Army Wife Shares Letter to Daughter at TEDxPentagon Event
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2010 Sarah Hertig said her Army husband would prefer their daughter “never, ever” marry a soldier.
He’d rather spare her the rollercoaster that’s life as an Army wife, she said, –- the constant goodbyes, the wartime fears, and the worry that seems to creep up every time there’s an unexpected knock on the door.
But Hertig knows they can’t predict who will sweep their daughter off her feet, as her soldier husband did with her. So she wrote her 13-year-old daughter a letter, just in case, to share the incredible highs and the heartbreaking lows of military life.
Hertig shared that letter with the world today during a TEDxPentagon event called “Human Stories” that was broadcast live online. TEDxPentagon was licensed by Technology Entertainment Design, or TED, and featured 11 speakers from the military who each talked for 18 minutes about their lives, their work and their relationships.
Hertig was the only military spouse. She addressed the crowd at the Navy Memorial Heritage Center here as images of her daughter and husband flashed behind her on a giant screen.
She began her letter: “As much as I would like to tell you it is a life full of pride and patriotism, which it is, I feel I have an obligation to tell you about the hardships and realities that also come with this life.”
In the letter, Hertig recalled the first time her husband went to war, when her daughter was 5. She remembered watching her daughter as she walked with her father to his departure point, clutching his hand while she balanced his too-big helmet on her head.
They were surrounded by families in tears, reluctantly saying goodbye to their military loved ones.
“I looked at you and you weren’t crying,” she said of her daughter. “And when it was time for you to say goodbye, you gave your dad his helmet, you hugged him around the neck, you kissed him and you said, ‘See you soon.’”
Hertig said her husband walked away and never looked back as her young daughter stood there stoically, bravely, staring after him in the night. Hertig was heartbroken, not only for herself, but for her daughter.
Her husband later confided in his wife that he chose not to look back that day. “He did not want to acknowledge that that moment might be our last together as a family,” she said.
Hertig shared a letter her husband wrote to his family in 2003 to explain why he chose to fight.
“I’m scared of fighting, not of the actual fighting itself, but of the potential of not being able to share any more days with you,” he wrote. “But it’s because of you and the kids is why I must fight in order to do so. I want you to be proud of me, and being part of this allows me to give you all something even greater, a more secure world for you to grow old in.
“If I have to give my life for that, I will.”
If her daughter becomes an Army wife, she said, “there will be times you don’t want to let go and you feel like you can’t be brave … but you don’t have a choice.”
At those times, her Army family will bolster her and she will bolster others, Hertig said, and those relationships will become her most treasured possessions.
During her husband’s deployment, Hertig said all she wanted to do was sleep. She would wake up and stare at a spot on the wall, hoping by doing so her worries and fears would disappear. She let her thoughts go into dark places and imagined how she’d react if that knock came at the door confirming her darkest fears.
“And then I would think of you and you beautiful smiling face,” she said of her daughter. “You needed me, and I realized I needed to be strong … I needed to be strong for me.”
It was in the acknowledgement and recognition of those fears that she became strong, Hertig said. “My Army family helped me see that,” she said.
Hertig’s husband was injured the same year he deployed. He sustained a blast concussion and subdural hematoma, and was sent home. Their days became consumed with doctors, medications and headaches, she said.
Twice after, once in 2005 and again in 2007, his injuries prevented him from returning to Iraq. He was upset, Hertig said, especially when he lost many friends to war during his unit’s 2005 deployment. They were both wracked with guilt. She felt guilty for feeling relieved her husband was by her side, and he felt guilty for not fighting alongside his comrades, she said.
“As an Army wife, sometimes you just won’t understand,” she said, speaking to her daughter. “You won’t understand why the Army does what it does. But that’s just the way it is.”
In 2009, Hertig’s husband was cleared to deploy, and both felt at peace about his call to duty, she said.
Hertig and her daughter drove him to his unit as before, and when it was time to say goodbye, “You hugged your dad around his neck, you kissed him and said, ‘See you soon.’”
He turned and walked away while Hertig’s now-12-year-old daughter stood there, stoically, bravely, staring after him in the night.
“Once again being brave for your dad,” she said.
Loving a soldier isn’t easy, Hertig said. “But things worth having in this life are never easy. By marrying a soldier you’ll need to understanding his job, his mission, his duty to country will always come first. By accepting that, I hope that you will learn to love this life as much as I do.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she added. “Not a moment.”
Hertig said she hopes she’ll always be there for her daughter, to pick her up when she falls, to dry her tears when she hurts. But if she can’t, “your Army family will be,” she said.