Typically on the Oprah Winfrey Network a chewy center of titillation and raw candor is wrapped inside a puff pastry of warmth and good intention. The channel wants it both ways: to transgress without being fully complicit, to nod at sensationalism while snuggling under the cover of purposefulness.
From a distance “Married to the Army: Alaska” seems to be a deviation from those mandates. The show, which will appear Mondays on OWN (after the Sunday night premiere episode), focuses on seven women, all married to members of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry, which was deployed to Afghanistan last year.
In the premiere solidarity is the order of the day. “You think you’re making a sacrifice by being here by yourself; you’re not,” says Blair, one of the wives. “We should all be thankful that we get to spend this time with our children. We don’t have to be away from them like they do.”
Faithfulness. Humility. Patriotism. Great values all. But the real story of this show is how quickly it shifts from noble talk about making sacrifices for the country to eminently reasonable frustration about the destruction of the family unit. If this is propaganda, it was made by the other side.
Many of the relationships began before the men joined the military, which means that this is a reality show about people living a reality they hadn’t envisioned for themselves. Most are young and raising children alone. They’re terrified about what their husbands are facing and also kept in the dark about the worst aspects of it.
“He went to basic training, and he was trained to be a soldier,” Sara says in a later episode. “I did not have a basic training. No one ever taught me how to deal with all this.”
The seven soldiers range in emotion from deeply present to downright frigid, like Phillip, Lindsey’s husband, who comes home for two weeks of R&R but still has to be coaxed into a kiss by his wife, who says, “I was expecting more fireworks and boom.” Phillip, for his part, likens his wife to a junior officer who needs affirmation. Of his deployment, he says, “I think it’s hardest probably on me.”
The anchor of the wives is Yolanda, a strong but frayed woman who is married to the brigade commander and who tries to play the same role on the home front. “Thank you for your service to our nation, because that’s what it is,” she tells the others. (In a later episode she struggles with her son’s decision to become a soldier: “I cannot imagine sending my only child to war.”)
But the home front is changing. In this insular world the filming of this show certainly creates an implicit hierarchy among the spouses, privileging those who get to be on television and hobnob with the commander’s wife. (Commingling between officers’ wives and enlisted soldiers’ wives isn’t totally common.) During a meeting of the family readiness group senior officers persist in referring to the group as “ladies,” and you wonder how that might change with the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell.
Lindsey, who is married to a major, tries to shame Traci, a younger wife who spoke openly of meeting her husband at Hooters. She fails. Traci is among the sharpest of the women and the most likely to rebel against the life laid out before her.
While in moments “Married to the Army: Alaska” feels as if it’s borrowing frisson from the “Real Housewives” series, it more closely resembles another show about fractured families, “Teen Mom.” As on that show, couples struggle really to hear each other, the burden of home-life responsibility is totally unbalanced, and the future feels shaky.
Salina, who is pregnant, sends her husband a picture in which she’s holding up a sign next to her huge belly that reads, “Afghanistan may have my daddy for now but I will have him for always.” One can only hope.
Married to the Army: Alaska
OWN, Monday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
Anyone else watch this last night? I watched it for giggles. It was a bunch of shit. I will never get spouses that are so into their husband's careers and up their asses and I'm NHF them filming someone's memorial that didn't ask for these girls to be up in their business, especially after they have passed. Also, there is no point of jumping out of aircrafts anymore. Units only keep doing it once a month to their extra $200/month for jumping.