By Norris Burkes Nov 12 2023


This Veteran’s Day I’d like to challenge you to spread your thanks-for-serving sentiment toward the spouse of a veteran.

That’s because each year, I can’t help but think of the day in 2008 when I brought a documentary home for my wife, Becky.

My wife doesn’t especially care for documentaries, particularly the news this one brought. “Baghdad ER” is a documentary that says “captures the humanity, hardships and heroism of the U.S. military and medical personnel of the 86th Combat Support Hospital . . .”

“I want us to watch this movie together,” I said.

There was nothing subtle in my approach. Becky saw that I was carrying some news of my own. Before she could respond, I answered the question I read on her face.

“The Air Force needs a chaplain volunteer for their hospital at Balad Air Base in Iraq. The hospital is specifically requesting a ‘hospital-trained chaplain’ for a four-month deployment.”

I hurried to add: “It’s a Level I trauma center, which does over 1,200 surgical procedures each month. They help everyone — military, civilians and contractors as well as Iraqi soldiers, police, civilians and even detainees.”

She stared into me, stuck on one word: “volunteer.”

The thoughts of the military spouse upon hearing the word “volunteer” aren’t normally as altruistic as those of the military member.

Who could blame her if she suddenly exclaimed, “What makes you think I’m not the volunteer here? I would be volunteering for four months of solo parenting! I’ll be volunteering to be single for four months!”

Instead, Becky simply said, “We’ll watch it after dinner.”

Afterward, we talked about the mutual meaning of the word “volunteer.” We talked about everything from kids to car problems.

We talked about updating our wills. I tried to soothe her with the fact that there hasn’t been a chaplain killed in the line of duty since the Vietnam War.

Not surprisingly, she found that factoid devoid of comfort.

I told her the pay would be great — especially with hazardous duty pay.

Again, I got nowhere, not even when I mentioned the extra $3.33 per day separation pay.

“Why do you want to do this?” she asked.

Ah, the “why” of a thing.

“If I retired, I wouldn’t have to go.” I said giving a commonly offered solution in the conflict between military members and their spouses.

She wasn’t biting.

“Why?” she repeated. “Why do you want to go?”

“I want to go because I want to help,” I said, unable to state it more profoundly than that. “They need hospital chaplains. I’m one. I can’t sit here while they declare they need someone. It’s a need I know how to fill.”

After nearly a week of discussion, she said, “You need to go. You need to feel you’ve done your share. I understand.”

It was at that point I composed my e-mail accepting the assignment.

I called her to the computer and let her proofread the e-mail.

Then I asked her to do a difficult thing.

“I want us to share this decision. Would you be willing to press the ‘send’ button?”

Her index finger hovered over the keyboard in hesitation. Then, she clicked “send” with a definitive push.

She did understand.

So this month, I have a favor to ask. As you offer a grateful handshake to a veteran, turn to the spouse and say, “Thanks for your understanding.”

After all, most of them have certainly done more than they ever “volunteered” to do.


This column is an abridged chapter from my book “Hero’s Highway.”  Buy all my books, including my latest book, “Tell It to the Chaplain” on my website, Amazon or by sending me $20. Send comments to Leave recorded comments at (843) 608-9715 or write to 10556 Combie Rd Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602.