Images courtesy: Linda Mills
In February, Linda Mills watched her husband deploy to Afghanistan for the second time. Today, even though Staff Sgt. Andrew Mills is thousands of miles away, he still occupies every moment of his wife's thoughts.
"Sometimes he says, 'I'll talk to you tomorrow,' but then I won't hear from him and that's when I get really worried," Linda Mills, 29, told The Unknown Soldiers. "Now I tell him to please not tell me when he'll talk to me next."
When I spoke to Staff Sgt. Mills' wife on April 13, it was in the immediate aftermath of a shocking tragedy that shook Linda and her husband to the core. Three days earlier, one of Andrew's fellow 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers, Staff Sgt. Travis Mills (no relation), lost his arms and legs in southern Afghanistan after stepping on an improvised explosive device.
"It seems to be some sort of miracle that he's survived," Linda said. "Thank God that's the case."
While praying for Staff Sgt. Travis Mills' family and reaching out to see if she can help, Linda is forced to confront the reality that her husband's life is in danger.
"I used to say I live my life one day at a time, but I can't anymore," she said. "I take it one hour at a time."
Even on their wedding day, life wasn't simple for Andrew and Linda Mills. They married on Feb. 27, 2010, while the soldier was home on leave from a previous Afghanistan deployment. The young couple exchanged vows with full awareness that Andrew would return to a war zone just six days later.
"I always envisioned some big, lavish wedding with 18 months to plan, and my priorities changed," Linda said. "That's why I take pride in being part of the one percent...your perception on life is different."
"The one percent" this Army wife references is not the slogan of a political movement. It's the approximate percentage of men and women who serve our country, either in uniform or as a member of a military family.
"In a week's time, there is a wide specter of emotions, from anger to elation," Linda said. "It's hard to be a productive citizen and work when we have the weight of the world on our backs."
Linda is not speaking out or authoring a blog called "One Percent" because she is seeking sympathy. She wants to promote a renewed sense of awareness about a war that too many have forgotten.
"They're not toy soldiers," she said. "They're real people, and they're not just numbers."
As one of her husband's fellow soldiers endures multiple surgeries and the painful reality of life without his arms and legs, Linda, a University of Georgia graduate, is trying to make a difference at North Carolina's Fort Bragg. In addition to closely coordinating with fellow military spouses, she is active in her Family Readiness Group and Casualty Response Team.
"I get angry, emotional, and empathetic for these families, because that (next casualty) could be Drew," she candidly explained.
While his wife stays busy on the home front, Drew, as family and friends call Staff Sgt. Mills, is spending most nights on a combat outpost in Afghanistan's volatile south.
"Communication is better than we thought it would be," Linda said. "There are telephones, but no showers."
During phone calls, Skype sessions, and Facebook chats, the couple tries to stay focused on the future.
"I don't ask him specifics about his deployment and he doesn't tell me any specifics," the Army wife said. "We talk as if he's a town away."
When Staff Sgt. Andrew Mills is hopefully just a hug away after returning from his third combat deployment, the couple plans to take a vacation and talk about starting a family.
"We're going to go to Mexico and drink lots of margaritas," she joked.
Still, as this Army wife speaks out, blogs, and spreads awareness about the sacrifices of the men and women who volunteer to serve their country, she hopes to foster a greater connection between the military community and the rest of the population.
"It's not just about the deployment," Linda Mills said. "It's about the one percent."
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