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The Personal Price Of '15 Years Of War'

Kristine Schellhaas poses with her husband, Maj. Ross Schellhaas, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in this undated photo.
Kristine Schellhaas
Kristine Schellhaas poses with her husband, Maj. Ross Schellhaas, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in this undated photo.

The Personal Price Of '15 Years Of War'
The Personal Price Of '15 Years Of War' GUEST: Kristine Schellhaas, author, "15 Years of War"

In this century America has been engaged in the longest wars in his history. Many military families have gone to several employments. The wife of one Marine officer has documented her experience in the heartbreaking events during his deployments. I'm joined by Kristine Schellhaas author of tran 20. Welcome. Your husband Ross, had already completed a four-year enlistment when you met him. Did you ever expect him to become a military spouse? Absolutely not. When I met him he was talking about staying in Idaho for the rest of his life. He was so adamant about never going back to that lifestyle. I started dating him in college and it was the furthest thing from my mind. He began to miss the Marine Corps and by then, I loved him and he loved the service and me. I had to make a choice, did I want to become a military spouse or did I want to walk away? I chose to become a military spouse. Can you tell us about some of your husband's deployments? You actually watched his unit on TV, live in Iraq? When the invasion started, I moved home to live with my parents because I was isolated, I did not build myself up with the community, it was new and scary. I moved home. The Iraq invasion started and I was watching all of the channels, of course and I saw my husband platoon fighting on every news station. It was one of the scariest things I have ever encountered, at the time. No one can prepare you for that. In the back of your mind you will be not seeing that. You know he is in a fight and their guns and rockets and you cannot pretend everything will be find -- find. I never heard from him for 60 days after that. I was living off of prayers and hope that he would come home. During that time, officials in Washington were saying the war would be over and months. Did you expect your husband to come home? I did not. When I first heard about Desert Storm and I looked at becoming a military spouse. I thought all wars ended in 90 days. I saw that the fighting was continuing, even though I heard the president and different congresspeople were talking about the war ending. I did not feel like it was. I did not imagine it would go on for 15 years, certainly. I did not feel he would be coming home any sooner than deployment with letter up, six, 6 to 7 month deployment. As you say, the wars went on, the deployments continued, you moved bases and started a family. Then, tragedy stuck at home. You lost her second child in a drowning accident. Incidents like that, often completely destroy families. How did you survive? It was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through. To be honest, I still live with a broken heart every single day. It came down to choosing life and choosing hope for our family. After our son passed away my husband deployed to Afghanistan six months later. Trying to decide if this was something I could keep together, could I keep our family together. Might husband is fighting a war, I became pregnant and I knew I would bring our daughter into the war while he was off fighting it. His entire deployment, he was losing men to war and he knew now, what it was like to lose a child. It was hard to carry on that conversation with him, when he lost servicemembers he could relate to what those parents were going through. I really felt for him during this time and I had do step back and quit focusing on my own despair and heartache. I took time to pause and reflect I realized I had it -- a reason to leave. I had 1,000,000 reasons to stay. I moved on by counting the positives in our life and remembering the happy times and focus on building more happiness looking at life through a new lens the pursuit of perspective. It's actually made me a fuller more happy person. Your story is unique. At the same time it's link to the experience of many families. How would you describe the toll on your family and other military families? It's been really hard. Going back and forth and having continua deployment and even when they come back, you know they will train again. I think a lot of Americans don't understand that they see the homecoming, it's really happy. They are now going back to training, their spending anywhere between four anywhere between 4 to 6 weeks away and they are going to different basis. It's not that they come home and everyone settles in and gets to be a family again. It's constant deployments and training. The operational tempo of 15 years of war have -- has taken a toll on our families. We count our blessings and we cherish all of our moments. Your husband is about to retire. How do you see your family changing? I feel like I am in an abyss. I don't know where we are going. I have moved back to Idaho to get the kids settled and he is finishing up at Camp Pendleton. This is the biggest unknown for our family. We are looking forward to a vacation which is something I have not done in 15 years. I don't know. It's kind of scary. I was lucky, I was able to start a company and sell it. I have become a successful launch for newer. In that sense, I feel like I want to go back and rejoin the workforce, that I have not been able to work in. I feel like we are surrounded by opportunities and we have to choose the right road for our family. I've been speaking with Kristine Schellhaas, author of tran 20. Thank you so much. We'd like you to take part and be part of a special live town Hall event Wednesday, September 7. Midday edition will join a California counts for a month proposition 62. That's the state measure that would abolish the death penalty. For more information visit KPBS store -- KPBS.org. If you ever miss a show you can check out the podcast at If you ever miss a show you can check out the podcast@KPBS.org/podcast. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening.

The book cover for "15 Years of War" by Kristine Schellhaas.
Life Publishing
The book cover for "15 Years of War" by Kristine Schellhaas.

Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, America has been engaged in the longest wars in its history. The wife of one U.S. Marine officer who has served since 2000 documented her family's sometimes heartbreaking experiences during his multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In her memoir "15 Years of War," Kristine Schellhaas describes how the photos of tearful spouses greeting soldiers returning home can be misleading. Even when her husband, Maj. Ross Schellhaas, returned to the U.S. in between deployments for further training, he was still frequently away at other bases around the country.

“It’s not that they come home and everyone settles in and gets to be a family again. It’s constant deployments, constant training,” Schellhaas said. “The operational tempo of 15 years of war has taken a toll on our families.”

Schellhaas joins KPBS Midday Edition on Monday to discuss how she coped with personal tragedies during her husband’s service.