On the homefront: What’s for dinner?

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Article War and Peace

This article accompanies You don't know the trouble I've seen on U.S. vets returning home from war.

It was for the families that Father Vincent Manuel organized Wednesday night “deployment dinners” in the plain and slightly musty community room of Soldiers Memorial Chapel on Fort Carson Army Base in Colorado. The group welcomes all military spouses, not just Catholics.

Actually the dinners attract more Baptists than husbands of deployed soldiers. A couple of men have come to the deployment dinners, but they don’t usually come a second time. “Too many ladies,” Father Manuel laughs. “Too much talk about pregnancies.”

Manuel, a priest with the Diocese of Military Services, explains that whether someone’s Catholic or not isn’t part of the conversation here; there’s no proselytizing.

Bianca Brooks counters him. “They’re after me all the time to convert,” she claims. “But I’m still Baptist.”

Laughter comes quickly and easily. The crowd knows she’s joking.

The weekly getaways for suddenly single parents and spouses are a model of outreach to the families of deployed soldiers. At one recent dinner, a half dozen middle-school children sit, heads together, discussing whatever mysteries middle-schoolers discuss. The dozen younger kids are more transparent, especially the curly-headed 3-year-old who is sprinting around the room singing, “Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!”

Sergeant Jeff Davis is here tonight, back from Afghanistan, where he was the commander’s driver. His wife, he says, made it through with the help of friends and family, the deployment dinners, and taking part in perpetual adoration at St. Dominic Parish in southeast Colorado Springs.

Sitting in a large circle, the adults share one good thing and one hard thing that happened in their lives in the past week.  The news includes hearing of a soldier friend’s suicide, worrying over a family member’s cancer, a promotion, nausea during pregnancy, finding a job, and locking the keys in the car.

Tonight the food is sandwiches, chips, and cookies (including “chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!”), but at least once a month it’s something special that the women themselves organize–including German goulash made by Brooks, who is originally from Germany, and another German-born spouse.

The group was a special blessing for Brooks when a car accident left her without transportation last winter. Another group member loaned her a car. “She didn’t even know me,” says Brooks, who isn’t sure what she would have done without the help.

“When I was in Iraq, the soldiers were my heroes,” says Manuel. “When I returned, I found a new group of heroes. At least the soldiers knew where their spouses were. The families back home, they don’t even know where their loved ones are. Men and women, the soldiers fighting and the families back home, they all bear the brunt of war equally.”

This is a web-only sidebar that accompanies "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen" that appeared in the November 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 11, pages 16-21).