I remember Emily Gordon as a cute, lively girl who lived across the street with her family and hung around with the neighborhood kids until she left for college about 15 years ago. Today, she’s Emily Spencer, 33 years old, living in Norwood and married to an Army Reserves officer.
She and Scott Spencer met at Harvard Extension School, where they were both taking graduate classes. They married just over a year ago, in September 2012, and six months later, his unit, the 532d out of Brockton, was deployed to Afghanistan.
When she tells people that her husband is in Afghanistan, they invariably reply: “What’s he doing over there? I thought we were getting out of there.”
We are, and that’s where Spencer and his transportation unit come in. They’re over there trying to get us out of there. Millions, maybe billions, of dollars of heavy artillery equipment and vehicles have to be moved back here.
Spencer, who is 34, participated in the ROTC program at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. After boot camp, he attended Officer Candidate School. He’s a first lieutenant, in charge of a group of men and women soldiers.
While he keeps an eye on his unit over there, his wife is keeping an eye on their families here. When he left, she signed on to work with a Family Readiness Group, a command-sponsored group of family members and other volunteers to provide support to those left behind.
“I volunteered to be the group’s point of contact, so any family members who are having problems with pay, housing, insurance, family issues, or need a doctor for their child, or just someone to talk to, they can reach out to me,” Emily says.
Since her husband is a commander, she can forward some of the issues to him, and he in turn can work with his superiors to resolve things like pay and housing.
Some of the other issues are more complicated. Emily hears mostly from wives at home with children. Or working moms. She won’t get into specifics, but says that financial stress, stress from being a single parent, and stress from fear can wreak havoc on the homefront. And repeat deployments means added stress.
“I would just say it’s very hard,” says Emily, who works for her father’s law firm in Newton. “Some people have family support, some don’t. Their husband, or boyfriend, or fiancee can be out on a mission for days, weeks, or even a month. You’re living two separate lives.”
Emily says — and I’ve heard this from other military families — that each side, the husband and the wife, tries to protect the other from the small and large disturbances that make up their days. But sometimes, that gap in communication can lead to a gulf of separateness.
Then there’s the everyday division of duties between married couples. Emily and Spencer had moved into a “fixer-upper” shortly before he left. Their Norwood neighbors check in on her and help out; her next-door neighbor trims the hedges for her, and someone else helped with tree work.
Because her husband is a reservist, his “day job,” when he’s not deployed, is as a financial advisor at The Bulfinch Group, and his company here at home has also pitched in with support, sending him packages, letters, and e-mails and keeping Emily involved in their community.
But Emily knows she’s lucky, that not everyone has such a network of family, friends, and neighbors.
As the holidays approach, she’s turning her attention toward the men and women overseas, organizing a Christmas card drive for those deployed. Not just the 532d unit, but others in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.
“We’re all one family,” is the way she puts it. She has connected with other branches via Facebook and other avenues, and has put the word out that she needs cards, the more the better.
She says that the shutdown of the government affected both the families and the troops, too. “It has an effect on morale, especially overseas,” she says. “We want to send cards just to lift their spirits and let them know that the people of this country stand behind them, regardless of what the government is doing.”
She started with a goal of 1,000 cards, signed, with messages, and it looks like 4,000 are heading her way. “You should see my dining room table,” she says. “They’re coming in from all over the country.”
The town of Norwood has a Veterans Services department that reimburses shipping costs for military overseas. “That’s how I’m going to get my cards out,” says Emily.
But she plans to pay it forward: When the town reimburses her for the cost, she plans to donate that money to groups that help veterans, such as Fisher House in West Roxbury, where the families of wounded vets can stay while their loved ones are being treated at the V.A. Hospital.
“If people are buying cards and sending them to me, I feel it’s the right thing to do,” Emily says.
And when he comes home from Afghanistan — whenever that may be — Scott has his own plans to help military families. In an e-mail, he described his “next mission,” as he calls it: “To help military families create a stronger and tighter financial future.”
In fact, he’s already working on some plans with The Bulfinch Group for some families for early 2014. “It’s fair to say with what is going on in the nation right now, especially with the shutdown, we need it.”
From somewhere in Afghanistan, he concludes: “As a military family, Emily and I are blessed to be in a position to continue helping others and intend to do what it takes.”
And the rest of us are blessed to have such a selfless young couple, and others like them, to pitch in and help our troops, both over there and back here.
Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.