How the unpredictable life of a Navy SEAL affected his wife — a Spicer native

“Never regret a day in your life. Good days give you happiness; bad days give you experience; worst days give you lessons; and the best days give you memories.” Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Cindy Messer, a Spicer native and wife of a retired Navy SEAL, has written a book with the hope that it will help other wives. Help wives whose husband is in the military, or her husband is gone a lot and she’s left at home, or she has a lot on her plate and is handling it alone.

Cindy Messer with her two boys when they were young. Cindy’s husband was a Navy SEAL and was often gone for long stretches, so she tried to adjust to living alone and not knowing where her husband was and when he would be home again. Contributed photo

Her book talks about all her experiences as the wife of a Navy SEAL….being responsible for everything that has to do with running a house and to not know when her husband will get called away, or where he is stationed.

Called Enlisted and Alone: A Memoir of a Navy SEAL Wife, she writes about how for 15 out of 19 years, her husband was an active duty Navy SEAL. “I went from not knowing anything about the military life to being thrust into that life. As a Navy SEAL it was very secretive, and I write about him being gone all the time and me raising our two boys alone and the struggles of military life.”

Back then, she said, they didn’t have cell phones, and there was no e-mail, just a landline. “When he would leave that was it. I didn’t know when he was coming home. There was no communication unless he could possibly call me on the landline. It was very hard – I would watch the news and try figure out possibly where he might be. Then I would get a phone call saying ‘I’m home come pick me up at the base.’” She would load up the kids and go pick him up and wonder how long he would be home before he would have to leave again.

The kids were small then, she said. They had a 2-year-old and a baby. “He would leave, and it could be three weeks to seven months, and he would come home and couldn’t believe how much they had changed and grown just in that short amount of time.”

Nowadays, she said, military wives have Skype, where they can see their spouse on the computer screen. Dad can see his kids, and the kids can see their dad.

“We didn’t have any of that, so dad would be gone, then he’d be home, then he would leave again. It must have been kind of confusing for them as children, but I just tried to keep them as busy as I could when he was gone. I did the best I could.”

Cindy’s book includes a chapter she titled “Resentment.”

“You go through a wide range of emotions. There’s loneliness, and anger toward the military for taking your spouse away so much. There’s resentment because he would come home, and if I knew he was coming home, I’d have his favorite things in the refrigerator, the lawn would be mowed, the house would be clean, and I would make it like a homecoming.”

He wouldn’t be home long before he had to pack his bag and get in his truck and leave, and she would be left standing there with two kids and the yard, the house, and a lawn that needed mowing, knowing she had to do that herself because she couldn’t afford to have the yard mowed.

“It was literally on me to do all of those things, and there were times I felt resentment towards his job, but the hardest emotion I dealt with was the loneliness because I didn’t have any family around at all. I had friends but that’s different than having your family.” Cindy said she never felt she could call her neighbor and say ‘could you watch the boys for an hour’ so she could go to the grocery store by herself because she felt they must be busy, too. “I was new to the area, Virginia Beach, so I didn’t have a close-knit group of girlfriends I’d grown up with or I’d been with for years. I felt very alone.” She said they weren’t allowed to live on the base; they didn’t want Navy SEALs to live on the base. They gave then a housing allowance to live off the base.

SEAL stands for SEa, Air and Land. This group of people are special operators and are trained to do water dives and to jump out of airplanes. Her husband, Steve, was a sniper, so that was his specialty.

“I was afraid for him every time he left. He’s retired now from the military. He’s one of the lucky ones. We attended many funerals and memorial services. We are very fortunate he is alive and well.”

Cindy and her husband during the early days of their marriage. Her husband decided to leave the Navy SEAL program after 22 years so he could spend more time with his family. Contributed photo

Cindy said they’ve been married for 27 years and now are back in Virginia Beach where this all started, due to a job change. Cindy said once in a while she drives by the house to which they brought both their boys when they came home from the hospital. “It’s the only place we feel is home to us because that’s where it all started was in Virginia Beach.”

Cindy said as she was writing her book and her husband was reading it, he told her he had never thought about everything she said in the book. “He said ‘I never thought about all you did when I was gone.’ I guess he didn’t realize everything that I took care of while he just packed his bag, got in his truck and would leave. A lot of it he didn’t know about because he just didn’t realize.”

After 22 years as a Navy SEAL he decided to leave because he realized he did not have a good relationship with their two boys. “They were coming into their teenage years, and he realized that there wasn’t that bond. It got to a point that he would ask the boys when he was home if they wanted to go do this or that and they would say no we have plans with our friends and whatever because they were used to him being gone all the time.” She added, “He realized that if he wanted a relationship with our sons that he needed to be with them and do things with them before it was too late, so he retired at 22 years as a Navy SEAL.”

Now, he works in Virginia Beach at a base where Navy SEALs are stationed. He’s a range officer and takes care of their ranges. “The SEALs train on gun ranges, and he takes care of those ranges and makes sure they have everything they need.” He loves it, she said. “He’s back with the guys but isn’t one of the guys. He misses going away, but his relationship with the boys is good now. It took a long time. It took several years, but it’s good now.” The oldest boy is 25, is in the Navy and currently on a seven-month deployment. Their youngest son is 23 and lives in Virginia Beach so they get to see him often.

Their oldest son has been in the military for three years and is on his second, seven-month deployment. “That’s actually harder on me than Steve being gone because I was so busy raising the two boys, and now that my son is gone, I find that more worrisome and harder because I don’t have all those responsibilities I had when Steve was gone.”

Cindy is hopeful her book will help another wife out, to give her a light at the end of the tunnel and show that you can keep your family together through the military life, but it takes a lot of work. “Not every woman is meant to live that lifestyle, but if you concentrate on your goal as a family, what you want in the end – you have to work to keep your family together because it can dissolve very easily in the military life.”

In one chapter in her book, she says “When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” She had a few of those days.

She is hopeful this book will help another wife who reads it. “I’ve had reviews, a lot them say ‘I felt like my goal has been accomplished.’” Cindy said that is her hope. She also said she has read some reviews where people say they have started reading the book and can’t put it down until they finish it. “That makes me feel good that they can connect.”

Cindy was born in Willmar to Fred and Sandy Danielson. “My aunt Ginger Hanson lives in New London, and my aunt Syl Thompson in Atwater. We moved a lot, but Spicer is my home. I always loved coming back here to visit friends and family, to see the lake and see how Spicer and New London are growing. It’s good to see that they’re thriving.”

Cindy now looks forward to making memories with her entire family and that includes their rescue dog Duke and new grand-puppy Barrett. Cindy’s book is self-published and available at a number of locations, including Amazon.