CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — With husbands deployed or off preparing for war, some young wives at this sprawling Army installation have spent much of their marriages so far alone.
Faced with long periods of separation and worry over the next combat tour, a group of wives mostly in their late 20s and early 30s are drawn together weekly to seek spiritual support to bolster the strength of their marriages.
Mya Parker, 27, saw both sides of the average military marriage and the strain that years of combat duty can do to a relationship. She served in the Army for four years on active duty before helping to start the Lantern, a nondenominational faith group for military wives and girlfriends outside Fort Campbell, Ky.
"The military, because of the complexities of the deployment, can have more uncertainties," she said. "The reason God is the answer is because scripture says that He has never changed. From the beginning of time to the end of time, He is unchanging."
While not solely sponsored by any one church, these wives meet weekly in small, informal groups of eight to 12 at their homes to study the Bible's teachings and how to apply them to today's modern military marriage.
Parker and her husband, an Army aviator, both served in Afghanistan with the famed 101st Airborne Division, a unit that has been heavily impacted by the wars there and in Iraq since 2001. During her Army career, Parker saw deployed husbands anxious about their wives back home and wives struggling to communicate with husbands a world away.
In the privacy of these small weekly gatherings, the wives don't hold back their fears about the realities of war.
"We don't sugar-coat it and say, 'Oh, it will be great, it will be fine. This deployment is going to fly by.' To be honest, it's hard and you have good days and bad days," said Mandy Costello, 29, who has been married five years through her husband's three deployments.
With less than 1 percent of Americans serving in the military, the lifestyle of a military wife can sometimes feel isolating. But when they get together, these wives speak the same language that is peppered with military acronyms as they share advice for keeping marriages intact, when sometimes months go by without kisses or hugs from their spouses.
"If you don't know what to expect, you feel alone, you feel isolated and you feel like you are the only one going through this, when you know there are thousands of soldiers deployed with your husband at the same time. It still feels like you are the only one," said Holly Klich, 31, who has been married four years to a soldier who has had two combat tours.
Besides the Lantern meetings, many of these wives participate in the military's family readiness groups, which provide information about deployments and organize events and classes for military spouses and families.
Parker said group members come from a variety of faith backgrounds, including Mormon, Catholic, Church of Christ, Pentecostal, but she said the group is open to all faiths. The group also does public service projects that Parker said aren't faith-focused and are open to anyone who wants to join them.
The Army has also been focused on improving military marriages and has invested in a marriage counseling program run by unit chaplains called Strong Bonds, which is popular with soldiers of all faiths.
Parker and others said they need additional strength from their faith to be resilient.
Parker points to the Bible's emphasis on grace, patience, kindness and forgiveness as keys to a healthy marriage, even those tested by war.
"It has made me much more patient with him dealing with what he has been through and honoring that he ultimately doesn't belong to me," Parker said. "He belongs to the Lord."
The weekly prayer meetings have helped many wives reconnect with their husbands, many who have recently returned from the 101st Airborne's yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. Parker said many wives expect a joyous reunion, but many couples have to learn how to live together again.
Vanessa James, a 30-year-old who had twin boys while her husband was deployed, said she prayed that she wouldn't be resentful that her husband missed so much while he was gone.
"He has been home for three months now and I can honestly say that I feel closer to my husband than ever before, and I think it's because I approached this reintegration with a servant's heart," she said.
With the support of other wives, Parker said a deployment can also be a blessing if women take the opportunity to grow in their faith and their marriages.
"My number one piece of advice, even if someone didn't grow up in the church and isn't a believer, is to really take the time. Deployment is an amazing time to pursue a relationship with God for maybe the first time," she said.
The Lantern Clarksville: www.thelanternclarksville.com/
Follow Kristin Hall on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kmhall