A Marine Commander's Wife On Strains Of War

fromWHQR

It's one thing to be a Marine wife, and yet another when you are the wife of the commanding officer — and the other wives are looking to you for guidance. Stephanie Cabaniss's husband is commanding a battalion in Afghanistan. She discusses the stress and strains of being the highest-ranking spouse.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

About 1,000 Marines of the 2nd Battalion 8th Regiment spent the summer and fall patrolling southern Afghanistan. Their mission is now coming to a close. It's been a tough deployment - more than a dozen in the battalion were killed.

The 2/8's commander is Lieutenant Colonel Christian Cabaniss. While he's been gone, his wife has been in command back home near Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

Catherine Welch from member station WHQR met her for a walk around her neighborhood.

CATHERINE WELCH: Stephanie Cabaniss has watched her husband work high-stress jobs before. For two years he followed former President Bush around with The Football, a black briefcase that holds the launch codes for nuclear weapons. She's also seen her husband off to war enough to make it seem almost routine.

Ms. STEPHANIE CABANISS: Right when he left, I was, like, oh, it's just another deployment. That's how I look at it.

WELCH: But then, this summer, the battalion launched a major assault in southern Afghanistan.

Ms. CABANISS: After all that happened in the first of July, everything I thought, it was like reality just slapped me in the face: They're in a war. This is major.

WELCH: This is different from past deployments in a lot of other ways. It's the first time he's commanded a battalion, and she's used to living on base. But now their home is in a new subdivision a few miles from Camp Lejeune. Even here, off base, you can't escape the Marine Corps.

Ms. CABANISS: Two houses down from mine, her husband is an Osprey pilot, he's deployed. And next to them, he's an Osprey pilot, he's deployed. The house next to him just got back from Iraq, and the one next to him is the C.O. of 2/2, replacing my husband's unit.

WELCH: Cabaniss and I talk as we walk past those houses. She's walking her dog, taking advantage of some time between volunteer work and picking up the kids. In the past, she would've had even more to do. The wives of commanding officers traditionally took care of the other families. Now the Marine Corps has a full-time person handling that. Cabaniss is relieved.

Ms. CABANISS: I don't feel like I wear the rank. I'm just another spouse. It just happens that my husband is the C.O.

WELCH: Do they come to you like you have magic powers if they tell you something?

Ms. CABANISS: Yes. They think that I have return dates. Don't have return dates.

WELCH: The homecoming. That's what everyone's talking about, but it will bring a different set of problems. As she rounds the corner toward her house, Cabaniss says the wives will need to change gears from worrying about their husbands' safety to dealing with the repercussions of a stressful deployment.

Ms. CABANISS: That's my biggest concern right now is for, well, mainly the Marines, but the spouses, the wives and how they're going to be able to cope with their husbands because it's a huge adjustment. You know, I worry about that.

WELCH: I was going to say, are you worried about that, too?

Ms. CABANISS: I am, but it's going to be interesting to see when he gets back.

WELCH: And see what toll it's taken on her husband to have lost more than a dozen Marines under his command. Most of them died during that big operation in July and August.

Ms. CABANISS: When I would get the phone call, you know, we've lost another and it just broke my heart for the families. And it breaks my husband's heart, too. I mean, you know, saying that, well, we have another angel. It devastated him.

WELCH: When he returns, there will be another death for this couple to face right here at home. Their next-door neighbor died this summer in Afghanistan.

For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch.

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