by Greta Perry
What does a military wife who doesn’t live near a military installation do when she needs to create a sense of community?
In the United States, only one percent of the population has family members in the Armed Forces. A lot of people don’t support the military at all; among those who do, there is often some confusion. Some suggest that they don’t approve of the war, but do back the soldiers. They may be sincere, but their pronouncements sound like tap-dancing sometimes. And then there are those who are outright hostile to anything related to military culture. In this situation, I found only one way to find support for my family, and to offer the same to others: I turned to the Internet, and created virtual support. I became a blogger, an online diarist—a publisher of a personal magazine. In search of something ordinary—a sense of community—I stumbled into something extraordinary: the New Media, blogs.
A blog, or weblog, can take the form of a soapbox, or a photo album written for the world to see. Some people create password-protected online journals for a closed set of family and friends to let their inner circle know what they are up to, but most of us write for the general public. Inevitably, we make new friends this way, and we surprise ourselves with the intensity of these new bonds.
Milbloggers—weblog writers with ties to the military—form a unique group within the larger blogosphere. We created our virtual community in 2003, when web writers who were active-duty soldiers and Marines teamed up with those who were spouses or parents of military men and women. The Mudville Gazette website (www.mudvillegazette.com) maintained a master list of milbloggers, which had links to all the participants’ websites. Military supporters knew they could count on these active-duty personnel—and those who were close to them—to provide the real scoop about what was going on. Milbloggers became the front-line in the information war, spreading good news, bad news, and the warm-fuzzy human-interest stories that didn’t make headlines in the mainstream media. We expressed our personal emotions, as bloggers tend to do. More importantly, we put a human face on the military subculture, for each other as well as for other supporters of the troops.
This is the first wartime that has been blogged; the mainstream media and the world at large are listening to us. Matthew Burden’s (www.blackfive.net) 2006 book “Blog of War” (my post was chopped out in editing) describes the milblog community, and helped the milbloggers get noticed; some of them were legitimized during the process as the war correspondents they really are. But in addition to disseminating information, we also exchange prayer requests and raise money for charitable causes. One such cause is Soldiers’ Angels’ offshoot cause, Project Valour-IT which generates funds for injured heroes who need voice-activated laptop computers because of their wounds. Last year, the milblogs divided into four teams—those who identified with the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and the Army to raise money for Project Valour-IT. We exceeded our goals and raised $204,096.07!
Life as a soldier and as a soldier’s family prior to the Vietnam Era was different because of the patriotic pulse of the country and the absence of technology. Wives were left at home caring for their children; they didn’t have the electronic luxuries that are available today. When news of a soldier’s well-being came their way, more often than not it was via a knock on the door, which tended to fill spouses with dread—for who knew, without opening it, whether the news would be good or bad? Postcards were few and far between; personal letters often didn’t reach their final destinations, either stateside or overseas. Most American families had at least one “blue-star member”—an active-duty soldier, sailor, airman or Marine—somewhere in the family tree. Patriotism was high. People were proud to have a family member in the armed forces.
That changed drastically during the Vietnam Era, because Americans had such mixed emotions about being involved in the conflict in the first place. Nonetheless, men and women in uniform did their jobs. But because controversy surrounded that war, Americans sometimes turned a blind eye to the ugly realities of combat. Soldiers who suffered from mental trauma and physical injuries were not welcomed back into the mainstream. An entire generation of Vietnam veterans was perceived to be a burden on society, rather than people who deserved our thanks. We tended to turn away from them when we saw them with signs on the corner, begging for money. These men carried out their missions and then returned home—only to be cast away into their own private hells.
The culture of defeatism and skepticism about the value of the armed forces lessened slightly during our next major conflict, the first Gulf War, and this trend continued a decade later when the United States invaded Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. Yet this renewal of patriotism was missing one essential ingredient: widespread use of the Internet. Technology was starting to play a greater role in our world, but it wasn’t yet helping the family members left at home seeking support.
When my husband got called up to serve in “the sandbox,” as they call Iraq, I was supportive. “Hooah” was my statement: a quiet assertion that I’d be there for him. And when I started blogging, I used that single word as my moniker. I became the “Hooah Wife,” and my blog by that name was born (www.hooahwife.com, formerly www.hooahwife.blogspot.com). My husband went to a part of the world where people seemed to be getting blown up every single day. But I decided it would be okay unless I did get a knock on the door—because, after all, those are reserved for bad news these days. I held my feelings in check, and I wrote about the Iraq War faithfully online at my blog.
The one thing that spouses and parents of soldiers overseas cannot allow themselves is the luxury of downtime. Any spare time I had just permitted my mind to wander into areas it should not go: A soldier’s spouse is his rock, the person who reassures him that everything at home is fine. The soldier must not become distracted while he or she is in harm’s way. Blogging quickly filled my time, and at the same time, it allowed me to document what I was going through on a daily basis. Blogging got me through the deployment.
My husband returned home safely; a few months later, he was called to Louisiana to serve in a new type of situation—one created by nature. I continued my emotional and intellectual support of the families left behind and the soldiers who were still in the sandbox. After all, this was now a family responsibility, albeit one that had to do with my virtual family; I could never let blogging go.
In 2006, the first milblog conference was launched in Washington, D.C. It was a grassroots effort by another blogging spouse. Andi from Andi’s World felt milbloggers needed to gather and share information while physically looking each other in the eye. My husband was safely home by the time I attended the conference, but by then I was needed for the support I could provide to others. I finally got to hug people in person whom I’d felt close to for a long time. Immersed in a crowd of soldiers, veterans, civilian supporters, charity activists and fellow bloggers, I was gratified just to be able to shake their hands and exchange handmade business cards. We had plenty in common: after all, we all “got it.” We all knew how difficult—and how rewarding—the military life is.
This past May 4 was the day selected for the second conference in Washington. I knew absolutely nothing would stop me from going again. Giddy with excitement, I had all my reservations booked in February. I watched the registration list update itself: I wanted to see who was going, who would be speaking and who was blogging about the event. I needed to be submerged in the camaraderie of other military supporters even more now, because my husband had retired from the Army in 2006 and I needed to reaffirm my position as Hooah Wife. I was quickly reminded by other bloggers that once military-affiliated, always military-affiliated! I really do support the soldiers, and I try to make a difference: whether it is behind the scenes, privately returning e-mails, sending out care packages or cards, by raising money, or just by educating others about military life.
The highlight of my trip was our visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center with a group of Soldiers’ Angels (I am now one, too). These people “get it,” too: they spend their free time raising money, visiting with soldiers and handing out gifts. They know enough to ask the servicemen, “What can we get you that will bring a smile to your face?” These Angels know that if they don’t turn a blind eye to veterans’ suffering this time, they can keep these men and women from being marginalized in the way that so many Vietnam veterans were. “May no soldier go unloved” is the motto for Soldiers’ Angels.
You can become a Hooah person today, with the simple gesture of thanking a man or woman in uniform, paying for their coffee or lunch, sending a letter, a care package or offering your time for the various causes. Please don’t make a veteran ask for your appreciation!
The soldiers (and their families) I spent the afternoon with at Walter Reed are not bitter; they would head back to the sandbox in a heartbeat if they could. They are our modern-day heroes, the ones our children should look up to. Hooah!
“Hooah” is an Army slang term with many meanings. It is also used as a battle cry. One theory is that it originated from the acronym “HUA,” meaning “heard, understood, acknowledged.” The Marine Corps uses “Oorah”; the Navy, “Hooyah.”
The following, adapted from a piece by Rod Powers at About.com, illustrates some of hooah’s many uses.
Dictionary Definition of Hooah
1. Referring to or meaning anything and everything except “no.”
2. What to say when at a loss for words.
3. a. Good copy. b. Roger. c. Solid copy.
d. Good. e. Great. f. Message received.
g. Understood. h. Acknowledged.
4. a. Glad to meet you. b. Welcome.
5. “All right!”
6. a. I don’t know the answer, but I’ll check on it. b. I haven’t the foggiest idea.
7. I am not listening.
8. “That is enough of your drivel; sit down!”
10. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”