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Staying Connected

At one of my recent Veterans Writing Groups sessions we wrote about staying connected as a family both while on active duty and after being discharged from the Armed Forces

One man wrote that current technology helped him stay in touch with his family members via Zoom so he didn’t have to deal with getting reacquainted when he got home. He did relate that his niece was dismayed when he appeared on camera with a gun in his lap. He explained to her that he was on duty while talking to her so had to have his gun with him. When he returned from Iraq she was shy around him until he explained more about where he was stationed and what the Americans’ function was. She relaxed when he told her he didn’t have to shoot at any specific person. He also wrote that he talked with his brother, “in person,” meaning on Zoom, about sports, family news, and sharing jokes. Afterward, he could repeat what was appropriate with other soldiers so it gave them something to talk about besides whether they were going to get mortared that evening or not.

My WWII veteran friend that died in November wrote about being reported missing to his parents when he wasn’t. He had gotten separated from his platoon when he and a buddy did some unauthorized exploring and didn’t know their platoon was moving to a new location, they left without them. He wrote about the fact 70 years later and could laugh, but he also remembered well the angst he caused his officers and parents at the time. He did a few extra days of KP for his exploits as the Army wasn’t impressed with his wandering away from where he was supposed to be. I only knew him as a refined older gentleman, in his 90’s, and have difficulty imagining him as the young cut-up he was. He related that being in the Army during WWII did help him mature a degree so he got along better with his father after he returned home.

A Vietnam veteran wrote about finding it difficult when he returned from active duty to talk to his family about how many countries he had been to as a pilot. They knew all the places existed, but with no familiarity, didn’t have much interest in listening to details about the locations. He said he purposely didn’t talk about the many dangerous close calls he had in the C-130’s he flew because it frightened his mother and there were comments made about that’s what he “used to do,” flying that is. When he tells other veterans his stories they have a better understanding and interest because they often know someone else who has said something similar and have also traveled more than the folks back home. The Brotherhood gets it.

A woman who had been a military wife wrote about how her small children quickly adjusted when her husband was away on duty. When he returned they still wanted only her to answer their every need and whim because that was their routine. It made him feel unnecessary in the household. She admitted that switching back and forth from being in total control of the household to other times not being wasn’t easy. As parents, working as a team was challenging for them for the same reasons. They would get into a comfortable family routine after her husband had been home a while and then he would leave again. The military way of life is not an easy one.

I found that my extensive travel made it somewhat difficult to chat with family and especially friends from my home town. My family was one thing because I sent letters home: a carbon copy to my father, one to my aunt, and one to each of three sisters so they were up to date on my daily happenings and how the kids were growing but they still didn’t have a grasp of my going to dinner in London while they went for a burger in their rural New York locales. At my 25th high school reunion, a free drink ticket was given to the person who had the most addresses since graduation. When I said I had over ten the reaction was that I was embellishing a might. Actually, it was more than that, but most of them had maybe one or two. That was 25 years ago and people were still staying closer to home than they are now, but few families move as often as a military household does.

Any move away from family can make keeping up to date on each other’s daily lives difficult thus creating a realm of unfamiliarity. If you haven’t experienced military life, have you had another separation from family you found you had to work through once you were close again? Share your experiences in the comments.

Sue Spitulnik is an ex-Air Force wife who stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has recently published an anthology of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. If you would like to contact her directly you can do so at her blog,


  1. ellenbest24 says:

    Staying connected to people seems to be easier today than it was before. But military personnel still need to be able to stay connected with those who understand them. I know the British military discourage any conversation with home about their duties when away, the problem then is, how do you then get things off your chest? It is a good thing having a release for all that, and to know there is a way/a place for them to be able too. Good work, and an eye opening post.

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      Thanks Ellen. Technology has helped people stay closer but some still think the love letter or a picture of a new baby in the pocket carries more positive energy for the active-duty person. Our military may or may not be able to discuss what they are doing and where according to the circumstances.

  2. Hi, Sue. Few Americans are aware that Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought beside the US in Vietnam (as well as every other major conflict for over a 100 years). The Vietnam war took 500 Australian lives and did untold damage to those that returned. This song captured their experience. Keep up the good work.

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      Hi Doug, Thank you for sharing that link. What a powerful song that can help anyone understand why those who see war up close come home with emotional problems. I hope everyone that stops by this post takes time to click on the link.
      I have done some research on Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and did know the Aussies and New Zealanders fought next to the Americans. The Aussies have a reputation for being daredevils but always coming out smelling like roses. They also built a lot of bars and restaurants outside of Clark after Vietnam and made quite a go of them.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, Doug, my husband knows! He has great respect for Australian and New Zealand soldiers. He was an Army Ranger and trained with your Special Ops “out in the desert” in 1984. He has no idea where they were the whole two weeks they were there, though. We have watched probably every war movie that exists, including The Water Diviner (we both cried) and the more recent, Danger Close: The Battle for Long Tan. We were both proud to see that those men who survived the battle were given top military honors by the US. Among the military and veteran community, we know your countries serve alongside us! I know that song because they used it in Danger Close to honor each of the men. It’s a good movie if you haven’t seen it yet.

      Okay. The Hub just came downstairs and I read your comment. He said he knows that song, and he choked up, and said, he knows. That’s enough for now.

      • Thanks, Charli. It’s wonderful that the true vets know and care about those who fought beside them. If only that were true across America. Please thank The Hub for his service and know that Australians care.

      • SueSpitulnik says:

        Charli, I have not heard of the movie, Danger Close. I will see if our library has it.
        Doug, I’m embarrassed to say American’s who have no connection to our military have no idea why they have freedom. My veterans’ writing group hopes our book can enlighten family members of friends at least. Thank you to all those that have and still do fight alongside the Americans.

  3. Jules says:

    When I was younger it seemed quite a bit of relatives were close. But jobs and health take people to new places. And it wasn’t always easy to see cousins, especially those that lived out of state.

    I still have family that I have not been able to be a part of their lives. When I moved to my current location, we had no family around. We still have our children and grandchildren close by and their in-laws. And another relative that had moved close to take over the care of another in-law that moved near us for health reasons (and has since passed).

    This year we also lost another family member (not to Covid) in the spring. So we are spending more time with the remaining spouse.

    It is difficult to talk about daily activities with a relative who has memory issues and is stuck in their own loop of existence. And it is also difficult to continue to help our WWII Vet friend who seems to need more assistance everyday but refuses to see that his age is catching up to him both physically and mentally. Some times even the distance of living across the street is difficult.

    Your vet group is lucky to have you and the ability to share and continue to grow closer with the sharing of their experiences. We can only hope that those who wish to talk have those with ears that will listen.

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      Hi Jules, Yes, our group members know we are fortunate to have each other to share our experiences with, and we have become good friends.
      Staying in touch with family because of distances that separate us is problematic these days. But where there is a will, there is a way. I used to be a better letter writer, now texting has taken over.

  4. denmaniacs4 says:

    For some people, staying connected is a breeze. For others, military families for sure, the movement, the change, all the challenges…I would think it so hard to do. I think about all the human connections in my life which I have allowed to fray…anyways, thanks for the vet tales…

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      You are welcome. Yes, I have let some connections fray also, then I wonder why and find it hard to reconnect. I wonder at times if some of the people who have crossed my path think about me as I do them.

  5. This was interesting reading. It seems like no matter the era, the particular mission, there is always some tension and almost a cultural divide between those that served and their friends and family when they are at home again; not knowing what can be talked about or how or how to listen. I never served, but I do recall that when I was a teacher I did not like socializing with “civilians”, non-teachers, that would want to talk about education.

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      I like your words, “cultural divide.” That sums up the situation better than I have heard it expressed before.
      I can guess the number of times non-educators felt they could tell you how to do your job better. Ugh!

  6. Charli Mills says:

    Whether letters or Zoom, staying connected is important, but coming home and staying connected is often a challenge. The Hub never stopped. As a Ranger, they were constantly moving from training to mission without stopping. He kept “self-deploying” after service, so we continued moving and I’ve counted 22 times in 33 years. It’s very contentious making him stay put for his medical support. 😉 The puppy is supposed to be his home mission. Thank you for these insightful posts and for sharing voices from those who raised their hand, and the families who have held down countless homefronts.

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      Here’s hoping the puppy will ground Hubs better. Thank you for his service, and yours as his home-front and now advocate.
      I just passed 15 years at my current address, the longest I have stayed in one place since my growing up years. It’s an internal happy dance record because it proves I am more settled than I have been in the past, thanks to my husband and children.

  7. I started out with a long dissertation on the lack of communication because of technology. Thankfully, I stopped myself from hitting the post button.

    I, like many, did not serve, and unfortunately now that my Dad is gone (WWII Vet) I realize there was much that could have been helpful to him in later years that we knew nothing of. He was the tough, nothing to talk about man. All the while he was fighting his own battle and no one knew.

    Sue, you words remind us of the importance to stay in touch with not only those that need us, but those that we seldom see, and especially family and friends close to home.

    • SueSpitulnik says:

      The soldier mentality says they must be tough so admitting they had some leftover nightmares or problems stemming from their service was, and still isn’t an easy subject for many of them. It’s sad, and like Dede pointed out a “cultural divide.”
      You make a good point, that each of us can probably do better staying in touch with those close to home too.

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