My wife and I met while we were both stationed at Kunsan Air Base in Korea. There were a million things I didn’t have to explain to her because she was in the Air Force like me. After reading the book Uniform by Lisa Stice, I realize that I took too much for granted. Stice’s poetry made me feel what it was like to be isolated, confused, and worried as a spouse of someone in the military. I bet my wife felt a lot of the same emotions when I went downrange, even though she had time in uniform.
Much of Stice’s book is familiar to me and would be to anybody who served. The love-hate thing with Uncle Sam. The cycles of training and deployment. I find myself nodding in familiarity, but seeing it from a whole different perspective. A new perspective that should’ve been apparent to me for 20 years, but wasn’t until now.
In “Memo to the Wives” and “Corps Value” there’s a line that says childcare will not be provided. Events happen that should be a good deal to attend, but you can’t go because nobody can watch the kids. Nothing says service more than a Catch-22.
Stice writes “Where are you?” in a couple poems when hearing about accidents and injuries, hoping that her husband isn’t involved. “In Training” and “The Pit Opened Up” brought this up well. I’m not sure I understood how terrifying it is to just not know.
“Family Readiness”: I wrote a letter to my family to be opened upon my death. This poem made me realize what it must be like to know the letter exists and prepare for the possibility that it might be needed.
“Family Day”: Attendance not mandatory / but expected. Mandatory fun is definitely part of military life.
There’s a one-two punch in the book that had the biggest impact on me. In “Deployment Notices” Stice shares some platitudes that people say like, Some time we’ll have to / have you over for dinner. Sure, people say things that are well meaning, but when they don’t follow through, it sucks. My favorite poem in the book is “Words From Friends.” It’s the knockout punch of this combo. The last line is just killer. Your friends probably aren’t being intentionally mean when they say things, but that doesn’t matter. When you’re a raw nerve, unthinking comments have the same effect as malice. Buy the book. I’d buy it just for “Words From Friends.”
In “The Night Before Deployment,” Stice talks about her need to trust in the training her husband has received as he leaves. Then she laments, but where was my training? She had on-the-job training, I suppose. But you can learn from Lisa Stice. Call it your own training. Call it what you want. Just go read Uniform.