“My husband is a military man. I’m proud of it, but I often feel lonely.”
Maïlys*, 34, is a member of the association Femmes de militaires en colère; she asks for better recognition and more consideration. Her husband is currently on Sentinel operation. She won’t see him again until December.
Maïlys*, 34, has been married to an army soldier for six years. Together, they had three children: a girl and two boys, aged six, five and four respectively.
Normally, Maïlys meets her husband once or twice a month, being based in Moselle, she lives in the Rhône-Alpes region. But she won’t see him again until December. Her husband follows a two-month Sentinel mission with a two-week internship, before leaving for another two-month Sentinel operation.
Mailys will not be able to be in Paris on August 26, but she will demonstrate with her thoughts with the other members of the association Femmes de militaires en colère. She tells us her story and her dissatisfaction:
“I met my husband in 2009. He had been in the army for a year already. I knew it from the beginning, but it didn’t stop me; on the contrary. I always told my parents I was going to marry a soldier. Mission accomplished!
I grew up in this environment. My father was in the air force, my grandfather had served in Saint-Cyr, my great-grandfather was a colonel in the army and my uncles were in the Republican Guard before joining the gendarmerie. It’s an environment that has always attracted me. I myself was a soldier from 2005 to 2007. I was a command secretary, but I had to stop for medical reasons.
My husband missed our children’s first’times’.
Since we met, I have seen my husband go on foreign operations (opex) in the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and French Polynesia. Our daughter is six years old, her younger brother is five, and the last one is four. When my husband was sent to Afghanistan, our eldest daughter was already born. And he was still there when I gave birth to our second child. My husband has missed school starts, birthdays, “first times”. These are things that are part of everyday life.
On his return to France, he was transferred to Moselle. I decided to join him and we lived there together for almost five years. It was particularly difficult for me because it is a rather isolated department, where I did not find a job. The daily life was complicated to manage, especially with three children to take care of.
It’s hard for my children
So last year, I became a “geographical bachelor” by returning to settle in Rhône-Alpes, my home region. I wanted to get closer to my mother, so that she could help me with the children on a daily basis. I’m feeling better now that I’m here. I was able to start working in the field of aesthetics again for four months, before I had to take a break. Physically, it had become complicated for my mother to take care of the children.
That’s one of the disadvantages of being married to a military man. Our work necessarily suffers as a result. If a child is sick, it is up to us to deal with our boss – when we have one. Then, we manage everything, all by ourselves: from changing the bulb to leaking the dishwasher to administrative procedures, we do the secretary, the handyman, the steward, the father, the mother.
I have a fairly independent character, so the idea of having a husband who is often absent was not a problem for me. However, it is another rhythm with children: we must involve them in all our projects, whether in the short or long term. It’s hard for them. No parent is meant to live away from their children.
My husband is going to live three years in a “passing room”
I feel guilty about leaving the Moselle, since my husband had to give up our accommodation for a 9 m² “passing room” provided by the army. It only has a bed, a wardrobe, a sink. He can’t watch TV or cook for himself. He is not allowed to install a fridge or microwave. Only military furniture is allowed. It is cold in this department, but the heating is capricious. It’s very rustic, the buildings are old.
He will stay there for three years, whereas these rooms are only for stays of one or two nights. The army thinks he could afford housing in the city, but it’s not that simple. We have three children and I am not working at the moment; financially, it is the only alternative we could find, and that the army could offer us.
I tell myself that if I hadn’t left, we would still have a home for the whole family, even though I know we made this decision together. I repeat to myself that this is a bad thing for a good because the environment in which I now live is more adapted to children and is more favourable to their cultural openness. Between my husband and me, one of us had to sacrifice himself for the family.
Sentinel missions last up to two months
Normally, I see him once or twice a month. But now I won’t find him until December since he’s going on Operation Sentinel. He’s there right now, for two months. When he returns to Moselle, he will follow a two-week internship, and will immediately return to the Presidium for two months.
Before, Sentinel missions did not last as long: they ranged from 15 days to three weeks. Now they can extend for up to two months.
Of course, my husband and the other soldiers are not given a choice. If we tell them they have to leave, they leave, that’s all. Fortunately, we can still talk frequently. We have found the rhythm that suits us: we call each other on average every two days. The army has set up the internet now, so we can make videos. And this is very important for children.
As the duration of the Sentinel operations increased, the army realized that it was necessary, that families needed to hear from them. Then, as wives, it reassures us because we are in the same state of stress, anxiety and waiting as if our husbands were leaving in opex.
They still sleep on camp beds, with down on them.
My husband’s first Sentinel mission was in 2011. At the time, the living conditions of the military during these operations were appalling. They slept in rooms at 16, with oil heating for the whole room. Sometimes soldiers had to pay for their own food. But as time went on, the army realized that they needed to be taken care of. Their situation has improved, even though they are still sleeping on camp beds with down.
At the same time, we are fortunate to have very attentive commanders. My husband’s knows the names of all his soldiers, as well as their family background.
We women are in the rear base. We ensure the daily routine so that our husbands leave in the best possible conditions. For the corps commander, it’s important that the families are there, he takes the time and I think it’s great.