For the first time, the Pentagon has granted unparalleled access to embed cameras in the real lives of Army Wives whose husbands are stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, at Fort Richardson, Alaska. The powerful new series presents their raw and unflinching story as the wives confront their deepest fears about their husbands’ deployments and the struggle to raise their families alone.
In the premiere episode, viewers are introduced to Yolanda, Sara, Traci, Blair, Salina, Lindsey and Rynn. Whether facing the emotional roller coaster of multiple deployments and homecomings, coping with depression and isolation, or co-parenting children over Skype, it’s the unique bond of sisterhood and the shared experience that keeps the women strong even in the most challenging times.
During the season, the wives of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division anxiously await word of their husbands’ survival after a deadly attack in Afghanistan forces the wives to wrestle with whether or not they can truly handle the possibility of losing their loved ones to war. Meanwhile, Salina faces giving birth and raising a newborn alone, Traci battles serious medical issues jeopardizing her stay in Alaska and the Brigade Commander’s wife, Yolanda, grapples with the thought of sending her only child off to war.
Alaska is home to more than 10,000 active-duty soldiers, about 7,000 of whom were deployed to Afghanistan over the past two years. The war in Iraq may be over, but it continues in Afghanistan and, for those families whose loved ones are still gone, life during deployment is challenging, especially in Alaska, an assignment the military considers as demanding as an overseas post. For the men and women whose spouses serve in the U.S. Army, deployment is not just an abstract word heard on the evening news. It’s real, it’s tough and it turns their world upside down. Military wives find themselves in a unique sisterhood. The tightest of bonds are formed over fears of deployment, realities of Army life and the emotional roller coaster of homecomings – all set against the backdrop of the rugged, demanding and extreme conditions of Alaska. Produced by 44 Blue Productions, the executive producer is Stephanie Noonan Drachkovitch.
Ms. Stephanie Drachkovitch took time out of her busy schedule to talk about her show.
Q. How did this all come to be?
A. I’m an Army brat (my dad was career Airborne Infantry), and about 5-6 years ago, at the height of the surge in Iraq, it occurred to me that while we were seeing stories on the news every night about the war, no one was telling the stories of the families here on the homefront, and the sacrifice and challenges they face while their loved ones are at war. The life of a military spouse and family is unique, and not very many Americans know what it’s like. My dad served in Vietnam, so I lived through a year-long deployment with my mom raising three of us–in Alaska!
Q. What was most surprising that you learned from putting your show together?
A. How strong the “sisterhood of Army wives” is…especially in a remote place like Alaska, where they are often thousands of miles from close friends and family. I was also surprised by the resilience, commitment and selflessness of these women, who are so willing to do their part to serve their country.
Q. How can people help these women and their deployed husbands?
A. Several ways—find out if there is a military installation in your community—or a National Guard or Reserve community. If so, offer volunteer time or make a donation to help their Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs, which serve the kids and families. Support an organization like Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages to troops overseas. Lots of spouses whose husbands are deployed can use babysitting—see if the local post or base needs volunteers. If you are a business owner in a military community, or even one without a super visible community, offer military discounts to help the families. Read the obituaries in your local paper—take a few minutes to honor the lives of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
Q. What is unique about filming in Alaska?
A. In the spring/summer, it’s the long days—the sun never goes down, so we often lost track of time and just kept shooting! And how often does shooting get interrupted by a lynx, moose or bear casually crossing the road?
Q. What did you like most about this filming?
A. What I liked most was getting to see the “inside” of a very special community and meet seven of the most amazing, inspirational women and their husbands. These are folks who don’t get a lot of public recognition—they’re not on the cover of magazines, or featured on the pop culture shows–they are just living their lives, quietly and with a strong sense of purpose. I loved being able to shine a light on their lives and to say “thank you” with this show.
Q. What kind of impact are you hoping to have with this show?
A. I’m hoping those of us in the civilian world will realize that there are hundreds of thousands of volunteers serving their country so that we can go about our lives…and that their families sacrifice a lot, as well. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries missed while loved ones are in combat. I hope viewers see themselves in the show…and can take away some inspiration and life lessons about how to navigate our more ordinary challenges. For example, when my husband goes away “on business,” it’s probably for a week or so, he’s staying at a hotel and there’s a pretty good chance he’s coming back when he says. For those with spouses in the military, they’re gone for as long as a year….they’re living in difficult conditions…and you hope and pray they’ll come back.
Q. What feedback have the wives and their husbands given to you about doing the show?
A. It’s been really positive and encouraging. Each of them has said that they were glad they did the show…that they had never given much thought to their lives being that different…but it made them realize how proud they were to be a military wife. They also each said they learned a lot about themselves on their journey.
Q. What was the most emotional part of filming the show?
A. Being there for the Brigade’s first KIA—Killed in Action—seeing how the spouses dealt with the blackout, not hearing from their husbands, finding out about the Fallen Soldier and attending the Memorial. We covered two Memorials. Also, there was a blackout on Mother’s Day and we were there for that…so none of our ladies heard from their husbands on Mother’s Day. Very emotional.
Q. When was the show filmed?
A. March through July of 2012
Q. Are the husbands back?
A. Yes, they each are home now from Afghanistan.
Q. Is this show completely unscripted?
A. Yes, it is a docu-series in which we followed “real life” as it unfolded.
Q. What have been audience reactions to the show?
A. The show premieres November 18, but we have gotten very positive comments so far from Sneak Peek, promos and series trailer that have been released. Also, episode 1 is available on some cable systems on VOD, and some folks have seen it. So far, so good!
Q. What has been the army’s reaction to the show?
A. Very positive. They just featured the cast and the show in a panel presentation at the Association of the US Army Convention in Washington, DC this week as a great example of how to get the stories of the Army’s strong families out to the public it serves….so they seem very pleased.
Watch a teaser of the show at this link.
OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network will give viewers unprecedented access into the complex challenges, personal sacrifices and extraordinary lives of military families through the eyes of seven Army Wives living in Alaska whose husbands deployed to Afghanistan in the new docu-series “Married to the Army: Alaska” premiering Sunday, November 18 from 10-11 p.m. ET/PT before moving to its regular time slot on Mondays from 10-11 p.m. ET/PT beginning on November 19.
“Married to the Army: Alaska” premieres Sunday, November 18 at 10 p.m. EST/9 CST on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.