Growing up, each summer I would visit the library weekly and walk out with a huge stack of books taller than my head. I would curl up on my window seat and read hours upon hours each day taking myself to far off fantasy worlds that only existed in the books I read.
My daughter, now 13, is a mirror image of me. She begs me to take her to the library weekly because the 12 books she checked out last week have all been read through at a speed record pace. It’s incredible to see her enthusiasm for reading is stronger than mine ever was.
As I got older, though, those fantasies were substituted for the real world, and my time for reading books was given up for dishes, laundry and all of the other “real fun” things that keep a family in working order. I began to live Cinderella’s lifestyle, without the glass slipper.
But I still enjoy picking up a book or two each summer, though I now carefully select them, instead of grabbing stacks off the shelves like my former youthful self once did.
I was extremely excited to read 15 Years of War, not because I have a penchant for military novels, but because Kristine Schellhaas‘ life mirrored mine, but in a parallel dimension sort of way. Kristine and her husband Ross, are a military family, as are we, but they are Marine (unlike our alternate universe of being an Air Force family). They, like us, were married in 2003 (see the similarities). Another interesting quirk about our two families was I spent 5 years of my childhood in Boise, Idaho, as did Kristine. That window seat where I found my love of reading was in the same town that Kristine and Ross fell in love.
There is a saying that the military is a small world, and I truly believe that. There are 318 million people in the United States, yet, at one point in my life, Kristine and I may have actually been at the same grocery store when I was nine years old. And nearly 25 years later, here I am reading the story of how two people endured two wars, countless moves, training exercises, loss and love. It was an incredible story, but that’s not the half of it.
From the publisher:
Less than 1% of our nation will ever serve in our armed forces, leaving many to wonder what life is really like for military families. He answers the call of duty in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Pacific; she keeps the home fires burning. Worlds apart, and in the face of indescribable grief, their relationship is pushed to the limits. 15 Years of War: How the Longest War in U.S. History Affected a Military Family in Love, Loss, and the Cost Of Service provides a unique he said/she said perspective on coping with war in modern-day America. It reveals a true account of how a dedicated Marine and his equally committed spouse faced unfathomable challenges and achieved triumph, from the days just before 9/11 through 15 years of training workups, deployments, and other separations. This story of faith, love, and resilience offers insight into how a decade and a half of war has redefined what it means to be a military family.
Anyone who is close to someone in the military knows that love is hard. You only see glimpses of their day, and you are on a “need to know basis” with their world. Even my husband barely says a few words when I ask, “how was your day, dear?” Early on in our marriage, it was hard to just hear, “fine, dear.” That was when he wasn’t deployed. I can only imagine the strain on a marriage when a servicemember is in a combat zone and can’t express what war is really like.
Kristine does a remarkable job filling in these blanks in our heads between email exchanges and commentary that she and Ross have. These conversations aren’t just about the war, but the entire family’s life across the 15 years. When a military member is away, they miss lots of firsts – not just first steps and holidays, but first baseball games, first ice cream cones, first visits to grandma’s house. It can take its toll on the servicemember, who can feel left out, but this book does a good job showcasing how spouses help compensate for the absences.
This book isn’t just Kristine’s point of view on the war, it presents a unique he said/she said perspective. While the reader learns what is going on emotionally with Kristine at home in Camp Pendleton, Ross chimes in with narration from the war front. The dichotomy is a phenomenal bipartisan editorial. It isn’t meant to stir pro-war sentiments, but instead, share the trials and tribulations a family endures when they sacrifice to support our country.
Kristine wouldn’t hear from Ross for days. At one point, she saw his unit on television during a fire fight. Can you imagine watching the nightly news and hearing your husband’s unit command mentioned by a reporter embedded in in a warzone? Personally, I would probably fall to my knees and cry. And selfishly think how unfair it was that the reporter could see my husband and I could not. (Yes – that’s my only child coming out, right there). But that’s not how Kristine responded. She is a stronger woman than I would have been in the same situation.
The family also endured incredible loss and emotional heartbreak. They had to learn to forgive when they couldn’t physically be together. It’s hard enough to overcome adversity when you are sitting together on a couch at a therapist’s office, but how about when you are half a world away? What they went through could easily tear apart any marriage, and no one would blame them. (I will spare you the details, because I wouldn’t do the story justice like the book does).
For the past 15 years of war, Kristine and I lived in parallel universes. It isn’t even the difference between Air Force and Marines. Its the difference between two people who were set on different paths. My Hubby and I served the war closer to home. His career took him to Asia for shorter periods and he was fortunate to not experience the same combat situations as Ross. Our separations were shorter in length, yet, any military spouse will tell you that any separation is hard on the family, no matter where they are or how long they will be gone.
There were times I had to put the book down. Not for an hour or two, but for a week at a time. The stories hit home too much. It was like I was reading my own stories of a disapproving mother in law whose remarks tore me down. But they weren’t from my own in law, but instead Kristine’s. Still, the sting and pain was there.
Then, there was when the family hit an all-time low. I cried with Kristine as she retold her family’s ultimate heartbreak. The breath left my body when I read those chapters. I held my own baby tighter.
Yet, the story isn’t all tragedy and pain. There are some really fun, lighthearted moments that remind me of dialogue exchanged between Hubby and I. Kristine and Ross have such a funny, sarcastic conversational tone that I read the book to myself as if it were my own relationship.
I especially loved an email interlude of intimacy when a tease of “what are you wearing,” goes from sexy lingerie to reality: yoga pants. I have to be honest, yoga pants are my M.O. in my long distance relationship.
This book isn’t a “How to” for new military spouses and thank goodness, because I would certainly fail in the living on a military base portion. Instead, it is a perfect glimpse into one family’s life without edit or pixie dust. It is raw and real, and just what anyone who knows someone in the military wants to really read. It isn’t the Hollywood version of the military lifestyle. It’s the real, “murphy’s law strikes every time” version.
I encourage all of my readers who are connected by love to a servicemember to pick up this book and read it. If you have a friend, sister, cousin, or coworker who is madly in love with a uniform, buy this book [order here direct] for them as well. It isn’t the how to be a perfect spouse, but it is how one family did it.
Want to win for yourself or a friend? I’m giving away 2 copies of this book to my fantastic readers (1 per person)
a Rafflecopter giveaway
*Contest open to US residents only. Must be 18 or older to enter. Contest runs from 07/20/2016-08/03/2016 MST, winner will be notified 08/05/2016. Winners will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond or will forfeit the prize. 1 book per person. All entries will be verified. Prize will be fulfilled and shipped by the publisher directly.*
*P.S. – I’d like to disclose that Kristine is a friend of mine. We met a year ago volunteering with MFAN, but through this book, I learned about her own personal journey. I was provided an advanced reading copy of the book for review purposes, and then purchased a full version when it was released. The views expressed in this post are my own.