By Lisa Smith Molinari, Seabee Online Homefront Contributor
Last week, in an ironic twist of fate, I spent Military Spouse Appreciation Day stuck in the Philadelphia Airport for hours trying to get back to Rhode Island.
It all started when I flew to Norfolk to be the keynote speaker at a luncheon honoring the nominees for 2014 Military Spouse of the Year. Arriving early to find my bearings, I couldn’t help but notice that emblazoned on every banner, place card, nametag, balloon, gift bag and program was the phrase “Heroes at Home.”
As I found my seat at the head table, I wondered if anyone thought it was inappropriate to use the term “hero” in connection with the husbands and wives of military servicepersons.
After all, it is the men and women in uniform who follow orders, report for duty and put themselves in harm’s way to serve this country. The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are obviously heroes. But we military spouses are at home leading everyday lives. Does everyone appreciate the heroism in that?
Hoping the Caesar salad from lunch wasn’t lodged between my two front teeth, I took my place behind the podium after being introduced. The crowd of over 250 – military spouses and their active duty mates – looked to me with hope in their eager eyes.
Will she make us laugh? Will she inspire us? Will she make us feel like heroes? Will she bore us to tears? The pressure was on.
Hiding my trembling hands behind the podium, I began the speech that I’d rearranged at least a dozen times in the weeks leading up to the event. Rehearsing alone in my shower had not given me any idea of how this crowd might receive my words. I hoped it wouldn’t be a flop.
A few giggles erupted in the back when I threw out my first joke. They weren’t sure if I had intended to be funny. The second joke prompted an even rumble of chuckles. By the third joke, I heard undeniable belly laughs.
Like a shot of adrenaline, the crowd’s laughter fueled my desire to make these military folks – my folks – feel good about themselves. I had relied heavily on my scribbled notes when rehearsing, but now that we trusted each other, I didn’t even need to glance down.
I’ve got this.
We all laughed a while longer, about the little things we military spouses do to cope with managing the home alone: chocolate, bad reality television, spontaneous driveway happy hours, and – my personal favorite – secret cans of Pringles stashed under the seat of the minivan.
But I knew I had to get serious.
“Each military spouse copes with stress in his or her own way, but we all have one very important thing in common,” I said as a hush fell over the room. “We all love a military service member. We love that our spouses sacrifice to serve their country. We get misty when we hear the national anthem or see a flag unfurl. We live this life with a common sense of patriotism and we know that despite the inevitable hardships, military life is worth living because, not only is it an ‘adventure,’ it is honorable.
“The sense of duty that drives active duty service members also drives their spouses. Regardless of the hardships, we are deeply proud to be military spouses and honored to live this uniquely challenging way of life.
“Certainly, the men and women in uniform here today are heroes. But,” I continued, gesturing out over the podium to my fellow spouses, “it is because of your dedication, your hard work, your uncommon strength and your service to this country, that all the military spouses here today are undoubtedly ‘Heroes at Home.'”
The next day, after missing my connecting flight in Philly and being told that I was not guaranteed another flight out for over eight hours, I saw a sign for the airport USO. Isn’t that just for service members? Will I be allowed in?
Lugging my bags through the maze of corridors and moving walkways, I followed the signs. “Welcome to the Liberty USO!” an elderly volunteer blurted as I entered their office space. After checking my military dependent ID, the friendly retiree explained to me that I was welcome to home cooked food, lounge furniture, movies and Wi-Fi.
“Everything is free,” he said with a smile. Despite the fact that I was stuck in Philly, I found a place where I belonged and it felt great to be appreciated.
Ever think of becoming a USO volunteer? Here are some frequently asked questions to get you started. http://www.uso.org/get-involved-faqs.aspx