Kristine Schellhaas begins “15 Years of War” with a quote of unknown origin but familiar sentiment: “Your freedom is the most expensive thing you have. Even if you’re not the one who paid for it, use it well.”
What follows is a simply written and yet remarkably passionate account of nearly two decades of life as a soldier and a soldier’s wife. Alternating between the perspectives of Schellhaas and her husband, Major Ross Schellhaas, their story begins just before Ross returns to active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in spring 2001.
Considering that Ross describes his first tour with the Marines as dissatisfying because he did not see deployment, his timing for reenlistment could not have been better — or worse.
While the story is mostly Kristine’s, the chance to follow Ross as he serves two tours in Iraq, one tour in Afghanistan and a stint in a large-theater security cooperation exercise in the Pacific provides a unique viewpoint.
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There is no romancing of the battlefield. The unforgettable recovery of the body of Pfc. Nolen R. Hutchings notwithstanding, the most heart-rending depictions of those lost in action have an almost clinical edge that would be expected of someone trained to finish the mission even as his brothers fall.
The reader will become familiar with the many weapons and military acronyms used, but simple sensory details, such as the color of the sky or the sounds of the morning in Fallujah, are noticeably absent unless they are critical to the campaign. The interspersed emails featuring Kristine’s pleas for help with an emotionally damaging mother-in-law provide a stark reminder that when you are a soldier, spouse and parent, you do not get to turn off any of those jobs, no matter where you are or what you are doing.
In contrast, Kristine’s chapters could be called painfully human. The diary-style writing helps set this work apart by emphasizing the family’s relatable circumstances. Readers will chuckle at Kristine’s idea of trimming Ross’ hair to save money on the required, bi-weekly military haircuts, only to discover haircutting is not her skill.
They will roll their eyes and bristle at the woman on the committee — everyone knows the one — who wears the chip on her shoulder with pride. There are the expected challenges, such as frequent moves, uncertain timelines and the difficulty of connecting with those outside of the lifestyle.
However, a deeply poignant section addresses an often forgotten yet always possible scenario. Though military families live with the haunting thought that their deployed soldier may not return, what happens when an unthinkable tragedy occurs at home? Readers will weep with Kristine and her family as they redefine strength and affirm that love, faith and commitment really can get you through the worst of times.
Recommended for a variety of audiences, this book would make an excellent gift for anyone considering the service. It is extremely readable and deserves to be more widely known as an honest and important window into the lives of those who have given so much for all of us.
Heather Grevatt is an assistant professor and librarian for Boise State University’s Albertsons Library.