Arin's story
I arrived at Fort Irwin, California, a remote Army base in the high desert in 2013, not knowing much about military life. Fort Irwin is the National Training Center for US Army troops right before they deploy and at that time, it was the height of the war in Afghanistan.
While riding my bike on a desert road one day, a military convoy passed me. Grandparents at a playground baby signed “helicopter” to a toddler when a Chinook flew overhead. It was surreal stepping into this world.
One day John brought home these night vision goggles. With this device of war, I examined my new domestic space which was surrounded by objects of war.
I remember Googling "military life", "military spouse" and "military families" and what came up was a lot of homecomings and patriotic images. It didn’t feel like my new life in this world.
So I started making own pictures in order to engage with and learn more about this community.
I met a lot of women caring for children and each other. Military spouses (95% women) often raise children alone away from their support systems
because family separation is a constant in this life.
Military families also move every 2-3 years on average. Military children typically move six to ten times before graduating high school.
I soon fell into a familiar rhythm of packing and unpacking as we moved from California to Kansas to New Jersey to Georgia. My children were born in between moves and deployments.
John had a panic attack as soon as Teo and I drove away before his first deployment as a dad.
We were living
parallel lives.
I’ve felt John’s absence as acutely in our daily routines as in special events—at dinnertime, on the first day of school, and at our children’s birthday parties, when I am their only parent.
The war doesn’t end when you return home.
It comes to you in your dreams, in your reactions and interactions.

After a combat deployment, John used
to talk in his sleep.                  

"Release the helicopters."                        
"We have to find an escape route."
I don’t recall at what point I realized that John had poor hearing. Service members are at a greater risk of hearing loss than their civilian counterparts due to repeated exposures to high intensity noise such as small arms fire and explosions from training exercises and deployments. It’s something I became accustomed to and now, my children too.

It was not until recently that the children were old enough to notice the scar on his right shoulder. “Will Daddy get shot by a sniper again?” my youngest, Mila, asked. I began thinking about the trauma that we inherit through John’s experiences with war.

I wanted to make a photograph of John’s hearing aid, which for me, symbolized this secondary trauma. When our son, Teo, drew close to his ear, his face close enough for John to feel the warmth of his breath, I knew this was the photograph that I was trying to make.
John had recently deployed and I was packing up the garage for my solo move with the kids when I came across a dusty old ziplock with a broken carabiner and his Purple Heart inside his messy tool box. I took the Purple Heart out and threw the zipock and carabiner away. When we FaceTimed, I told him and he asked me to get the carabiner from the garbage bin. I then understood that it was meaningful to him. So I dug through the garbage which was soaked in the stench and heat of a Georgia summer and I fished it out. I later found out that when John was shot the bullet ricocheted off the carabiner and probably saved his life.
See John's Story