I Married a Soldier
Brenda Hale and Rachel Farmer
It’s what every military spouse fears: silence when there should have been emails, followed by uniformed strangers at the door. In “I Married a Soldier,” Brenda Hale chronicles her happy marriage to career military man Mark Hale, and its heartbreaking end when he was killed in Afghanistan in 2009.
Brenda Hale’s story certainly has plenty of interest–and romance. She met Mark when they were both still in their teens and he was deployed in Northern Ireland. Since dating an English soldier was dangerous in Belfast, they had to keep their relationship clandestine, both before and after their marriage. Hale describes how star-struck she was by this handsome Englishman, how happy she was once they married, and how devastated she was to lose him, and how that loss propelled her into politics.
Although this is ostensibly a book about the military life and the struggles that the families of soldiers killed in combat are often forced to go through by a thoughtless bureaucracy, much of the book reads more like a combination of romance novel and eulogy to Mark Hale. And it must be said that he sounds like a stand-up guy, and died a hero’s death pulling wounded comrades to safety; however, gritty war prose this is not. The closest comparison I can come up with is something like “Twilight,” only with the Christian subtext made explicit–Brenda and Mark both become devout evangelical Christians early on in their marriage, and much of Mark’s company follows suit. It’s up to the individual reader whether that sounds enticing or not. As a non-Christian from the American South, I can’t work up a lot of enthusiasm for a Christianized military or for Brenda’s later religiously-inspired involvement with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. Still, her faith certainly served as an important source of support during Mark’s long deployments and after his death, and Christian readers will probably find her story inspiring.
And it was good she had a source of moral and spiritual support, and a close-knit community to help her after Mark’s death, because some of the bureaucratic tangles she fell into were truly maddening. Just one particularly egregious example was the fact that the army had frozen Mark’s pay and benefits the day he died; to add insult to injury, because he was killed in the morning, he hadn’t technically “worked” that day and so didn’t get paid for it. Brenda soon found herself with two children to support and no income, in danger of losing her house. Her fight to get the benefits owed to her and her daughters inspired her to enter into politics on a platform of support for military families, and she was duly elected and served two terms in Stormont.
The foreign policy buff in me would have liked to see a little more hard-hitting comparison of Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, a topic that simply cries out for analysis, but that’s not what this book is about. Instead, it’s the story of one woman’s deeply personal journey into widowhood and activism, one that she has chosen to the share with the world.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.