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Military Marriage Endures Despite Multiple Deployments

Photo courtesy Stephanie Silsby

Love is a popular theme today and for retailers, it's a cash cow of hearts and roses. But relationships that endure take work. For the Silsby family of Lacey the secret is weathering change.

Chris and Stephanie Silsby have been married for 15 years.  Stephanie is coy when asked how they met.  “I don’t think I should say," she says, laughing. “We met in Colorado Springs.  He would kill me if I told you.”

Eventually the story comes out. It’s saucy, but legal.

Now the Silsbys have two children, ages 5 and 11. The family is all together these days, but it’s not always that way. Stephanie’s husband, Sergeant First Class Chris Silsby is an active duty soldier stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He’s deployed four times since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stephanie says Chris’s first deployment was the hardest.

What began as a peacekeeping mission to Iraq soon turned into a war and a yearlong deployment. The communication infrastructure was lacking at the start of the war. Letters took weeks and weeks; email and phone calls were few and far between.

Stephanie says she practically stalked the mailman until finally the first letter came. And when it did: “Some people would say it was gross cause I smelled it. It was the fact that he had touched it. That he had it. I wanted to see if it smelled like him.”

She worried constantly, always needing to be near a TV for updates from overseas. She’s since learned it’s better to not watch the news at all.

The first deployment hit their daughter Lainey the hardest.  She was just 15 months old at the time. “She’s always been a daddy’s girl," Stephanie says, "and not long after he left, she completely stopped talking. She just quit talking.”

Stephanie says they all assumed things would change once her dad came home.  But when Chris returned, Lainey still wouldn’t speak; instead, she would hit him. It took months of therapy, but eventually as her anger faded the words returned.  

Now when Chris Silsby arrives home from work, Lainey runs to tackle her father. It’s a ritual that’s repeated by both children most every evening, according to their mom.

Chris says the military prepares soldiers for homecoming and the pitfalls that can go along with it.  For him, one of the hardest parts is figuring out how to fit back into his family's routine.  “There was a lot of

times that I’d do or say something that Stephanie would resent because she’d been running the house," he says. "But then again, there’ll be those instances where she’s like, 'Why don’t you say something?' And I’m like, "Ahhhh, am I in charge yet? Am I allowed to be in charge right now?'”

He says with each deployment the family learns how to do it better.

Stephanie agrees. “This fourth homecoming has been the best because we talked a lot -- ” about what didn’t work and what did.

Chris has only been back from this last deployment for about two and a half months.  The military calls this the honeymoon period. But even still, it’s unlikely to change Chris’s disdain for Valentine’s Day.

“He’s gotten in trouble over that,” says Stephanie. But not much trouble, because the Silsbys understand how important it is to be together: For a military family, things can easily change overnight.  “I couldn’t imagine not having him,” Stephanie says.  “And I know he feels the same way.”

“Of course,” Chris adds, with just a hint of sarcasm.