This generation of military families faces the prospect of 20 years of deployments
Mason Bontrager joined the military right before 9/11. Since then, he has deployed five times — twice to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan.
With President Barack Obama recently announcing that he would suspend the drawdown of troops from the US, that means he may deploy once again.
His wife, Amy, says her family is part of a new generation of military families facing unprecedented circumstances. For many young military couples like the Bontragers, their entire marriage has come with the threat of war, and there appears to be no end in sight.
“We’re definitely facing this reality of what it looks like to raise children in this lifestyle,” she says. “We could be the first generation that’s going to experience 20 years of deployment. What that’s like to raise a family — we have nothing to compare it to. We’re learning as we go, but we also rely heavily on the support of our country so that we can continue to serve this mission.”
And that’s just a hard reality of America’s longest war: After more than a decade, servicemembers are being called to battle — again and again and again.
“Deployments are challenging and it’s hard, and each time he goes there are uncertainties,” Amy says. “We have to accept that mission because that’s the mission that’s been given to us by our commander-in-chief. This is new to millennials. In 2001, did we think we’d still be at war? That probably wasn’t even a thought. But this is our reality. We realize that the mission is much greater than us, and we stand ready to serve. That’s what it means to be in the military today.”
Over the course of nearly 10 years of marriage, the Bontragers have lived in five different locations. Though her husband has completed five tours of duty, he’s not ready to quit — Amy says her husband is part of a group that feels it is their obligation to put in an end to the conflict, because they were the ones fighting in the beginning.
“That’s a conversation that happens in a lot of homes, and day-to-day it changes — do you stay in or do you get out?” she says. “But it goes back to that commitment, and you realize that, for some of these guys, they feel they’re called to do this and this is what they’re built for and they’re trained for. It’s hard — you look at these children and think this is a very different lifestyle that they are being brought up in when compared to other children in our country. But then you realize that it’s something that’s much greater than us.”
Amy, who has a master’s degree in philanthropy, has had to change jobs to meet the needs of her family. Now she’s the program manager with Blue Star Families, an organization formed in April 2009 by a group of military spouses. The group works “to create a platform where military family members can join with civilian communities and leaders to address the challenges of military life,” according to a statement on the Blue Star website.
“I’m really excited that I’ve been able to give back through the organization that I work with,” Amy says. “There’s a lot of work to be done, and we do have support, but we’re going to continue to need that support.”