Today I got to fly into Erbil, Iraq and spend a lot of time getting to know what deployment is like with our female soldiers there. Seeing deployment living conditions for them was quite eye opening. Not that they were poor, in fact our service members are well taken care of, but there are so many things we are told that they try to describe to us that can’t convey it accurately. Honestly, it has been a challenge to figure out how I could convey them to you in a new way. There are some things that you can only understand when you see them, but there is still a lot to learn. For example, I remember begging Matt to send me photos of where he was living. I appreciated what he sent so I could visualize him sleeping and eating there. The problem with photos is that it is only within a frame. You don’t get a panoramic view of the scope of the land or layout. I have done my best to try to capture pictures of things that stood out to me and surprised me instead of things you may have already seen a lot. So Erbil’s living conditions are a more rough than I expected. Honestly though I didn’t have an expectation to begin with. I am embracing my overall ignorance of a lot of things. Being one military spouse in the Army community, I am continuously reminded with how much I don’t know. Our spouses and families need to be a whole lot more educated! It’s like we need a good history lesson and monthly briefing on what is happening in the world. I am more appreciative than ever of our press that come along on these trips that ask the right questions, think it through, and then form it all into words for our culture’s short attention span to absorb in 30 seconds or less. For heaven’s sake, we are training and sending our service members out to dealwith the evil in the world, we owe it to ourselves to learn about it. I’m especially glad my husband gave me a briefing on Syria a couple months ago, cause I still feel naive. That being said, I was honored to be grouped up with the Secretary’s wife Stephanie Carter and her staff to see a lot of how our soldiers live and spend their down time. We saw their barracks that were tents filled with bunked cots. I can’t imagine sleeping in tight quarters there for 9 months, even though they are nice. The cots were lower to the ground than I expected and you have to roll out of bottom bunk. Going off of yesterday’s conversation, the care package issue of family sending trinkets for their living space made complete sense now. They literally owned a bunk. One woman was thrilled to get a bathmat though where she could at least put her feet on carpet in the morning. When we walked in, it smelled like peppermint. Not because it was a female tent, though, but because it keeps mice away. Snakes are another issue for them getting into the tent. Showers and latrines were interesting with only a curtain separating them from the next stall. When I went to the restroom in the main building the wall didn’t go to the ceiling and I could hear the men on their side talking. The USO was a small tent with a TV getting a poor reception of the Today Show, a barber shop chair and Star Wars playing on another TV. It was filled with books and DVDs, understandably the most comfy place there. The mail room was a friendly as you would think it would be. A truly happy place with Christmas lights, goodies from care packages, and smiling faces when you walked in the door! The gym was also nicer than I thought, though walled with fun house mirrors that were not glass- just in case anyone might want to use broken glass for weapons. I was not expecting that. I honestly didn’t think they would have mirrors, but plastic warped mirrors at least made it look like a gym. Otherwise, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel. I understand now the appreciation of carpet and bare feet. I saw service member trying to run on the gravel, several of the girls wth me who wore flats struggled slightly through the walk. Even in the room where I joined the press again where there was carpet, I thought about how no one was likely to ever take their boots and socks off and walk around. Hard cold floors, wood platforms, and gravel are about all you will see. Here are my #PowerofMarriage tips for today: 1. Service Members: if you are deployed- take videos (if possible) to give your family a better picture that is more accurate than a photograph. That may sound obvious with today’s technology, but families will only be able to picture exactly what they see. 2. I underestimated the power of “embracing the suck”. Often said by service members who have to live/exist in rough situations, embracing the suck is something that surely changes a person. Perhaps service members get a bad wrap for being cold or brash, not as compassionate when we might think the situation could use it. But the amount of grit and perseverance that is built in one’s character in situations like these can lead a family through the toughest of times. Lean on them during seasons of difficulty. Service members can typically lean on their spouse when an assessment check on the relationships in the home are needed. 3. You are serving and loving your spouse by knowing enough about the world’s events that effect his/her job. You may get weary of hearing what they do over an over, but it is part of a bigger puzzle and plays an important part in the system. Understand as much as you can what is happening in the world so that they don’t have to keep explaining it over and over again. (Sorry, hun) I’ll have more for you tomorrow! Stick around, you never know where I’ll end up next!