Mrs. Campbell: The military spouse

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michael Washburn
  • 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. These acts brought America to a screeching halt; nothing else that day seemed to matter. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on that Tuesday morning, and the destiny of a generation changed forever. This is a 10 part series about those serving in the military and how their stories paint a picture that shaped today's Air Force.)

"I was asleep when my phone rang," said Tanya Campbell, a military spouse, former active duty Airman and reservist. "Being a military spouse, when the phone rings in the middle of the night when your husband's deployed, it's never a good feeling. It was my sister-in-law. She told me to turn on the T.V. The attacks were splashed all over the news. At this point the first tower had been hit. I thought it was a T.V. program, but then my sister-in-law said 'this is real, it's not a joke or a movie ... this is real. We're being attacked.'"

"My name is Tanya Campbell, and my husband is Tech. Sgt. Christopher Campbell. Sergeant Campbell and I met at our tech schools. We were in different schools and I was on CQ. He was walking through and asked me if I wanted to work in the office where his job was for the week. I said yes, but the job ended up requiring more time than I thought. After my first day of work, I found him, yelled at him and told him what I thought. He decided right there that he wanted to spend more time with me."

After tech school, Sergeant Campbell left for his first base in Dyess AFB, Texas. Mrs. Campbell was still finishing up her schooling with five months remaining. He took three days leave and visited her at her school in Florida where they were married. She didn't get to see him afterward until she left for her first duty station.

"I got to see him on my way to my first base which was Hickam AFB, Hawaii," Mrs. Campbell said. "I saw him for about a week. That was in April and I didn't see him again until August. Shortly after we were married, I was pregnant. We decided the best thing to do was for me to get out of active duty and join the reserves."

On Sept. 11, Mrs. Campbell was at home with her son while Sergeant Campbell was supposed to be coming home from a deployment.

"I remember 9/11 very distinctly," Mrs. Campbell said. "My husband was away on a deployment in Thailand. He was there with the Central Identification Laboratory of Hawaii. When he left, he used a civilian passport. He could not carry any military identification with him and he had to grow out his hair. It was very scary knowing he was in a place where he wasn't supposed to identify himself as military. We have a massive terrorist attack on the U.S. and my husband is in a foreign country with no way to contact me."

Even though Mrs. Campbell and her family lived on base and were fairly safe, they were in close proximity to Pearl Harbor, which had been attacked before. The base was also very high profile. Even though she was worried, Mrs. Campbell knew she had a job to perform.

"I was an administrative assistant, the right hand man to the flight chief for the business operations for the base," Mrs. Campbell said. "He ran all the clubs, the golf course and everything like that. When a base goes into Force Protection Condition Delta, everything shuts down. Only the Airmen who were deemed essential personnel are allowed to enter the base and those that were working would need to eat. Whether it would be in the dining facility or another location. I knew I had to get to work to start taking and directing phone calls."

Before Mrs. Campbell could leave the house for work, the second plane hit the tower.

"I sat, watching the news in utter silence and disbelief at what I was seeing," Mrs. Campbell said. "I had a really had time not losing my composure and breaking down completely. Even to this day it breaks my heart and makes me tear up to think of all those souls that were innocently lost for no reason."

When she finally left her house and was on her way to the office, Mrs. Campbell recalls the base being completely empty. She says that it was six in the morning and usually at that time there would be a decent amount of traffic. But the streets were quiet and barren.

"It was very surreal," Mrs. Campbell said. "We shared the flightline with civilians. That was the thing that I noticed the most. There was no airplane noise. There was no planes taking off or landing, there was nothing. I remember driving on an overpass and I could see the front gate. There was a line of cars as long as I could see, waiting to get on to the base."

With the attacks of Sept. 11, having a child to take care of and dealing with her husband being deployed, there was a lot of stress on Mrs. Campbell's shoulders. It's something military spouses deal with on a constant basis.

"A lot of military spouses say that dealing with the stress comes naturally, it's something we just deal with," Mrs. Campbell said. "Many military spouses will say that as soon as they leave, everything goes wrong. The car breaks down, the dishwasher breaks, the kids get sick. Things like that happen and you just deal with them. You can't let it get to you because if you do, who is going to be there for your child? If it gets to be too much to deal with, you can wait until your child goes to sleep and then cry later. You also learn to depend on other spouses as well; they're going through the same thing you are."

After the attacks on the World Trade Center, Mrs. Campbell didn't hear from her husband for some time. He was originally supposed to come home that day. Because of the attacks, his arrival had been delayed.

"It was a few days before I could talk to my husband," Mrs. Campbell said. "I knew he wasn't coming home that night. Nobody was flying. I didn't know where he was at or when he was coming home, I just prayed and asked God to keep him safe. Days later, I got the call. They smuggled him out of Thailand and into Japan where he was able to catch a flight home. He arrived in Hawaii on Sept. 17, the same day as our son's birthday. We didn't tell our son, so it was a nice birthday surprise for him."

After Sept. 11, deployments increased dramatically. Even with this increase and Mrs. Campbell's husband being away from her and now their two children more often, it hasn't had a negative effect on their relationship. In fact, it has made their family stronger.

"I think every deployment and separation has its good and bad aspects," Mrs. Campbell said. "I think our family is strengthened anytime something happens. Our family's very faith based. We know that he wouldn't be going on a deployment if he wasn't meant to. There's always something to be learned and gained from every deployment. It teaches us lessons, how we can and can't handle things. It has taught me that I am strong enough to take care of things by myself if I need to and that I love my husband undeniably. I know every day that he can be taken from me in a heartbeat. He may go to work and never come home. I love him more than any other person on this planet and I thank God for blessing me with him and my family."