By: Sara Drumm
When Army officer Spc. Keith Dishman, 23, is in Afghanistan, his wife, Ashley, also 23, moves home to Florida to live with her family. When he is back at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, she moves back to live off base with him.
At home in Trenton, just outside of Gainesville, Ashley has the comfort of her family and Keith’s family. She attends her younger brother’s and sister’s games and events. She takes classes for college. She participates with the Alachua County Military Support Group.
At home in North Carolina, she and Keith get to fall into a routine. They have their own house. They have a cat and a dog. They entertain family on holidays and spend time with friends. Ashley works, usually in retail, and the couple gets to spend time together daily.
But when he is deployed in Afghanistan, daily routine revolves largely around the Internet, Ashley said. She is always checking Skype or Yahoo Messenger in hopes of a message, a conversation, or to see that he was at least on at some point.
“At 12:30 a.m. he will call sometimes, and with that first ring, you are up and answering the phone,” said Keith’s mother, Bridget Dishman.
Keith, who was home for two weeks of rest and relaxation before returning to Afghanistan, said that he gets Internet in his room at the base and that it’s nice to talk to family after a day’s work. Keith works as a crew chief and door gunner, maintaining the helicopter and defending it against attacks. His crew is often assigned to transport troops, deliver supplies or guard air ambulances, which are unarmed.
He has been fortunate during his five years of service, suffering no serious combat-related injuries.
In fact, during the two weeks that he was home, a suicide bomber attacked his base in Salerno, leaving some civilians and troops dead. He came home just in time.
When Keith first deployed in 2009, Ashley found it hard to deal with. The couple, married for four years in August, had dated when they attended Trenton High School, and they got back together when he started basic training.
She understood what his service meant, but she didn’t know what it would feel like to wonder on days that they didn’t get to talk.
There are many reasons—other than the haunting ones that lurk in some corner of the mind of anyone with a loved one in the military—that Keith might not be able to get online during the day. He might be in a rural area with no Internet, a storm might have cut the service, or the Internet might be disconnected because something happened elsewhere on the base.
But it’s hard to stop your mind from dwelling on all sorts of possibilities. After the first exhausting year of dwelling, Ashley decided on a new strategy.
“I know what to expect now,” she said. “I try not to worry. You don’t want to spend your time worrying.”
She keeps busy working, taking classes for health care management and, along with Bridget, participating in the Alachua County Military Support Group by attending meetings, working fundraisers and preparing boxes to send to soldiers monthly (including two for Keith).
Keith’s brother, Marshall, has a similar strategy. He said he tries not to hear any news. When he does, he can’t help wondering and worrying, which is stressful.
“Whereas I’m the opposite. I want to know everything,” Bridget said. She keeps busy, too, as an on-site monitor for a fifth-grade class at the First Place Academy in Trenton, but she finds it is hard to ignore the news.
“You try not to pay attention, but it’s there,” she said.
“I try to tell them,” Keith said. “If you’re hearing it on the news, it’s not me.” They would be informed before the news reached the media.
His family will continue to find ways to adjust for at least another five years, as Keith just re-enlisted. He is applying to become a pilot, and he thinks he has a good shot at it.
“You have to realize, it’s their life,” Ashley said. “It’s his decision if he re-enlists.”
Keith said he is happy with his choice. After high school, he wasn’t interested in continuing school, and the Army has given him the chance to become financially stable. And helicopters are exciting to work in.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” he said.
For Ashley, it’s stopping her mind from thinking about that adrenaline-producing work and keeping busy that helps her deal with his time in Afghanistan.
“If you dwell on it the entire time, it’s going to be worse for you,” she said.