New memoir recounts life as a military spouse

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Photo: Angie Ricketts wedding photoAngie Ricketts describes her husband's rituals before he's deployed overseas in her new memoir “No Man’s War." She says her husband Darrin, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, likes to walk around the house singing the song "Leaving on a Jet Plane," made popular by Peter, Paul & Mary. She says he tends to talk a lot about his imminent departures. She'd rather pretend they're not happening.

Lt. Col. Ricketts has been deployed eight times overseas, including several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was most recently second in command of a brigade of 4,000 soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.

In the book, Angie Ricketts details the challenges she faced during those deployments, including having to parent her three kids on her own.

She grew up in a military family. Her father served in Vietnam. But military life was different then, she says, adding that she wasn’t prepared for multiple deployments that lasted for long stretches of time.

“I thought I knew what I was getting into,” says Ricketts. "But when I married my husband in the early 90’s, that brought an entirely new genre of military life that I wasn’t familiar with.”

She says her husband’s first deployment to Somalia was the toughest: “[It] just knocked the wind out of me and I didn’t know what to expect, and that one was definitely the worst and each one after that I got a little better at.”

She now lives in Monument, outside of Colorado Springs, but much of the book takes place at Fort Drum in upstate New York. One thing she discovered was that it was easier to run the household without her husband's military-style approach to parenting.

“For him, there was almost no difference between the way he ran a military unit and the way he ran the family,” says Ricketts. "He sort of thought well, what works for soldiers will work for the family too, and that’s just really not the case.”

Ricketts recounts the tight bonds she formed with other wives, who became her support system during her husband’s absenses. She also describes an uncomfortable hierarchy that formed among the wives based on their spouses' military rank.

As a commander’s wife, Ricketts was tasked with counselling wives through the stress of deployments and with offering support to women whose husbands died in battle. Those experiences occasionally led her to question the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. And she says, she was often pre-occupied by her duties at the expense of her young children -- something she says is, in part, a by-product of military life and multiple deployments.

"I think that most mothers look back at their children’s young years and it is a blur for sure," says Ricketts. "But I think if Darrin had been there more, I would have been definitely more in the moment with the kids."

Ricketts says writing the memoir helped heal her marriage, which was on shaky ground because of their long separations.

“It was really hard for me to figure out how to be close to him when he came home and it was only in writing this book that I finally put those pieces together that it wasn’t his fault and I shouldn’t have been angry at him," says Ricketts.

Ricketts’ husband Darrin now works at U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs and for the first time in decades, she lives apart from other Army families. She says that while she’s enjoying her new life as an author, she misses the support that comes from living among other military wives.

Excerpted from "No Man's War" by Angela Ricketts copyright Counterpoint Press, 2014

I'm a fresh start girl. Today is Day One. Today we start counting down the days, 455 to go. I walk into the bathroom and stare at his sink with his few personal hygiene things neatly lined up. If I had to look at that tube of deodorant for fifteen months, pick it up to dust under it, I would surely lose my mind. No. My way is better. Fresh. I feel limp. Everything is gray. I decide to lie down before I start my ritual. The bed smells like him and it does not comfort me. I want that smell gone. It's going to be fifteen months and I won't be one of those women sleeping with some old t-shirt, clinging to his long faded scent.