One night while in Iraq, he recalls, “We were attacked with somewhere between 100 or 150 rockets. They hit close, they hit far, they hit all over the Forward Operating Base. There was no real aim; that’s what it felt like. I remember us sitting in a bunker. And after maybe rocket 60, we just started laughing, and telling jokes. And we did that for the remainder of the night. And it was kind of like, in what world — or where are you in your mind — where you can find joy or happiness among other people, even though you’re actively being attacked?”
Maj. Shepherd also savors the memory of coming home. “We had redeployed, and fortunately we hadn’t lost anybody during our deployment. When you leave a combat zone, you don’t necessarily fly straight back to the States. There’s a transition place you go to. I won’t say where, but we were pretty much out of the combat zone. And we had three or four days to decompress from a year away and feel normal again and talk and know that it’s over and we’re coming home.”
In 2012, Victor invited Stephani to join him during a period of R&R in Germany. To her great regret, Stephani did not have sufficient vacation time to make the trip. In a twist of fate, however, she and Victor found themselves stationed in Germany a few years later as a married couple. Stephani remembers that three-year period as a highlight of her experience as a military spouse. She loved the bakeries, the proximity of other countries and cultures, the $75 plane tickets to Italy, and Germany’s more laissez-faire approach to child-rearing.
“In America we have all these milestones and we push the kids to achieve them, whereas in Germany it’s not like that,” she says. “They let kids be kids, let them learn through play.”
Stephani uses the word “fluid” to describe the life of a military spouse. She and Victor have lived in several different cities, and each move requires an adjustment. “You have to start your life over no matter where you are,” she says. “We moved to Kansas four days after the birth of our daughter. I had no friends, and we were only going to be there for a year. If you’re an introvert, it’s really hard. I’m a mix, but I have to force myself out of my comfort zone so I’m not lonely.”
Uncertainty is another reality. As Maj. Shepherd says, the potential for a new deployment “is never really done.”
Also ongoing are the deeper concerns over his family’s well-being, the security of the United States and global developments that most of the civilian population is unaware of. “It rattles my brain a bit when I think about the what-if’s and the events going on in the world that aren’t on our local TV broadcasts,” he says.
Stephani worries about the “what-if’s” as well. She is keenly aware that some veterans — homeless, depressed, suicidal — can become domestic casualties of war. “You can’t always have an open conversation with a military member because of classifications of information,” she says. “But I do wonder, is he OK? After having deployments, are you mentally healthy still? There are things I’m sure I will never know about. But you want to make sure your spouse is OK.”
To those who are considering a military career, Maj. Shepherd offers encouraging words.
“If you want to be part of a team, if you want to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself, then why not give it a try? Service to this country is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I have no regrets in that regard because, outside of being a husband and a father, it’s given me a purpose that I can look back on and say I’m proud of all of it. I didn’t like all of it, but I’m proud of all of it.
“I will also say — and this is beyond the military — whatever you do, do it because you love it. Don’t do it for a paycheck, because money is never going to be enough. Honestly, do it because there’s something about it that gives you purpose, that makes you happy. Because it’s the purpose that will drive you through those tough times. Whatever your profession is, do it like you love it.”