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Face of Defense: Military Wife Shares Experiences Through Writing

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2008 – Being married to the military has its benefits, but it also comes with some very rigid truths, as one Virginia native began to understand when she and her Marine husband married 10 years ago.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Anne Miren Berry participates in a book signing for “Operation Homecoming,” an anthology of essays, letters, journal entries and poems written by about 100 military family members. The book, a National Endowment for the Arts project, was edited by Andrew Carroll, who also edited “War Letters.” Courtesy photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Those realities are part of Anne Miren Berry’s written contribution to a National Endowment for the Arts project that gives voice to military family members enduring deployment.

“Operation Homecoming,” a mixture of stories, poems, letters, essays and journal entries, is written by family members discovered by authors the NEA sent to military bases around the globe to find literary talent.

“It’s all about our experiences with wartime,” said the long-time writer and journalist. “I haven’t seen one like it, because it actually includes the words of the family members. You’ve got some parents (and) some spouses that give their accounts of being part of homecomings (and) leavings.”

Berry’s short story, “Down the Road,” is just one of about 100 personal writings in the anthology edited by Andrew Carroll, editor of “War Letters.” It’s also a recounting of her first combat deployment as a military spouse.

“When my husband deployed to (Operation Iraqi Freedom) in January of 2003, during the worst of it I’d say I was barely functional,” she said. “One thing that I did – we all did it, all the spouses – if you knew of an embedded reporter that was with your husband or wife’s unit, you followed that reporter.”

She learned through tracking the embedded journalist’s reports that her husband’s unit was, at one point, near Nasiriyah, where some of the heaviest fighting took place during the opening phase of the war. While she was reassured every time she heard one of those reports, her subconscious was working overtime.

“I awoke one morning at like 4 … and the thing that had awakened me was I had turned on the BBC on the radio in my sleep,” Berry said. “I can’t remember the reporter’s name, but I was thinking, ‘Well, if he’s OK, he’s with my husband’s unit.’ It seemed a little comforting.”

As the grip of anxiety and depression began to ease up toward the end of her husband’s deployment, she started thinking ahead to what she wanted their life to be like. That included the dream of a house on the water in eastern North Carolina, and hunting for the perfect property was a terrific distraction, she said.

She called a realtor and spent a couple of days driving around taking pictures of property on the ocean or the Inter-coastal Waterway. The pictures went into care packages for her husband.

Many care packages later, Berry had become friends with a woman working at the shipping store. Soon, she learned the woman was enduring her son’s deployment to Iraq.

“She was very maternal, very comforting,” Berry said. “Then one day she wasn’t there any more, and I learned that … (her son) had passed away.”

After that, Berry realized that where she lived with her husband didn’t matter nearly as much as just being together. “As long as he’s with me, it doesn’t matter where we are,” Berry said. “That’s sort of the theme of (“Down the Road”), I guess. It was sort of therapeutic to get these feelings out about what that was like.”

Her husband, Joel H. Berry III, now a Marine colonel, returned safely from his first deployment to Iraq. In June 2006, he was deployed again, this time with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which eventually was diverted to aid in the evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon.

While Berry said her second experience with deployment was still awful, she had a better idea of what to expect.

“Still, it’s just the worst feeling,” she said. “You just don’t want to let go of them. Once you get that day over with, that’s one of the worst days you’ll have in the deployment.”

Col. Berry is now the commander of Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools on Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, adjacent to Camp Lejeune, N.C. Consequently, his wife is worrying less and pursuing freelance writing while continuing to work on an original novel that she wrote for a contest in 2005.

“It didn’t win, (but) I just felt strongly about the book and I felt like it was a good story,” Berry said. “So I kept submitting it to agents, and finally one said, ‘I want to read the whole thing.’”

The work of fiction, which is currently in the agent’s hands, does have a military element to it, but that’s not the true theme. “The theme of the book is really friendship – in the service, in combat, at home,” Berry said.

Listening to Berry describe her experience with military life, there is little doubt it influenced that theme.

“I love it. I love the people I’ve met,” she said. “I’ve met servicemembers from all branches, and I think they’re tremendous people. They’re generous. They’re smart. They’re kind.

“I can’t say enough good things about them,” she added.

Berry has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in history, both from George Mason University in Virginia.

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Related Sites:
Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools
24th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Camp Lejeune, N.C.


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