Guest article by: Beth Bellizzi, Journalist and Military Spouse
(Ingrid and her husband SSG Ian Yee)
Although National Guard spouse Ingrid Herrera-Yee was out of the country at the time of the Boston Marathon bombings, she was closer to the action than most people.
Herrera-Yee is a life-long Bostonian, and her husband has been a member of the Massachusetts National Guard for four years; active duty U.S. Army for six years prior.
However, her husband was not along the race route on Monday with 460 of his other colleagues who were assigned to the race that day. “He has worked the marathon (as a National Guardsman) for quite a few years,” said Herrera-Yee. “The only reason why he didn’t this year is because he is deployed.”
Despite the miles that separated him from the disaster, her husband still felt connected to those on the ground in Boston. “He told me on the phone that he recognized some fellow guard members in a photo taken of them removing a barrier,” said Herrera-Yee.
While most Americans merely watched the crisis unfold from afar, Herrera-Yee experienced its immediate impact as a traveler returning to Boston from a foreign country. She had been in Italy for two weeks to spend time with her husband on his rest and relaxation (R&R) leave.
Herrera-Yee stated, “I flew all night (on Monday) and returned (to Boston) the morning after. They looked through everyone’s backpacks, the security was everywhere. They were checking my hands for bomb residue, even flying from Europe into Boston. They were scrutinizing everything. You almost feel traumatized having to go through all that. Knowing people who were there (in Boston); your whole sense of security is gone.”
(CW2 Daniel Reyna, CA Army National Guard and his 3 boys)
The evaporation of a feeling of safety transferred to Herrera-Yee’s three kids, too. “My children don’t want to go out; they’re afraid there’s another bomb. Even though we live on base my kids were scared. My husband had to call them and reassure them and I talked to them, too. It’s very tragic, very difficult. We are fortunate that we are not the usual Guard family in that we are on a base. Most National Guard spouses wouldn’t have that sense of community you get from a base,” said Herrera-Yee.
Sense of Disconnection
Although she lives on an Air Force Base and feels connected to other spouses, most Guard spouses are not so lucky. “The thing about being a National Guard spouse is that you don’t get to know each other that well. We’re all over the place; you’re not usually on a base. The hardest is that you’re much more disconnected.”
Luckily, Herrera-Yee has a lifetime of Bay State roots in which to find comfort. “I grew up here, lived here my whole life. So, in that sense we are fortunate in that we (National Guard spouses) usually are somewhere where we know someone,” said Herrera-Yee.
Yet, that someone likely would not be another Guard spouse who can share Herrera-Yee’s experiences.
Using the Boston tragedy as an example of the disconnect between the Guard world and civilians, Herrera-Yee stated, “If my husband had been there my first thought would have been, “Is another bomb going to go off?” You are left with all those thoughts. And you can reach out to your friends who are not in the military, but it does make a difererence (since they are not in the Guard) and they don’t understand how we feel. That disconnection from fellow spouses – when you’re going through something like this – is probably the hardest part of being a National Guard spouse,” said Herrera-Yee.
The divide to which National Guard spouses must adjust expands further than simply between them and the civilian community. This expanse exists between them and the active duty military community as well.
“We are not called Army spouses because we are not a part of the “regular Army”, but we are just as much (Army spouses) and we also support the home front as well,” according to Herrera-Yee. She continued, “It’s true they are not on duty 24-7, and that also takes away from that sense community (among spouses) and I don’t say that in a bad way. I can understand where that’s coming from. It’s true that most of us don’t live it every single day. But when something like this happens there is no difference.”
Deployments; Multiple and Long
Mary Corbett, author of National Guard 101: A Handbook for Spouses echoes Herrera-Yee’s sentiments. According to her book summary, “Corbett decided to “wing it,” rationalizing that since her husband was “just” a Guardsman she wasn’t a “real” military wife. After all, military spouses lived on bases, operated within a strict structure of rank, and dealt with long deployments. Thank goodness she didn’t have to worry about those things!” …Since September 11, 2001, “virtually every unit of the National Guard has served on active duty for one or more deployments at home or abroad. Corbett realized that she and others like her had been “real” military spouses all along.”
Like Corbett, Herrera-Yee has also felt the stress of war: her husband has deployed five times. “Each deployment has been for fifteen months, and many of our service members have deployed multiple times,” she said.
(CW2 Daniel Reyna, CA Army National Guard with his youngest son)
The Boston tragedy has highlighted the role of the National Guard. “It is nice for people to see that the Guard is a lot more than a weekend warrior. Sometimes we are the red-headed step child. We are there, but people don’t really know (what we do) they just see our service members who are Guards as weekend warriors. And they think it’s so easy. But that’s really not the case. Our Soldiers respond of course to national issues in terms of having to go to war, but also here in our home towns and home states,” said Herrera-Yee.
One reason why state pride runs so strong: Every member of the National Guard swears an oath to uphold two constitutions – that of his or her state or territory, and the Constitution of the United States. As the oldest National Guard component in the country, the Massachusetts National Guard holds a unique historical distinction.
National Guard units can be mobilized for federal active duty to supplement regular armed forces during times of war or national emergency declared by Congress, the President or the Secretary of Defense. They can also be activated for service in their respective states upon declaration of a state of emergency by the governor of the state or territory in which they serve.
Pushing Forward With New England Pride
“There’s something about New Englanders. We’re very patriotic people. Especially after a disaster like this, there are no differences. We’re all New Englanders; we’re all Bostonians. As military spouses we are so proud to be Americans, but as a part of a Guard family you are also part of your state,” she said. She continued, her voice nearly, as she said, “tearing up,” “So to have been hit in the heart of our state, in Boston, is so very personal. Yet, we also feel a huge sense of pride that we are all Bostonians and we are strong. My friend said to me the other day, (modifying the Army motto “Army Strong”) we are Boston Strong!”