By Brianna and Ariel
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In addition to getting advance copies of Fly Safe: Letters from the Gulf War and Reflections from Back Home to read and review, we also had the pleasure of talking to the author, Vicki Cody, about her latest work. Read on to see what we chatted about! Forour full review of Fly Safe, click here.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. Seriously- we talked for hours.
In Fly Safe, we get a bit of biographical info about Vicki, but we wanted to fill in the picture a little more. If you want to learn even more about Vicki and her Army spouse experience, you can pick up her first book, Army Wife: A Story of Love and Family in the Heart of the Army.
BNN: We learned from Fly Safe that you were from New England and met your husband while he was attending West Point. But let’s get a couple more of your military life stats. How long was your husband in the Army?
Vicki: He was in for 36 years, and we were married for 33 of those. We’ve now been married for 46 years!
BNN: How many duty stations did you have in that time?
Vicki: Well, we moved 19 times. We started out in Hawaii.
BNN: Wow! (Side note for non-military people: our families do move a lot, but 19 times in 33 years is higher than average. Most people relocate roughly once every three years, so we expected to hear a number closer to 10 or 11.)
How many deployments have you been through? (We acknowledge that this is tricky, between your husband and sons all being in the Army.)
Vicki: My husband’s first deployment, he was part of the evacuation efforts in Saigon. We were supposed to get married in May, but he was deployed to Saigon, ultimately to Guam, in April. So we had to cancel our wedding. That was the first time I had ever heard the word “deployment;” I had no clue what I was getting into.
BNN: The first time you heard the word deployment was because your wedding was getting canceled?!
Vicki: Yes! When he was at West Point we’d get dressed up and go to the dances, we’d go to the football games. I’d never thought about deployments, I didn’t know he was going to be a helicopter pilot.
Officially, there were probably only three or four deployments for him. After 9/11 it was our sons. Our oldest son has been to Afghanistan and Iraq six times; our younger son, three times. I end the book with letters from them; that was just the beginning. They deployed apart and together.
Now that we had an even better idea of where Vicki was coming from, as less experienced military spouses we had some questions about a big theme in our lives and Fly Safe- solo parenting.
BNN: You’re super upbeat and positive, and you acknowledge early in the book that you know that about yourself. But still, we’d be a little discouraged by how easy you were making this deployment sound. And then you’d say something really relatable, like how sick you were of the cheap linoleum in your base housing or something like that.
Vicki: Yes! Well, there were days that I would definitely hit a wall. I hope I conveyed that, that it wasn’t all rosy. Like I wrote in the book about Christmas Day when I got a box of all his stuff sent back to me, and that was one of those rare times when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, I thought, “this is it! I’m done!” But the roughest time I went through was when my husband left on a secret thing for four months and the kids were little, they were babies. If you had talked to me when my kids were little and my husband was gone, I wasn’t a happy camper then.
BNN: You don’t say much about your boys giving you a hard time during this deployment. Were they really that good? They were old enough to understand what a deployment is, but also old enough to make life really hard if they were upset.
Vicki: The boys grew up that year. They were really good boys, they were such a comfort to me. I mean, they’d fight, because that’s what brothers, kids, do. They remind me now about some of their fights, but I don’t remember them well. I’m sure there were some weekends that I didn’t put in the book! But I didn't get called to the school for anything. They were good to me. They were such a support for me, too.
I do think that time was easier for me, too, because they were older. I was out of the drudgery of caring for small children by myself; they were fun now! We had the cuss jar. They wanted to do things like rent movies and get tacos.
It was a relief to hear that dealing with family challenges does get a little easier as your kids get older and can appreciate what's going on.
As we read Fly Safe, we also noticed that Vicki is a natural with self-care and boundaries. She shared her philosophies about these important coping skills with us.
BNN: We were really impressed by your healthy coping mechanisms, both for yourself and your sons. You wrote that a teacher had taught you a sort of mindfulness meditation, but you also made sure you and your boys stuck to your usual schedules. And you somehow made time for aerobics?! Who taught you this and how did you find the time?
Vicki: My mom taught me my best life skills about taking care of myself, whether physically or mentally . My parents weren’t real religious. I kind of got the spiritual stuff from my husband’s side of the family; they were devout Catholics. And that’s where I learned the power of prayer and having that in my life. But my mother was one of those people, you eat your three meals a day, you don’t skip meals, you exercise every day, you don’t skip that. And I took that into my marriage.
As a military spouse, even as the commander’s wife, I always had my little hobbies. I did my aerobics, I took painting classes and woodworking; whatever they offered. I kept things that were just for me, outside of the unit. There were times I was overwhelmed with everybody’s issues, and I had to take a step back and say that I couldn’t take it all on. Because I’m trying to keep my life squared away for my life and my kids.
It’s good to be empathetic and sympathetic, but at the end of the day, I knew it was Clint and Tyler I had to focus on. And that’s why sometimes I’d say, “hey, I can’t talk tonight. My kids are waiting to watch The Wonder Years with me,” or whatever it was we would do to keep that normalcy.
And if someone called to chat when I was tired of being on the phone all day or doing something with my boys, I’d just tell them “Hey, I’m gonna need to call you back.” I just knew my priority had to be my boys. Above all else, I had to take care of them and us.
BNN: You’re very fortunate to have that influence from your mom, because you are a boundaries and selfcare rock star. For example, you casually mentioned your morning aerobics class, and we were impressed and amazed that you found the time for it!
Vicki: *laughing* Well, it was my salvation!
I went to aerobics, first of all, because there were usually people I knew, so it was socializing, too. It felt good and I’d always come home and feel good, that no matter what else happened that day, I’d done something good for my body. It was so important during that deployment; it would have been so easy to drop the kids off at school, come home, get back into bed and be miserable and commiserate. I knew how good I felt when I did all those key things in my life, like eating properly, having my coffee, doing my little workout, talking to friends. I did so much better when I did that than when I would just break down and cry. I could see the difference.
Volunteering in the community is a huge part of military life, starting with our "all volunteer force," and including spouses and parents who step up to help out. A huge theme in Fly Safe was the role Vicki and other spouses played in keeping the unit's families informed and safe while the Soldiers were deployed.
BNN: Throughout the book, it became clear that your role in the unit was huge. What you volunteered to do is an entire, full-time job now.
Vicki: Yeah! We’ve come a long way.
BNN: So do you agree that the professionalization of that role is a good change?
Vicki: I think I was just part of the last generation that would just do it. A lot of us always participated. The unit becomes a family. You’re far from home and your own family. If your husband is in the position of being a father figure, like mine was, I was going to be the mother.
I was a teacher by trade, but I never got to do it, because we were moving every two years. And then we had the kids, and I was like, “wow, I really want to be here for them and give them this stability.” Taking on the role of commander’s wife, it gave me something. It defined me. I know that sounds old-fashioned, but I loved it.
You know this morning, I got an email from one of my husband’s soldiers from this time frame, from Desert Storm, and he said, “you and your husband made us feel like we were part of a family. I knew you always had our wives’ backs, and your husband had our backs.” The fact that I could be part of that, I would never have given that up. I wouldn’t trade any of that.
Of course, we can't talk about a Gulf War deployment without addressing the huge changes in the military since then.
BNN: How would you say the military has changed in the last 30 years? What’s the biggest difference?
Vicki: I would say the high op-tempo is the most glaring difference. It used to be years between things happening, but not anymore. When our sons would deploy in 2003, they would come home and we would be so happy, and thankful, and blessed that our kids came home in one piece. But they’d already be planning the next deployment.
At that point my husband was the G3 and then the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. He was the one designing the plans, and then he would come home and say, “Vicki, I’m sending the boys’ unit again.” Those were some of the hardest times of my life, in the mid-2000s, when my husband was in charge of so many service members. He was always sending the boys, they were gone every other year. My husband and his generation never had that. They would go years between deployments. There were always field ops and trainings, but not combat deployments year after year.
I felt like we were really paving the way at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for family readiness, family support. As soon as Desert Storm started, they sent councilors there right away. After the Gander Mountain tragedy, we had family care plans and ways to get in touch with almost everyone in the unit. That stuff hadn’t existed before. The schools were so supportive, on post, for our kids.
BNN: Your support systems were surprisingly modern and familiar to us. But in Desert Storm, almost every soldier from your base deployed; we don’t do that anymore. Our schools are supportive of kids with deployed parents, but there are multiple deployments happening on any given day. So it’s up to us to alert the school to our family’s situation.
Vicki: Yes, and that has been a big change, too. Even up into the early 2000s, the entire 101st division would deploy at once. Now we have different brigades deploying at different times and to different places, staggered. I think that has caused us to lose that ability to come around and embrace the families, because we don’t know what stage of a deployment they’re in.
We believe Fly Safe is a good book for civilians who want a better idea of what military family life is like. We wanted to know what other lessons Vicki thinks the military community has for our civilian neighbors and friends.
BNN: What lessons do you think civilians can take from the military community, especially in hard times like the pandemic?
Vicki: I think mostly it’s the flexibility. My husband and I had all these travel plans that were suddenly canceled, and I said, “ok, we’re gonna have to regroup and figure this out.” We were watching the news and the virus numbers kept going up and up, and eventually we realized we just had to step away from that, be grateful that we’re healthy and our kids are healthy, and take it one day at a time. And a positive attitude, that you’re going to make the most of this. That’s not to say you don’t have a crappy day, where you want to quit. But we thought about how many people had it 100 times worse. Your attitude is so important for you and everyone around you.
We hope you enjoyed our interview with Vicki Cody, author of Fly Safe: Letters from the Gulf War and Reflections from Back Home. If you want to purchase Vicki's books, click on their covers below.
Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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