By Laura Schofield
I expected the communal grief. I felt it myself. These past few weeks have been heavy with the weight of what is currently happening in Afghanistan. I knew my circle of Marine Corps spouses would be feeling and processing very similar emotions to mine. What I didn’t expect, though, was how I would be able to witness my people use their grief to change lives.
In the nearly fifteen years that I have been involved in spouses’ groups as the wife of a Marine, my spheres of influence and circle of acquaintances has shifted and grown. I often wonder what happened to that Lance Corporal’s wife who only knew other junior enlisted spouses; the years have brought with them friends of all ranks, all backgrounds, and a much broader and more serious reach within our military community. I have done my best to stay connected: I’ve joined the social media groups for each base we’ve been assigned, and the regional groups, the spouses’ club groups, and the even larger Marine Corps spouse groups with thousands of members.
Recently, it is in these largest groups that I have seen the type of unity that has been able to move mountains.
I don’t remember the first post I saw on my social media feed. I probably just skimmed over it not even comprehending what I was seeing. Just a quick note of, “Hey, who’s got a contact in Afghanistan? We’re trying to get my husband’s interpreter out.” But then there was another. And another. And another. Posts about families stuck at gates, women with newborns, interpreters, SIVs, American citizens who had been back visiting family. The universal theme was desperation, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Even those of us without contacts on the ground felt the pressing need and urgency to act. Lists of resources were quickly compiled, benefiting greatly from the years of “hurry up and wait” and Semper Gumby scenarios that equipped these spouses to gain relevant information. Everyone who knew anyone that had even the slightest possibility of helping.
Then the updates began. “He’s safe on a plane.” “We got them out!” “Y’all made this happen.” The resolutions I was seeing were so awe-inspiring, I couldn’t process everything I was seeing scroll past my screen.
These men and women who don’t wear a uniform, are not on any government payroll, have no chain of command, were doing everything in their power to get people to safety. And it was working.
I showed my husband post after post asking for help, sharing updates of successful missions; I told him there aren’t even words to describe what I was witnessing. Then he told me about a phrase he had seen but hadn’t fully understood until I showed him this network of spouses: Digital Dunkirk.
And then I cried. You see, I love history. I’ve read countless books about that long-ago war. I’ve been to the museums and seen the small vessels used to ferry Allied troops to safety after being pinned down on the shores of France. I’ve looked across the English Channel, and seen the water and the waves. I was familiar with what had happened at Dunkirk, and I knew that was the perfect analogy for what my community was doing. They were going out in their symbolic boats and bringing people to safety. It was, and still is, an effort that has grown to something I could never have imagined. The love this group of spouses has for men, women, and children on the other side of the world has truly been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
Since those first posts came across my social media not even ten days ago, more heartbreak has come. Heartbreak and anger have now merged and intensified the urgency to help and the devastation when efforts fail.
I have seen my community grieve in a way I have never seen before. I think, perhaps, it is now a cumulative grief: grief for the fallen, grief as time runs out and there are no options left, grief over the past month, and grief over the past twenty years.
But the work has not stopped even though the clock has ticked away the time way too fast. I’ve seen these same spouses hold candlelight vigils, press into families living through the unimaginable, and send supplies and monetary donations to those assisting the refugees. I’ve watched as they use their grief to work to get as many people to safety as possible, and when exiting the country became unlikely, or even impossible for some, I witnessed them coordinating safe houses. And I know they will continue to work day and night pulling every string, calling in every favor, utilizing every mode of communication possible to save the lives of as many people as possible.
It has been the greatest privilege of my time as a military spouse to witness what this community of fellow military spouses has done. As deadlines draw to a close, and we leave this country as a military presence, I know there will be more tragedy and heartbreak. I have spent time in my own quiet vigil, mourning everything that was not done, wishing we could have done more. However, I am awed by the fleet of boats these men and women were able to send over the digital channels, echoing so poignantly the vessels of safety once steered across a different Channel.
Semper Fidelis, dear ones.