An Army Wife Charts Her Struggles In 'No Man's War'
People often expect military wives to be strong and stoic. But in her new memoir, No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions of an Infantry Wife, Angela Ricketts writes about the difficulties she faced during her husband's deployments — including the stresses it put on their marriage and on raising their three children.
She also writes about the toll of always bracing herself for the next goodbye.
"After the first really wretched, wretched deployment, each one after that you become a little more removed — a little more numb to the feelings," Ricketts tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "That kind of blackens your soul. We joke about that. Army wives say, 'Channel the black soul, honey.' "
Ricketts' husband was deployed eight times — four of them to Iraq or Afghanistan. He was a lieutenant during his first deployment to Somalia in 1992. Then he became a battalion commander. Now, he's a colonel in homeland defense, and they live in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Ricketts, who has a master's degree in social psychology and human relations, grew up in an Army family.
"We are a culture that does lend itself to perpetuating Army brats who either become Army spouses or soldiers themselves," she says. "So as much as ... I wanted to be rebellious and I wanted to do something different, as I got into college ... and saw what life outside the little Army bubble was like, the more I realized that I really enjoyed Army life and wanted to be an Army wife."
Ricketts' book explores the culture at home on the military bases, the responsibilities of being an officer's wife, and the relationships she formed with other infantry wives.
On the six years of their 22-year marriage her husband was deployed
He went to Somalia right after we got married, and that's actually where he got his combat patch. And I measured every deployment after that against Somalia, because that was really intense and really scary.
And we didn't have the technology that we do now with emails and immediate news. I had Christiane Amanpour, who I just hung onto her every word on CNN back then — that was all I knew. And [I had] the few letters that I got from [my husband]. So, to me, that was truly a deployment.
After that, he went to Macedonia, he went to Bosnia, he went to Kosovo, and those were each six months. Then he did two about a half-a-year deployments in Afghanistan, then a 15-month deployment to Iraq, then a year in Afghanistan.
On her ROTC basic training at Fort Knox and realizing why she didn't want to be a soldier
It was the rules and the structure. I [always] wanted to know why.
Every time they told me to do something, I just really wanted to say: "That's really stupid. Who cares if there are water droplets in the water fountain?" That was my job in the barracks was to make sure there were no water droplets in ... the drinking fountain. I thought that was really dumb. It did not work for me at that kind of a level.
I think that when you're a soldier, you definitely fit this sort of mold where you can take orders and you don't need to know why — you just do what you're told.
On her husband's last deployment to Afghanistan
This last deployment, our oldest son, Jack ... he was in sixth grade, so he was just getting to the point where he really missed his dad. And he was angry that his dad was gone because he knew that his dad had volunteered for that last year in Afghanistan, and that he didn't have to go. It's a really weird mix of pride and also some anger, too ... definitely a feeling of being a second priority.
On the emotional difficulty of saying goodbye
The "black soul" is the numbness that you reach a point after the first few deployments — it just rips your gut out when you say goodbye. And you're just left in this puddle of tears and emotional and weepy for days. That can only happen so many times. Just like they say you can really only have your heart broken once. ...
I've become kind of stoic in general. People cry at movies, and I look at them and say, "Really? You're really crying at this movie?" Because I just feel very unfazed by a lot of things that should faze me.
On getting over the resentment of parenting alone
I was resentful, and that's where counseling came in for us. That's where our therapist really showed us that he had a right to feel the way that he felt, and I definitely had a right to feel the way I felt, but that we had to move on from that. Especially now that he's transitioned away from the infantry and likely will not go back to that, he just really appreciates every moment with our kids a lot more [than] what I've seen [in] regular families — dads who haven't been gone the way he has, they sort of take the time with their kids a little more for granted, I guess. ...
He really does a great job at making up for what he's missed. That takes away a lot of the resentment for me. Every now and then, though, it's hard for me to say "our children." It does much more easily come to me to say "my daughter, my son, my whatever." If he's there, he'll correct me and say "our daughter, our son."
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. You're usually expected to be pretty strong and stoic when you're a military spouse. But in the new memoir "No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions Of An Infantry Wife," Angela Ricketts writes about the difficulties she faced during her husband's eight deployments, including the stresses it put on their marriage and on raising their three children and the toll of always bracing herself for the next goodbye. She also writes about the culture at home on the military bases, the responsibilities of being an officer's wife and the relationship she formed with other infantry wives. Ricketts' husband was deployed eight times, four of those times to Iraq or Afghanistan. He was a lieutenant during his first deployment to Somalia in 1992. Later in his military career, he was promoted to battalion commander. He's now a colonel in homeland defense, Northern Command. They now live in Colorado Springs. Angela Ricketts has a master's degree in social psychology and human relations. I asked her what I thought was a simple question. During the 22 years they've been married, how much time was her husband away from home during his deployments?
ANGELA RICKETTS: Just asking me the amount of time he's been deployed and the amount of deployments is such a hot, hot button in our culture because what some people call deployments and what other people call deployments are always not the same thing. There's a new school of thought that takes everything before 9/11 and says that was not a deployment. He was in Somalia - he went to Somalia right after we got married. And that's actually where he got his combat patch. And I measured every deployment after that against Somalia because that was really intense and really scary. And we didn't have the - we didn't have the technology that we do now with emails and immediate news. I had, you know, Christiane Amanpour, who I just hung on her every word on CNN back then. That was all I knew - and the few letters that I got from him. So to me, that was truly a deployment. But after that, he went to Macedonia. He went to Bosnia. He went to Kosovo. And those were each six months. And then he did two about a half-a-year deployments in Afghanistan - then a 15 month deployment to Iraq and then a year in Afghanistan. So I would say six years deployed.
GROSS: Six out of about 22?
RICKETTS: Yeah, deployed.
GROSS: So did you think of Army wife as a profession?
RICKETTS: I did, actually, because my mother - I come from an Army family. And we are a culture that does lend itself to perpetuating Army brats who either become Army spouses or soldiers themselves. So as much as when I was a teenager, I wanted to be rebellious and I wanted to do something different, as I got into college and saw other things and saw what life outside the little, army bubble was like, the more I realized that I really wanted to - I enjoyed Army life and wanted to be an Army wife.
GROSS: And why did you want to be an Army wife as opposed to enlisting in the military?
RICKETTS: Well, it's funny that you asked that because I actually - I got a wild hair and went and talked to a recruiter once. Between my - let's see, it was between my sophomore and junior year at Indiana University. And I was just - I had bad grades, and I just was fed up. And I went and talked to a recruiter. And the recruiter called my parents' house. And my dad answered the phone and said, she did what? Did she sign anything? - and slammed the phone down. And he came and talked to me and said, listen. If you think that you want to be a soldier, let's do this. I can get you into an ROTC program, and you can see what it's like. And you don't have to sign anything. There's no commitment, and you can just try it out. So a week later, I found myself in the ROTC's version of basic training at Fort Knox. It was a six-week school - training - with actual, real drill sergeants and real barracks and real, you know, awfulness. I felt like it was a sitcom, but it was - it was really - it was very real. And I very quickly realized that that end of soldiering was not at all for me. That was just - they called me Cadet Benjamin, and I just knew I was not cut out for that.
RICKETTS: So I did not sign a contract with - an ROTC contract. I have a ton of respect for all of my friends who are, you know, tough, female soldiers. But that just really was not for me.
GROSS: Why wasn't it for you?
RICKETTS: Maybe it was the rules and the structure. And I just - I wanted to know why. Every time they told me to do something, I just really wanted to say, that's really stupid. Who cares if there's water droplets in the water fountain? That was my job in the barracks, was to make sure there were no water droplets in the fountain - the drinking fountain. And I thought that was really dumb. So I just - it did not work for me at that kind of a level. So I think that when you're a soldier, you have - you definitely fit this sort of mold where you can take orders and you don't need to know why. You just do what you're told.
GROSS: OK, so you couldn't do that, but you married somebody who could.
RICKETTS: I married my polar opposite, yes.
GROSS: There's the division right there. You found the person who could follow the rules that you couldn't follow.
RICKETTS: Absolutely. He was - when I met him, he was hyper-organized. He was very vigilant about his routines and his rituals and the way - his structure and following orders and doing everything the right way the first time. And I was just really kind of flying by the seat of my pants all the time. And I still am. That's my nature. So we've always been very attracted to that quality that the other one doesn't have. So...Yeah.
GROSS: But that has also caused friction.
RICKETTS: Yes, it definitely has caused friction.
GROSS: And friction including in parenting. And I think parenting must be such a difficult issue for couples in the military, you know, where one is deployed and one is home because the spouse who's deployed is away so much of the time during the formative years of the children's lives. And that was the case with you, right? I mean...
GROSS: You managed to, like, give birth in between deployments. You planned it well. But then your husband would leave. And you raised, you know - many of the years when you raised your three children you were virtually a single mother at home.
RICKETTS: Right. Right. Yeah, and that was tough. And when the kids were babies, I would remind myself that they wouldn't remember those deployments. So it wasn't really kind of fundamentally changing them and how they grew up. But as they got older, this last deployment - our oldest son, Jack, was - his name is Joe in the book - he was in sixth grade. So he was just getting to the point where he really missed his dad. And he was angry that his dad was gone because he knew that his dad had volunteered for that last year in Afghanistan and that he didn't have to go. So that was - you know, it's a really weird mix of pride and also some anger, too.
GROSS: A feeling of rejection or of second-place-ness?
RICKETTS: Second-place-ness, yes. Yes, definitely a feeling of being the second priority. And we knew we weren't. And we discussed it as a couple, you know, about him going back. But we also knew that there was a price to pay with how much he would miss with our kids. There's a lot of - most of the Army couples that I'm familiar with, most of our close friends, the mom is the disciplinarian. So went the dad is back from the deployments, he's like, oh, let's just break all the rules. Let's just eat chips on the couch and do all these crazy things. And that's me. I'm the, dad's gone - let's eat chips on the couch. So when he's deployed, I just kind of have this attitude of, listen, guys. Get good grades. Be respectful, and the world is your oyster. You can do whatever you want. I don't - you can watch TV. You can play outside. You can - you know, just get these things, just meet these basic requirements and the rest of it is up to you. So when Darrin's back, there's a lot more - each day is structured. For example, the other day when your producer called and I talked to him, he said - I think he said something like, where's your husband and your kids right now? And I laughed to myself because they were on a four-and-a-half hour death march around Lake Michigan.
GROSS: (Laughing) Not a hike - a death march.
RICKETTS: Yes, that's what we call it. We don't call it a hike. We call it a death march. So he just - he really is very, very good at maximizing every second that he's there. He's very, very present with our kids. And he is a wonderful, wonderful father. He definitely does want everything done. He thinks his way is the best way. But he's gotten a lot better at allowing everybody to kind of be themselves a little bit more than he did in the early years.
GROSS: But I could see this leading to a lot of friction in parenting styles during the periods when he was home. And I'm sure that maybe that's true of a lot of military couples when the spouse who's been deployed is home - that there's a clash of parenting styles because you haven't developed - you haven't had time to develop, you know, a co-parenting approach.
RICKETTS: That's true. Luckily, one of the great things - our kids never realized that. Our kids never figured that out and used that against us. As I heard you say that, I started thinking about that. They totally could've played us against each other, and they never did - never did that. But he would get back, and he would be a little resentful that I hadn't, you know, held everybody to the standards that he would've with - you know, with all of the sports involvements. All of our kids are athletes. But a couple of the times - and the big, long deployments - their athletics took a back seat because I was just too overwhelmed. I couldn't get everybody to all of their practices and do all of the things that I needed to do to support his job and take care of everything else. So their athletics took a back seat at certain points. And he would be resentful of that. And then I, in turn, would be resentful that he was resentful because I would be like, listen, buddy. When you are gone, there's a price to pay. And the price to pay is that you can't control everything. And you can't dictate to me how I'm going to get through this. As long as we're all alive and standing upright and breathing in and out when you get back, then my job is done. That was kind of my attitude.
GROSS: So how did you prevent yourself from being really resentful when your husband thought that you should have been stricter, but here you are doing it all by yourself?
RICKETTS: I was - well, I was resentful. And that's where counseling came in for us. That's where our therapist really sort of showed us that he had a right to feel the way that he felt, and I definitely had a right to feel the way I felt but that we had to move on from that. And especially now that he's transitioned away from the infantry and likely will not go back to that, he is - he just really appreciates every moment with our kids a lot more than what I've seen regular families - dads who haven't been gone the way he has. They sort of take the time with their kids a little more for granted, I guess. But Darrin's just very, very there with our children all the time - every minute. He goes to every game. He goes to every practice. He is just a wonderful dad. And does a - he really does a great job of making up for what he's missed. So that takes away a lot of the resentment for me. Every now and then, though, it's hard for me to say, our children. It does much more easily come to me to say, my daughter, my son, my whatever. And if he's there, he'll correct me and say, our daughter, our son. And that isn't something that really kind of comes naturally to me. But I'm definitely working on that.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Angela Ricketts. And she's written a new memoir called, "No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions Of An Infantry Wife." Angela, let's take a short break, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us my guest is Angela Ricketts. She's the author of a new memoir called "No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions Of An Infantry Wife." One of the things you write about is the emotional difficulty of saying goodbye when it's time for your husband to start a new deployment. And you use the expression black soul. Would you describe what that means?
RICKETTS: The black soul is the numbness that sort of - you reach a point after, you know, the first few deployments, it just rips your gut out when you say goodbye, and you're just left in this puddle of just tears and emotion and just weepy for days. And that can only happen so many times, just like they say you can really only have your heart broken once. Well, after the first really wretched, wretched deployment, each one after that you become a little more stoic, a little more removed, a little more numb to the feelings. And that kind of blackens your soul. We joke about that - army wives say, channel the black soul, honey. It's time to channel your black soul. And I call that - I was going to call it a black soul syndrome but we have so many syndromes. So I decided to call it a black soul phenomenon, the BSP. So I like to say I need it to myself in my inside voice. I just need to go to my BSP and not feel this and hover above and just get through this moment intact.
GROSS: And then would it subside after a while?
RICKETTS: Well, no, not really. And I think that's one of the things that we're still waiting for. I know I'm waiting for it. And this book has kind of helped me with that. I've become sort of just stoic in general. People cry at movies and I look at them and say, really? You're really crying at this movie? Because I just feel very unfazed by a lot of things that should faze me. But a lot of dealing with talking about my book, especially since it's come out - and writing the book took an awful lot out of me, too. I wasn't prepared for the toll that this would take on me just writing it. I didn't have a very long time once it sold to finish the first manuscript. I had 90 days. And I spent the first 60 days obsessing about it, and I really wrote in a month. But in that period, I just - I wore the same shirt that I call Earl. I wore Earl every day. And I just felt like I was reliving it all over again and forcing myself to step back from the black soul and really feel what I never felt back then. That all the things that I'd sort of put on hold I went through as I was writing the book. So it was very cathartic in that sense.
GROSS: And when your husband was home in between deployments was the black soul there then, too? Could you allow yourself to really feel because you knew he'd be leaving again? It was just a question of time.
RICKETTS: Right. Right. Yeah, no, the black soul was always there. The black soul showed up - I think I say in the book and it's true - around 2006. But yeah, when he was home we were very careful to maintain a level of distance with each other. There was never, you know, that kind of - we couldn't finish each other's sentences. I say that in the book. We didn't have - there were a lot of moments that we'd missed the funny jokes, the funny stories. I shared a lot of those with other army wives. I didn't share those stories with him. So when he would come home there was so much that we each had to tell each other that we didn't know where to start, and we just didn't tell each other very much. We would just sort of try to pick up where we had left off. And that left us with not a whole lot to talk about a lot of the time. So now having him not deployed, it's kind of fun to finally be able to complete each other's sentences and have a little more, just, peace between us for the first time. There's definite - there's peace there that never was before.
GROSS: Did you think the marriage was going to break up?
RICKETTS: Yes, I did. In 2008, I thought that was it. And I think he thought that was it, too. When he came home from 15 months in Iraq, he came home right before Halloween. And November was very hard. And when we got the Christmas decorations out, I remember him - I didn't write about this in the book and we've never talked about it since - but I remember him pulling the Christmas decorations out. And he looked at me and he kind of was a little teary. And he said, this might be the last time that we do this. And I just nodded and I thought that maybe it was. So I was really happy that we made it through that. That was a lot of - there are a lot of couples that give up at that point. And there's nothing wrong with that. There's no, you know, we almost did. And it's by the grace of God that we didn't. But it changes you. Each deployment changes you a little more. It takes a little bit of who you are, but it adds something else. I mean, I don't mean to make it all sound so negative because there were so many beautiful things that happened to both of us. But it did nearly break us, but it didn't.
GROSS: Angela Ricketts will be back in the second half of the show. Her new memoir is called "No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions Of An Infantry Wife." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Angela Ricketts, author of the new memoir "No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions Of An Infantry Wife." Her husband was deployed eight times, serving four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's now a Colonel in Homeland Defense Northern Command and is based in Colorado Springs where they live. Ricketts writes about the stresses his deployments placed on their marriage and on raising their three children. She also writes about her community of infantry wives. Ricketts and her husband have been married for 22 years.
You got married after knowing each other for five weeks. You met at a bar while you were a college student. Married in five weeks - eloped - and then shortly after that, he was deployed to Somalia, which you've described as the most painful of all the deployments for you because it was like the first time and everything was still so new. Do you think that's kind of typical that a lot of military couples get married before they know each other very well because of a pending deployment?
RICKETTS: Oh yeah - especially now, especially since 9/11 there's a lot of that. There's a lot of guys who get married really quickly and then - you know - if he had been gone to Somalia for a year instead of, you know, whatever it was, five, six months, I don't know what would have happened. That's an awfully long time when you're 22-years-old and you don't know someone very long and then they're gone for a year. That's just really, really hard on a marriage. So luckily back then in 1992, deployments were about six months. But we didn't know how long he was going to be in Somalia. We thought that he might come home after 30 days. I remember them kind of saying they could be gone up to year and every time someone would say that, I would just fall on the floor and just lay there like a limp-rag. But yeah, we definitely did not know each other very well, but we both always had a very strong sense that it was right. And that's something that really got me through a lot of dark days was - I would go back to the moment that we met at our first date and that sureness that it was right and that feeling and that - that got me through.
GROSS: So when he came home after that first deployment, did you feel like you knew him, or that like - you know what happens? This - I think this happens to a lot of people - you know somebody, and you think you know them well, then they're gone for a long time - like in a relationship. So you have your memory of who that person is, and overtime you keep, you know, adding to that memory. You know, like some things fade in your memory and other things you kind of project onto that person. And by the time they come home, the picture in your mind is sometimes really different than the actual person, in part because they've changed in that period too. So, like, you've changed your memory, they've changed who they are and it's hard - it's hard to synch that up sometimes.
RICKETTS: Yeah and Somalia was - I write about that too - was intense for me personally for a lot of other reasons too. But when he was in Somalia, we hadn't known each other that long and we were so, you know, so in love and still in that very infatuated phase with each other. So I spent that whole time that he was gone just really building him into being this - almost a deity - this wonderful, perfect person. And when he came home, I realized that I'd forgotten that he has this weird throat tic that drives me crazy. And I had forgotten that he, you know, does these certain things that drive me nuts. So in the early years when he was deployed, I did really build him up in my mind. It was around that whole black soul thing and the numbness that I just stopped thinking about him during deployments and aside from, you know, the realistic task at hand and dealing with what we had to deal with. But I definitely reached a point where I didn't - I emotionally detached from him when he would deploy a lot more than I probably should have. But that was what I had to do to get through it. And he never did that - he wasn't someone who emotionally detached, so that was a lot of our problem with the Iraq deployment.
GROSS: What do you mean?
RICKETTS: That was the one that - in 2008, when he came back and we were so close to splitting up, I'd emotionally detached from him. And when he came back, that's when I was really much more resentful of how long he'd been gone. And, you know, 15 months - you think well, OK - that's only three months longer than 12 months. But it really screws with your mind. When you go through a second back to school and they're still gone, a second changing of the leaves and they're still gone. All of these things that just really takes a tremendous toll so I had emotionally just separated myself from him. And when he came back and he's all up in my face and talking to me and talking to me all the time and I was used to my peaceful, quiet way that I did things. And almost like I lived, you know, a little spinster's life all on my own with my kids and we had our way of doing things. And then here comes this bigger than life presence, saying daddy's home and let's, you know, go back to doing things the way that I like to do things too. So it was very - that was always really kind of hard for me to share my home with him again and be reminded that it was his home too.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Angela Ricketts and she's the author of the new memoir "No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions Of An Infantry Wife." Let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR and if you're just joining us, my guest is Angela Ricketts. She's the author of a new memoir called "No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions Of An Infantry Wife." In May of 2006, there was a Chinook helicopter crash in remote mountains of Afghanistan. And Army protocol is that there's a communications blackout on the home front for the families until the families are directly notified. They don't want you to find about it on the news or from anybody else. But once the news is announced about the crash, you write about how everybody just is obsessed with CNN and wants to get whatever updates they can. Would you describe what life was like, where you were after the crash was announced on the news and what all the wives were worried about? Like did you know if the battalion that your husbands were in - the men from that battalion could've been on that helicopter.
RICKETTS: Well, that was the spring of 2006, like you said, and most everyone was in Iraq. That was the national focus back then was Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. And Afghanistan felt like it was almost won. So we didn't have that many soldiers in Afghanistan at the time. And when we heard about that crash, we knew that there were only a handful of brigades over there. So there were - it was a very high likelihood that that crash was us. And all we saw on the ticker tape that went around CNN - some of us watched Fox, some of us watched MSNBC, but we, you know, tried to stick to CNN because it's the most neutral. But the ticker tape that went around CNN just discussed a Chinook crash. And we all know that Chinooks are transporter helicopters that can carry up to, I'm just guessing but I want to say like 50-ish soldiers. So that's a lot of soldiers that could have possibly been killed. And I knew that - I knew that it wasn't Darrin. As much as I knew that it wasn't Darrin, I...
GROSS: Why did you know it wasn't your husband?
RICKETTS: Well because he was on the division staff at the time and he wasn't necessarily flying around in helicopters doing combat operations in the job that he was in. That was right before he took his battalion command. So I was fairly confident that he was probably sitting in an office back from where that happened. But I wasn't sure. I hadn't talked to him since, I think, since Tuesday of that week. I hadn't heard from him since Tuesday and that - the crash was on a Friday. And it was Saturday when we saw the ticker tape go around CNN. So it was a really long, long day. It was a beautiful, perfectly clear, spring-summer day. I went to the commissary to get groceries. That place was almost empty. And normally it would have been really crowded. There would have been tons of kids on the playgrounds. There was no one on the playground. It was like everyone was just staying in their house, staying away from each other. And looking back, I don't know if that's maybe because when they say commo blackout...
GROSS: The communications blackout?
RICKETTS: Yes, the communications blackout. There are exceptions to that rule. And when it takes a really long time to do the next of kin notifications of a casualty, the more people are going to find out through, you know, other channels. And the higher likelihood of the spouses - the worst-case scenario is that the spouse of a killed soldier finds out through an unauthorized channel. So, like, from a neighbor or something horrible like that. And that's - I'm sure that's probably happened. So that's why we have such strict protocol, so they call that a commo blackout. However, when it takes as long as it does, like it did with the Chinook crash, everyone sort of hunkers in their house. And there is a part of me that wonders if we didn't sort of avoid each other that day because some people knew and just couldn't - didn't trust that they wouldn't blurt it out or they knew who it wasn't, or they knew who they thought it was and didn't, in that moment, want to sit around and, you know, theorize well, do you think it was this person? You know, we just were all just sick with worry and just stunned. So we just waited that Saturday.
GROSS: Well, you actually did find out one of the casualties from your husband. Would you explain what happened?
RICKETTS: Well, what happened was Darrin was on the division staff. And when the Chinook went down, there was a battalion commander of a cavalry squadron - which was the kind of battalion that my husband was going to take command of - but he was on the Chinook and he had not manifested, that means he wasn't on the roster.
GROSS: This is the battalion commander you're talking about.
RICKETTS: Yes. He jumped on it at the last minute. And there were a lot of people who saw him get on but he was not on the official roster. So that's one of the things that slowed down the casualty notification process that day. But Darrin was told initially in the, you know, few chaotic moments after this Chinook crashed that he was maybe, possibly, very probably going to take command of that battalion with this vacancy because the commander had just been killed, and that he needed to call me and let me know that this was happening because he was supposed to come home in three weeks. And if he had taken that command it would have meant staying in Afghanistan for another year. So he came to call me and I was with my very close friend, who was the close friend of the woman whose husband had been killed. And she was at my house and we had, you know, the curtains drawn. And she had come up the street at the end of that Saturday because we were just - she was exhausted from her phone ringing and I had not heard from Darrin, so she came to my house and we were having pizza when my phone rang and it was Darrin. And there's a certain number that shows up on the caller ID and you know it's Afghanistan. So when I saw the phone ringing, I saw the caller ID, I knew it was him. And I answered the phone and it was a very broken connection. I couldn't hear him. I could hear his voice. And so my friend was cutting pizza for our kids, and I kind of slithered down the hallway to, you know, to cloister into my daughter's bedroom. And I closed the door so that I could hear him, what he was trying to tell me. And he told me that he was likely going to stay in Afghanistan and he asked what we'd heard back at Fort Drum. And I said we hadn't heard anything, that it was complete silence. And he told me who'd been killed, and he said that he was ordered to call and tell me because he was likely going to stay there. And when he told me who it was I said, my God, her best friend is in the kitchen cutting pizza. And he said, I wish you'd told me that before we started this conversation. And I was like, you know, sorry I didn't give you a roll call of who was at my house when you called. But he told me that the wife of the killed battalion commander still didn't know and that they were likely going to notify her the next morning, so I had to keep it to myself until then.
GROSS: How hard was that to do?
RICKETTS: Well, and I promised him that I would, and I hung up the phone with him and I was just shaking. And it hadn't even occurred to me that my friend wasn't still out there cutting pizza. I didn't know how much time I'd been on the phone. I knew it was only a few minutes. But I kind of tried to gather myself, and I thought well, I can't tell her that this has happened. I'm just going to have to go out there and just, you know, say, oh yeah, there was a crash but both of our husbands are OK, and let's watch a movie, and let's open a bottle of wine. I just stood there for a few minutes and tried to think, how am I going to do this? This is one of my closest friends. She knows me. She's going to see it on my face. And I opened the door to the bedroom to go out and she was leaning against the wall. And she just had this terrible, stricken look on her face that I will never, ever forget. And she'd heard me whisper. And she'd heard me on the phone with my husband. She'd heard that oh, my gosh, she's here. I can't, you know, she thought that it was her husband who'd been killed. So when I opened that door she thought that I was going to tell her that her husband was killed. And she just kind of slid down the wall and said, that was my husband, wasn't it, who was killed? And I said no, it wasn't yours. It was - and I said the name of the close friend. I mean, literally within 30 seconds I'd spit it all right out there. And she - we just laid there together and just - it was terrible. It was very, very terrible. This was a wonderful couple. He was a very, very respected leader - very smart. They'd been married for almost - I want to say close to 20 years and had never had children. And she just had their first baby. They had a baby who was - I think she was about a month old when her father was killed. So she'd never met her dad. It was kind of the worst of, you know, of all of the case scenarios for us at that time.
GROSS: One of the stories that you write about in your memoir, in fact you open with this story, is that your husband's deployed, you wake up and you're having these pains in your chest. And you assume it's an anxiety attack, and you don't want to make a big deal of it because you're supposed to be Army strong. And you don't want to bother your friends. You don't want to call an ambulance because it's just an anxiety attack. So you drive yourself to the hospital and it turns out you're having a major heart attack. I feel - reading that I felt like whoa, you're so programmed to not be - not to think of yourself as a burden or putting anybody out or not being Army strong.
RICKETTS: That's true. I mean, we're very well aware of who the chicken little's are in the group or, you know, the boy who cried wolf. I didn't want to be the boy who called wolf. I didn't want to freak everybody out who had their own reasons and their own plates full for worry. And I was certain that it was a panic attack because we had been through so many workshops and so many classes and trainings where they talked to us about panic attacks. So I was pretty certain that's what it was. I had never smoked in my life. I had just run a race. I was in great shape so there was no reason to believe it was a heart attack.
GROSS: How well did you recover from it?
RICKETTS: I'm great now. They never found a reason. I had cardiac catheterization - is that what it's called? The next morning, I was in ICU for several days, and my husband didn't come home from Afghanistan. He was three months into his last year-long deployment. But I had all of my Army family with me. We were a part of a wonderful brigade. And I had all of the women there with me and my own parents are there and my own family and my cousin. But I - it was a slow recovery. I mean, I spent six weeks at home kind of thinking and taking a toll and thinking about the cumulative stress of all of these deployments that possibly just took a toll on my heart because they never did find, like, an actual reason for my heart attack.
GROSS: Well, Angie, I know we've interrupted your vacation. I want to thank you very much for taking time to talk to us. And, you know, congratulations on writing the book. Thank you so much.
RICKETTS: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having me. This was an incredible opportunity. I appreciate it.
GROSS: Angela Rickett's new memoir is called "No Man's War: Irreverent Confessions Of An Infantry Wife." You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org. Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the final album by Cowboy Jack Clement, recorded before his death last year. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.