Deployment Details: Better Left Unsaid?


“We didn’t have to talk about it. It was just best unsaid.”

That’s what Sal Giunta, the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War, thought about talking to his family about what he had experienced during his deployments. And as the former Army Staff Sgt. with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team explained this to a room full of military spouses at the Spouse Summit last week, I couldn’t help but agree with him.

“I could talk to her about anything,” Giunta wrote in his memoir “Living With Honor” about the beginning of his relationship with his wife, Jen. “That would change in time, of course — there were stories I didn’t share with Jen, scary stories about war and combat, things she didn’t need to know — but for now I felt like I could tell her anything.”

In some military families, the typical rules of marital communication become blurry during and after a combat deployment. When my husband came back from Iraq the first time, I had no idea what to expect, no idea if he would tell me stories about what he had seen, what he had done, what he had experienced. The good, the bad, the ugly. He certainly didn’t share much while he was gone, and I figured he chose to censor his communication with me to keep me from worrying more than I already was.

But when he came home safe and sound, I wanted to know. I wanted him to be able to confide in me, to communicate with me like he used to when we sat at the dinner table together and shared the highlights of our days.

And then he showed me a photograph of a mortar round. On a bed. In his buddy’s hooch. That was right next to his. As he told me the story behind the photograph, my imagination filled in the blanks. I no longer wanted to know the whole story. And I’m not quite sure he wanted to tell me.

I thought of that photograph the day my husband came home and told me he was deploying to Iraq again. I thought of that photograph when we said goodbye. I thought of that photograph every time too many days passed without a phone call or an email. I thought of that photograph every day until he came home. That photograph stole any ability I may have possessed to live in denial about where he actually was and what could happen to him.

Sometimes leaving out certain details is beneficial for all parties involved.

“When I communicated with my parents, by phone or email, I resisted the urge to share any information beyond the merely superficial,” Giunta writes in his book. “And they accepted that tidy little summary of life, probably because it made things easier on them. It was like an unwritten contract: I’ll stay alive and come home to you; just don’t ask me what it’s really like.”

I know there are things my husband never told me about his deployments, things he probably never will. That seems to be our own unwritten contract. If he needs to talk about his deployment experiences, he turns to his military buddies, the guys who know what he’s been through because they’ve been through it themselves. They understand. They empathize.

As much as I’d like to, I will never be able to fully comprehend a life where a mortar round can show up anytime a few feet away from where I sleep. I think my husband recognizes that, and in turn, his reticence stems from a motivation to protect. I know as much as he has chosen to tell me. Everything else was better left unsaid.

Do you want to know all the details of your spouse’s deployments? Does your husband share those details with you or does he agree with Sal Giunta that some things are “best unsaid?”

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.
  • sabrinacking

    This is one of those areas that is really rocking our world right now. My husband never told me much about anything of Iraq or Afghanistan the past decade he has been coming and going. Once, in a midnight email he sent me a picture of a Stryker hit by an ied in a giant hole, but made no comment about it. Just attached it to a sterile email about the kids and I at home with no explanation whatsoever. I think it was a way of saying, without saying…I am afraid.
    Now that he is talking to someone, he blurts things out at me occasionally about his experiences in war out of nowhere, that rock my world. Like being punched in the gut. I am told to try and not react and just receive…that’s really hard. But years of never saying a word, took their toll on my husband, and it’s only through being able to find the words to begin to process what he has been through, that he is finding any peace. Again, I come back to Eccliastes…a time for war, and for peace, a time to be silent, and to speak. Many of us have survived the war by building walls to isolate ourselves and our spouses from the very real trauma of war. Now as the wars end, walls will hopefully slowly come down. That silence which kept us all sane during war, isn’t necessarily good for us and our continued ability to thrive after war.

  • Rquick

    I want to know it all. The good the bad the ugly. Every emotion. Its just my nature. Its easier for me to understand and be there for someone and I like to think its therapeutic for my husband to be able to tell me about things. That he doesent have to be in solider mode with me or be hooah hooah all the time.

  • Heather

    Personally, I feel there is something to be said for being “Blissfully ignorant” about our spouses deployments. I have never pushed my husband to tell me things and he has chosen to share only tid bits (of the not wonderful stuff)with me. 10 years and three deployments behind us, I am perfectly content with this. I don’t need to know everything he personally experienced, but I did know when to tell him to seek counseling. I am his wife, and sure I am here to lean on and bare some burden, but war I don’t think is something a wife or husband (of a soldier) needs to bare in a tell all way. I say this now, after my husbands last deployment to Afghanistan. He told me something that was happening, something beyond our comprehension, that the “enemy” was doing. Whether I consciously knew this was happening or not before hand became all to real when my husband had to experience it. And for that I feel “ignorance is bliss” has its place.

  • SGTMom1

    I have a different view for I am a veteran of a later deployment to the Gulf, after Haiti . I know what my husband faced when he has been out on 6 deployments after 9/11 for OIF/OEF. I fully supported him. I worried knowing the dangers he faced. But I never gave up hope. I listened and I know things happened. We discuss things militarily and politically all the time and he tells me more all the time. My brother-in-law had many of the same things happen with the military and now as a civilian contractor. My sister-in-law is much like the writer. For it is good not to know it all, it may actually stop her heart literally with worry. I guess for me if he did not feel he could talk to me as he would another buddy I would be hurt. HE is my best friend. WE talk all the time and even the wee morning hours. I would not have it any other way. If he needs me he knows where I am. When anyone goes to war it changes them and their perspective on life. With women going into combat it is going to change a lot of things, PTSD is going to be more prevalent and it is going to be very different. Women are hard-wired differently than men. WE shall see what history says as time goes by.