Anchorage — I wanted to hate this program. I expected to hate this program. I assumed it would paint an unrealistic and unappealing picture of Army life, Army spouses and our soldiers. Like most reality shows, I expected the cast to be caricatures of real people engaging in silly activities and stirring up drama.
After watching two episodes I can say I don't hate "Married To The Army: Alaska," which premieres 9 p.m. Sunday on OWN.
The first episode is our introduction to the wives. They are all married to soldiers currently deployed to Afghanistan with the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. It is not a perfect representation of Army life.
For starters, all the wives are beautiful. Knockouts. In almost every scene they were in fashionable clothes with their makeup done and hair blown out. Army wives don't look like that every day, especially not during a deployment and especially not here. This is Alaska; people wear jeans and Carhartts to the theater.
Army wives are just like anyone else. We wear sweatpants. We go to the commissary with ball caps and tennis shoes on. But if I were on TV, I wouldn't show up in a Purdue sweatshirt and yoga pants either.
All of the families on the program have children. As an Army wife, one of the hardest things about deployment is watching your children go through it. Babies don't remember their daddies. School-age children act out because they don't know how to cope with missing him. Older kids struggle with the knowledge that dad might not come home. It will make your heart ache.
Both episodes made me cry -- a big, red-faced, snotty-nosed, ugly cry. Having just been through the same deployment as these women, the emotions are still raw. The show does a really good job depicting all the different experiences and emotions Army wives go through. The wives are different ages, with different aged children and different issues. There's something here that every Army wife, in every station of life, will relate to. So much so that it might be hard to watch.
Episode 3 starts on Mother's Day, a tough day for wives when their soldier is deployed and made worse by two casualties taken by the brigade.
Yolanda Goins, arguably the star of the show because she is the wife of the brigade commander, welcomes her son, a cadet at West Point, home for a visit. In a particularly emotional scene, they go fishing. He talks to her about proposing to his girlfriend. It's a conversation a boy should have with his dad.
But dad is on the other side of the world fighting a war, so mom has to fill in. It strikes you with not just the sacrifices that families have to make, but the roles spouses have to fill when soldiers are deployed. It's at moments like this that our truth and the sacrifices of our families are highlighted.
Army wives watching it are not going to like all of the characters on the show. Like most reality programs, it was obviously cast with "characters" in mind, and some are stereotypes that will make us look bad. There's a wild child. She'll add some entertainment value in future episodes, I'm sure. The worst offense though is the ranker.
In military circles, a "ranker" is a wife who "wears" her husband's rank. It could be the way the show is edited, but it doesn't make her look good at all, and I'm sure she's going to get a lot of flack for it. In the real Army, rankers exist. I've met a few and tuned them out. I suggest you do the same.
My other beef is parts of the show are contrived. One of the wives, Rynn (who I would like to be best friends with because she seems genuinely awesome) asks her husband over Skype if his room is in the middle of a "Forward Operating Base." The producers must have pushed her to have him explain that on camera because an Army wife with her experience would not ask that question -- she'd already know. There's a lot of little stuff like that. It's stilted and unnatural to watch, but I'm sure non-military viewers appreciate the explanations.
They also do an awful lot of describing each other by their husband's rank, like saying, "I'm going shopping with an officer wife friend." Nobody talks like that. Seriously. I'm going to blame that on the producers, too.
Otherwise, they reveal all the little sacrifices I hoped it would. It's not all sitting home, crying because you miss your soldier. A lot of being an Army spouse is getting up, doing what needs to be done with strength and love. At one point, Mrs. Goins speaks to her husband on the phone after he's had a rough day. Col. Goins gives her credit for taking on so much back home and she says, "Somebody's got to do it, and you've been called to it. So I'm called, too."
These women are called to it, this life, the hardships and sacrifices. They're not perfect. The show is not perfect. But it's good. It's as close to reality as possible.
Except for how they look. Really, they're all just too stinkin' pretty.
NOTE: GCI is offering a free preview of OWN to mark the premiere of "Married to the Army: Alaska." GCI Video customers statewide will have free access to channel 102 from Nov. 18 through Dec. 18.
• Bridget Rainey is an Army wife, mother of two sets of twins and blogger. Her website is Twinisms.com. Her husband recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan.