As a result, tens of thousands of soldiers, marines, airmen and other troops have been deployed to battle, in greater numbers since Many have done tours of duty for a year or longer, and many more than once.
Those men and women are heroes.
But there's another group of heroes that too often gets overlooked – the spouses of those troops – and deserves a lot of credit for keeping things together at home. As my husband said, they have one of the hardest jobs right now, raising their kids on their own under the constant worry of what's going on half a world away. I don't know how they do it, so I asked them.
As a relatively new mom, I have such a tremendous respect for military spouses and what they do, especially when their husbands or wives are deployed. Given the nature of the military, most families don't have parents or in-laws nearby to rely on, like my husband and I do. So they have to turn elsewhere.
Whenever I've had a bad day with my kids, I think of two of my friends, Barb Novitske, whose husband is on his first deployment during their marriage, and Melissa Bopp, whose husband who has been deployed five times for six months or longer.
When their husbands are away, they have to be the mom and the dad, take care of the kids, take care of the house, pay the bills and be the family support system. They find support for themselves in different places.
Barb, who was in the Navy, and her family live in Havre de Grace. Her husband, Army Maj. Andy Novitske, is stationed at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground. He has been deployed to Afghanistan since the end of June. He'll be gone a year. Before coming to APG, they were stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
This is Andy's second deployment; a member of the Chemical Corps, his job in Afghanistan is to write orders three to five days out for missions his soldiers will be carrying out.
Andy's first deployment was in 2003, when he helped kick off the ground war in Iraq. But it's Barb's first. The two met just after Andy got home from his first tour. They've been together for seven years and married for four. They have two boys, Brady, 2, and Gavin, 4 months.
It's not easy for Barb.
"It's tough. But luckily I just stay really busy and don't think about anything," Barb said.
She has found support from a local moms group, Little Explorers. She met a member of Little Explorers at the Havre de Grace library and started joining the moms at other events. That's how I have gotten to know, and admire, her.
"Little Explorers turned out to be a good thing for me. Since Andy's left, I've gotten closer to a few more people and people really do want to help," Barb said.
She's not good at accepting help or asking for it, but she's found people really do want to lend a hand.
"None of these people are affiliated with the military. Normally you have Army friends, whose spouses are going through same thing, but I was able to find support elsewhere," she said.
"It's not that it's been easy, but it's easier than I expected. I thought I might fall apart, cry or break down. But I haven't," she said. "I don't know if it's because you can't let yourself or you just have to be strong for your kids. You do what you've got to do."
What Barb has to look forward to is what Melissa says makes the whole deployment with it – the homecoming.
Melissa's husband, Marine Maj. Chris Bopp, got back in June from a seven-month deployment to Iraq. They're stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for another two years.
"[The homecoming] is one of life's highs you have to experience to know how amazing it is. It's just indescribable, the feelings you have the first time they get off the bus," Melissa said. "It's the honeymoon all over again."
Melissa, who grew up in Fallston and married Chris in 1998, never thought she'd end up a military wife. In fact, she swore she'd never marry military. Growing up near APG, she'd met a fair number of guys in the military and didn't think the life was for her.
"But you can't help who you fall in love with," she said.
She met Chris in 1996 while he was at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He graduated that year and was assignment. The two maintained a long distance relationship and finally married in 1998. They got married on a Sunday, she dropped Chris off on a boat two days later and from April to December, she saw him a total of three weeks.
"It's not easy, but it's the way of life that I've known since I've been married. I don't know what it's like to always have him around, it's what I'm used to. It's been like that since day one," she said.
While Barb has found support outside the military community, Melissa has embraced it.
"I was new to the military and they took me under their wing. We're all in the same boat," Melissa said. "It's not easy. Every day's an adventure and some days are better than others. On rough days, the neighbors and other military wives going through the same thing help you get through it."
Like Barb, Melissa keeps herself busy. With three boys, Joe, 9, Mike, 7, and Alex, 4, that's not hard to do.
"We have soccer, Scouts... we're out every night of the week. We don't have down time to sit and worry," Melissa said.
When Chris is away, she plans "something big" every month for the kids to look forward to, to make the time go faster.
Both moms make sure their kids keep in touch with their dads. Barb and her kids Skype with Andy regularly, and Andy has recorded books so he can "read" to Brady and Gavin. When her boys were younger, Melissa would often show her boys pictures of their dad.
Barb doesn't have to explain to Brady where Daddy is, he's too young to understand. Melissa's boys, however, are at the age where they're asking questions: "Is Daddy going to die? Is Daddy going to get shot?"Melissa tells them they've just got to pray and Daddy is fighting the bad guys, and makes sure not to watch the news when the kids are around.
Melissa says she's a much stronger person than she used to be, she's had to be.
In my eyes, Melissa and Barb are both incredibly strong women. So are all the other military spouses, be they husbands or wives. I'm not sure I could do what they do and I have so much respect for them. To all of you, I say thank you, for allowing your husbands and wives to do what they do and keeping things together at home. And for being an inspiration to me.