Family Lines


Family Lines

Darlene Martinez’s childhood dream was to be in the military. Her dad was in the special forces during Desert Storm, and she thought his uniform was just *the best*. She treasured the letters he sent while he was away on secret missions. And trinkets like this uniformed teddy bear, which she still keeps in a box.


At sixteen years old, Darlene got her dad to take her to the local Army recruiting office and sign her up. (Sixteen is too young to enlist, yourself, so she needed her dad to sign a waiver.) She got married young, too. At nineteen. And soon after that, she discovered she was pregnant. But it quickly became clear that her marriage wasn’t working out, and Darlene was going to be a single mom.

And then, three months after giving birth, Darlene was deployed to Iraq. She was given only 48 hours notice, so she had to figure out what to do with her daughter, and fast.

Darlene with her first daughter, Crystal

Darlene with her first daughter, Crystal

Darlene with her three children: Robert, Crystal, and Kaylee

Darlene with her three children: Robert, Crystal, and Kaylee

Since then, Darlene has had two more children—both with relationships that didn’t last. Tune in to hear what it’s like to be pregnant, breastfeed, and raise kids on your own in the Army. Oh, and to get shot in the back. Twice.

Hear more stories about the military
Big thanks to Meredith Turk for helping us find Darlene through her project Homefront: Fort Drum, about one of the most deployed Army units in the country. Homefront: Fort Drum is in collaboration with North Country Public Radio, The Association of Independents in Radio, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

What impact has the military had on YOUR family?
Maybe you’ve been in the military? Or your spouse? Maybe you were a military brat? Or your kid has been friends with one? Tell your story; talk to each other. Down below.

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17 thoughts on “EPISODE #77: Behind Family Lines

  1. Great episode! I am a navy spouse and it was nice to hear something about the military life on the podcast. My husband has been deployed for almost seven months and returns in the next few weeks. I am so done with this deployment!

  2. Hi! My friend Jill loves your show and reached out to me today to leave a comment. I am in the Marine Corps and 37 years old. I met my husband In Iraq in 2008. We didn’t get married until 2010 but we started working on growing our family right away! We tried and tried and tried! We tried IUI, then IVF multiple times. We were pregnant a few times but those sweet little angels weren’t able to stick around. I started looking more seriously into adoption and grew a conviction that adoption could be the journey to parenthood that was meant for us. It was so freakin’ hard! All of it! But now I am a momma to gorgeous and incredible twins — two boys! Anyways, I am not sure if my story will interest anyone. My infertility was never diagnosed but I’m curious to see if women who have deployed to Iraq or Afganistan have higher rates. Maybe it was Gardasil, maybe it’s my “minor”‘endometriosis that was never diagnosed till I had a fibroid removed. I have no clue! But I can tell you there is a better way — adoption. Okay, that’s my over share for the night!

  3. Hi Hillary and Darlene,

    I loved this episode! Thank you so much for drawing attention to some of the real life experiences (both positive and negative) impacting military families today. I am not military, but most of my closest friends here in Hawaii are in the Army and Air Force. I have lived with these families, supported them through deployments and extended training missions, been there to welcome their soldiers home from war, been an “auntie” to their kids as they have grown up, prayed with them, been embraced by them, and loved this incredible group of people with my whole heart. I like to say that my husband and I are about as close to the military as you can be without actually being part of it.

    What’s funny, though, is that when I first moved to Hawaii three-and-a-half years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about the military or military families. I was 23 when I came here from Washington State and moved in with a girl from Texas (who I had never met before) while her husband was deployed. Almost overnight, I became immersed in a community of Army husbands and wives from around the country who were holding down the fort as they waited for their spouses to come home from Afghanistan. It was a culture shock to say the least, but one that I have always been grateful for experiencing.

    Although my husband and I now live on another island and the military has less of a presence in our day-to-day lives, I still take my role as a civilian in my military friend’s lives very seriously. I think that more people in the civilian world need to be educated about the strengths and struggles of our military families. There is so much sacrifice on the part of servicemen, spouses, and their children that goes unnoticed, and I hope that we as a country will always embrace and support this truly incredible group of people.

    On that note, I have written a little bit about my experiences as a close civilian friend of military families and how other people can be more supportive of their friends and family members going through deployments. My post can be read here: http://www.ibelieveinlove.com/2015/12/28/how-to-support-military-families-and-relationships/

    Thanks again for this great episode!

  4. This story really resonated with me for a number of reasons. I’ve never felt that the military gave enough credit to the single military moms out there. I know because my mom was one and for the 14 months she spent in Iraq, so was I.
    In 2010 I was a 19 year old sophomore in college. My mom left for Iraq and I become my 15 year old brother’s legal guardian. It was a struggle to say the least. My brother is autistic and has Sickle Cell disease. Scheduling doctor’s appointments, going to IEP meetings and studying for my own classes was tough. But that experience is the reason I am going to grad school this year. It made me a much stronger person.
    I only wish that when people thank soldiers for their service they also thanked the families. We are serving too. I wish that the military had been there more for my brother and I as well as my mom when she returned. To them we were just a family and this was just her duty, but that 14 months changed our lives.
    My mom has since retired from the military. I’m so proud of the 20 years she served. I’m also so thankful for my amazing brother. But being a military family is hard work and I’m glad that part of our lives is over.

  5. I only recently discovered your podcast and have since been binge listening! Thank you for the work that you’re doing because it’s helping so many women, including me, work through these difficult questions and thoughts related to parenthood.

    This episode and Episode #64 (“Should I have kids?”) were speaking straight to my heart. I’m not a service member, but I am a military spouse. I’ve been grappling with this question about whether or not to have kids for, what seems like, ever. Part of the indecision stems from me being a military spouse, but also a person who is very dedicated to my career (public health practitioner and clinical social worker), and the more time I spend embedded in this life, the more I realize that being a military spouse and becoming a parent is signing myself up for single parenthood more often than not, which likely will necessitate me quitting my job or taking the just-good-enough-job-but-not-likely-fulfilling to take care of parenting responsibilities while maintaining my mental health, and I don’t know if I’m cut out for that.

    As I write this, I’m reflecting on these things in my life: my husband recently returned from his 3rd deployment in 4 years (2 combat, 1 non-combat; 6-8 months each). He knocked me up the week he came home from deployment, I took an at-home pee test that confirmed my pregnancy, and one week later he left again. I won’t see him again for another few weeks, when I’ll be right around 12 weeks. We have spent three-quarters of our 14-year-relationship apart due to school, work, and/or deployment. I have Master’s degrees in public health and social work, but have difficulty finding quality work because of the typical challenges of being a military spouse (moving every few years, living in small military towns, stigma, etc.). We’re turning 31 years old this summer…so we decided to try to have a baby.

    I currently work as a clinical social work (mental health counselor) on a military base and have worked with so many individuals and couples through their struggles. I am witness to their challenges, and I don’t know if I could do what they have done. I support them through their changing roles, adjusting to a single parent household when one deploys, to a two parent household when they return, to then a household with two parents, but the parenting is not equal because the knowledge and familiarity are not equal. I don’t think I want that life, but I might not have a choice. I have to quit my job soon because the military is moving us, and I’ll be in my second trimester once we get to our new location. I might indeed be a stay-at-home parent while my husband gets whisked away by his military duties, and I’m not sure how I’ll deal with that.

    I fear I’ll become resentful. I fear I’ll need to hold too firmly to power and control. I fear my marriage might strain and break from the sleep deprivation, from the lack of support that can’t be helped because duty to one’s country supersedes everything else, from the sense of my identity being washed away by baby diapers and naptimes, from my own feelings of failure if I can’t get back into my career… they’re the same struggles that most women have, but with a twinge of something else underneath…privilege and guilt? patriotism?

    And in lots of ways, I feel alone because so many military spouses around me *want* to be parents and have chosen to be parents, so they’re in their late 20’s and already have two kids. I don’t quite know yet how to confide in them, but not alienate them or me.

    But I’ve always had a choice to be a parent or not. I am 30, halfway to 31, and I wanted a chance to try to get pregnant with my 30-year-old eggs rather than placing my hopes on my 31-year-old eggs (and older!). I feared infertility, and we got lucky that I am indeed fertile, and pregnant. I’m trying to focus on our fortune to keep the fear/resentment at bay.

    I love my husband dearly, and we’ve talked through so many things, including all my fears and hesitations. I wouldn’t try this parenting thing (heck, this marriage thing) with anybody but him. But although I’m already pregnant, and we’re hoping for a healthy pregnancy that results in a healthy baby, I still don’t know if I want to have kids. I still don’t know if I want to be a parent, especially a military one. But I am here. We’re here. We’re going to be parents (knock on wood), and I think/hope it’ll be ok. I don’t feel ready or excited, but I am committed.

    So I’ve taken solace in binge listening to your podcast and processing my feelings this way instead! LOL. Thanks for the work that you do.

  6. Courageous! Thank you, Darlene, for your service! So much has changed about the military, so it’s hard to image your trials. Thank you for sharing.


    Thanks for this podcast! My husband and I are dual military and I would love to hear about how dual military folks make it work.

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