were 35 instances. In 2012 so far, there have been 51. These things get quite a bit of media coverage due to the loss of life as a direct result.

Something that concerns me just as much, if not more than "green on blue" attacks, is the threat that wears the same uniform as my wife. Sexual harassment and assault are a big problem within the military. Men and women are victimized by their comrades. As a Army civilian employee, I have to attend the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, along with the Soldiers. It is saddening to hear the stories of those that have been attacked by people they trusted with their lives.

In a deployed environment, this is a threat that most people don't realize exists. I personally know of many female Soldiers who, in addition to walking around with their service weapon for protection against enemy attacks, also walk around with knives for protection against fellow Soldiers.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there were 6,350 sexual assaults reported by service members within the past two years. That number doesn't account for the number of sexual assaults that go unreported. The DOD Safe Helpline was launched in April 2011 to provide support for servicemembers who are victims of sexual assault. From the launch, until the end of the fiscal year (October 2011), the helpline assisted more than 770 individuals. In the general US population, the female sexual assault prevalence is about 17%. In the military, it is within the 23-33% range

Sexual assault has long lasting side effects, including PTSD. The Center for Deployment Psychology also notes the following:

Military sexual trauma may have more dire consequences for its victims because of a number of phenomena unique to military life. To begin, among military units home, work and social environments are often co-mingled. Though a contributor to unit cohesion, this phenomenon may make it impossible for a victim to find safety; the victim may encounter the assailant in barracks, at work, or where unit members spend leisure time. The omnipresence of weapons may increase the sense of physical threat during an assault. The need to depend on one another in combat operations may undermine a victims’ resolve to fight off an assault. It may also deter a victim from filing a complaint. When the rapist is the ranking officer, these difficulties are intensified (Sadler et al, 2003). Victims may be fearful of saying “no” to a commanding officer’s advances or attacks, and may fear that bringing charges in the aftermath would put their lives in greater danger. Some victims fear that accusing one’s commanding officer of sexual assault will end the victim’s military career.

These are the sad facts. And these are the things that cause me to toss and turn at night. I see the stories on the news about roadside bombs and "green on blue" attacks and they make my stomach turn. But I am equally disturbed by the statistics of servicemembers sexually assaulting other servicemembers. Though these attacks may not directly result in troop deaths, they can have a long lasting psychological effects and could even lead to suicide. 

The training classes are a great tool to educate people, but real change starts with the people at the bottom, not a mandatory class that came down from the top. All accounts of sexual harassment and assault must be taken seriously and investigated without prejudice based on the reputation or rank of the servicemembers involved. Prosecution has to extend far beyond just a slap on the wrist, which could be accomplished with a mandatory minimum sentence for such charges. According to an article I read on Military.com, convicted sex offenders in the military receive about 2 years in prison per victim; while in the civilian world, the sentence is about 10 years in prison per victim. 

So as I close my eyes and say a prayer for our troops fighting the war against terrorist organizations, I also pray for their safety against the threats that many people don't realize exist. It's hard enough to fight a war against an enemy who is willing to die for their beliefs; imagine how hard it is when you're not sure if you can trust those who swore an oath to stand by you in this fight.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A new opportunity to reach people

I'm so excited to tell you all about my latest piece. I was given an opportunity to write an article for Baseguide, Military Spouse Magazine's official online community. I was honestly stumped about what I would write about, but a discussion over on MANning the Homefront provided great inspiration. So check out the link below and share it with a friend!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gender-based military spouse groups

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I was reading an article online titled “Where Do MANspouses Go For Resources?” and I was honestly shocked by some of the comments left on the page. No, they weren’t rude or vulgar. But they just didn’t sit well with me. The focus of most of the comments was on the use of the term “MANspouse”. It was called ridiculous and discrimination by a few people. Though there were a couple of women that echoed these sentiments, they were started by, and most often repeated, by men.

In order to examine the reader opinions of this term and the associated group, MANning the Homefront, I decided to do a little research of my own.

The first thing I decided to look at was the feeling of discrimination. I decided to see how many female military spouse groups I could find online through a simple Google search. This is what I came up with:

Submarine Wives club
The Military Wives Social Club
Military Wives & GF's of Hampton Roads
The Jacksonville Military Wives Club
Military Moms
Christian Military Wives
Military Wives Support Group
Ft. Riley Military Wives
Hawaii Military Wives
Military Mamas & Wives of JBLM
Navy Wives Clubs of America

At this point, I honestly stopped searching, but I’m sure there are a lot more. Some of these are organizations that meet in person and others are FaceBook groups. Then I did a Google search of male military spouse groups. This is what I found:

MANning the Homefront
Macho Spouse
Male-itary Spouses’ Club

Clearly, the number of groups attempting to reach male spouses is limited. On the FaceBook page for MANning the Homefront, there are a lot of women that actively view, comment, and “Like” the posts. Things posted are not just beneficial to male military spouses, but all military spouses. So basically, I can’t understand why some would feel that this organization, or the term “MANspouse”, is discriminatory.

The second thing that I want to look at is the feeling that the name is ridiculous and unnecessary. Well, they had to call it something! In order to get most men involved, you have to have a name that is inviting. In the world of military spouses, males are the minority. It is hard to get a man involved in something that has the phrase “military wives” in it. And unfortunately, when many men see “military spouse”, they automatically think it is geared towards female spouses.

This takes me back to the quote from Shakespeare. It means that you have to focus more on what something is, and less on what it is called. This goes both ways. Men have to understand that many organizations have the phrase “military wives” in it because it has been that way since before most of us became military spouses. That doesn’t mean that men can’t necessarily be involved in that group or an all-inclusive alternative.  And people also have to realize that even if you find the names of the current groups geared towards men to be ridiculous or unnecessary, there is more to them than just a name.

These groups serve as a resource, not to replace the current realm of military spouse groups, but to be a gathering place of men who share a common experience. There will be times when a woman wants to have a spa day with other women and times when a man will want to go fishing with other men. I personally think that groups that connect people with like interests are great. Because after the ladies finish their spa day and the men get back from fishing, we are all still military spouses; and that is more important than any other group name that exists. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Barbies, and Board Games, and Bieber! Oh my!

When I was a child, I played with Barbies. I also played board games like “Girl Talk” and “Mall Madness”. No, I didn’t have these things in my room along with my Nintendo and He-Man toys. I had a little sister who, when the street lights came on, needed someone else to play with! Sure, I'd bring some of my stuff into the mix, but most little boys wouldn't dare come near those girl toys. I wasn't too concerned with what a typical boy was supposed to play with, I was more concerned with the big smile my baby sister would have whenever I took the time out to play her games with her. She still remembers those days and is forever grateful. Little did I know, while I was helping my sister enjoy her toys, she was helping to mold a future version of myself.

So here I am, a grown man, and I still play with Barbies! The girlie board games have turned into Nintendo DS games and Playstation 3 games. And instead of a little sister, it’s my little daughters. That smile that I see when I plop down on the floor means even more now. Thanks to those days with my sister, I can even help my girls braid their dolls hair. Being a good big brother prepared me to be a good father.

As a parent, especially a military spouse, you often have to take on the role of mother and father. Sometimes that means stepping out of a gender comfort zone and supporting your child. Mothers often have to show interest in a wide variety of sports, video games or super hero toys. Fathers have to suffer through Justin Bieber, makeup, or the latest “must-have” doll. These are the things that we do because we love our children.

Many of my days are spent having tea parties, coloring, and painting finger nails. In her mother’s absence, I must also become the “daddy hair stylist.” Braiding doll hair taught me to braid my daughter’s hair. I’m nowhere near as good as her mother, but that isn’t the goal.

Our purpose as a military spouse is not to replace that missing parent. Our goal should be to do our best to be a suitable temporary substitute. My daughter doesn’t care that daddy gets a little polish on her fingers when trying to paint her nails. She doesn’t care that the braids are all different sizes. All she cares about is that daddy tried. Heck, I sent her to daycare with a curly afro and a flower headband! But to her, it might as well had been a princess tiara, because I tried! So no matter how hard things get, just remember to show up for your substitute duty and try your best!