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My Faith: The uncertainty of a Navy SEAL wife
A recent military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
August 10th, 2011
04:21 PM ET

My Faith: The uncertainty of a Navy SEAL wife

Editor's Note: Leeana Tankersley is the author of Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places (Zondervan 2009), a spiritual memoir of the year she lived in the Middle East with her Navy SEAL husband.

By Leeana Tankersley, Special to CNN

On Saturday, my husband and I received news of a downed helicopter in Afghanistan with 22 SEALs aboard. I have been a SEAL wife for eight years—our entire relationship taking place during wartime—but we have never experienced this magnitude of loss.

We have been living in the Middle East for three weeks now, recently relocated for our next tour. Here, the fight feels so much closer, the losses more tangible.

I immediately thought of those wives and mothers—a wife and a mother myself—who would be waking up to the tragic news that their loved one was gone. I thought of how many times my husband has stepped onto a helicopter.

Forces in Afghanistan kill militants involved in downing of copter

And I thought back to another tragedy in the SEAL community, the death of Marc Lee in 2006, the first SEAL killed in the Iraq war.

When the news of Marc’s death arrived, my husband—not home two weeks from deployment himself—got on a plane and headed to New York to go meet Marc’s widow, Maya.

The Navy assigned Steve to be her liaison, helping her from the hours after she learned of her husband’s death through the first few weeks of grief, as she navigated innumerable decisions and logistics.

Steve called me a couple times while he was in New York to say things like, “You know I love you, right? You know I really love you.”

And I would say, “I know, honey. I know you do.”

After his trip to New York, he escorted Maya and her mother back to San Diego, where Marc was buried.

Kansas boy wants the world to recognize fallen dad

He sat beside Maya as her official escort on the day she laid her husband to rest. It was the saddest day I can remember.

Hot sun burned my chest red as we sat in the August heat perched atop Point Loma, high above the San Diego harbor, looking out onto the ocean. We sat in rows of wooden folding chairs set up between the graves.

The sight of it all is suffocating, every headstone a father, son, or brother, a mother, sister, or daughter. Each with his or her own story of life and death.

Seated in front of a large picture of Marc and huge sprays of flowers, we waited for the black Suburban to arrive. Fellow SEALs, with quivering chins, brought the casket to the front as bagpipers breathed “Amazing Grace.”

The Suburban arrived, and my handsome husband in his Service Dress Blues emerged, extending his hand for Maya, who stepped out in a black halter dress with a flowing skirt. Dark red rigatoni ringlets framed her large sunglasses.

A widow at 25.

Maya grasped my husband’s arm as they made their way to the front row. An officer knelt down in front of Maya and presented her with the flag from Marc’s casket. “On behalf of a grateful nation,” he began, reciting the words no woman would ever want to hear.

Later, he told me that the SEALs present at the grave took turns pushing a Trident (the SEAL insignia) pin into the side of Marc’s casket. Before it was lowered into the ground, my husband knelt down next to Maya as she said her final words to Marc.

Marc’s death and the death of the 22 SEALs in Saturday’s tragedy speak to the utter lack of assurances life offers us.

No matter how much I believe in and trust God, no matter how spiritual I am, no matter how much I pray on my husband’s behalf, I have no guarantees that God will spare him.

Does my believing make his job any less dangerous? Does it bring back those we’ve lost? Or prevent another devastating loss like Saturday’s from happening?

No. I have to make peace with the fact that even my most fervent prayers may not spare a soul.

So does my believing change anything?

Yes, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he is with us. This is the truth I hold on to, the bit of faith I can cling to. In our greatest pain, he sees us. May that sliver of hope somehow matter to all those who grieving today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Leeana Tankersley.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Death • God

soundoff (189 Responses)
  1. M

    @BG

    Actually war is extremely impractical. Think about it: one country spends enormous amounts of money blowing things up at the expense of healthcare, food, etc for its citizens. Then, when you're done killing and blowing up everything, you spend an enormous amount of money rebuilding everything you just blew up. War and the industry it breeds is nothing more than humanity hanging from a cross of iron (to borrow G. Eisenhower's phrase).

    On an unrelated note, here's some food for thought: For every American killed by an act of terrorism, 54 die from lack of healthcare each year. Discuss.

    August 10, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • *frank*

      54 seems low by a factor of thousands...

      August 10, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • BG

      @ M

      You like Eisenhower quotes? Here's a couple.

      "The world moves, and ideas that were once good are not always good."

      "As much as I hate war, I hate fascism more."

      Your argument advances war as an 'optional' choice.

      As far as your 'ratio' is concerned, it'd be good to know the source, context, data, etc. Otherwise, at face value it sounds like it lives in the land of subjective opinion.

      August 10, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  2. James

    Will you people shut up about OPSEC....you have no clue what you're talking about. If she's breaking OPSEC rules then so did oh I don't know the movie Taking Chance. Shut your pie holes.

    August 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  3. *frank*

    Is Maya still single? She sounds hot.

    August 10, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  4. Daniel

    Who would Jesus bomb?

    August 10, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  5. Jay

    People who join the armed forces are accepting a gigantic risk for themselves and their families, and people who marry these soldiers are also accepting the risk. Yes, it is a tragedy for all involved, but I can't help but think they bring it on themselves. Even if the soldier returns alive, they sometimes come back broken mentally and/or physically. Even if they are never hurt, they are apart from their families for long periods of time that tax the family as well as the soldier. I think that if the glory of battle and duty weren't so exaggerated by the media and society, there wouldn't be nearly as many soldiers. In my opinion, it simply isn't a rational decision to place your own life and the well-being of your loved ones under so much risk.

    August 10, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Amadeam

      Jay, you're an idiot. I'd rather fly in the face of danger for my children and those at home who I care about a million times, or die tomorrow, or come home "broken", if that is the price that is demanded to make our lives a little bit safer. I suppose you feel that all the firefighters and police officers out there are just brainwashed fools who bought into the media "glory hype", and that their services are unnecessary, too. I hate stupid people, Jay, and always have. I spent over nine years in the Navy defending every stupid person I knew, because I knew they deserved it. I don't regret the risk of serving to defend you, either.

      August 10, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Shannon

      Jay- you should be grateful for those make that decision to serve otherwise you might be forced into that decision. One thing that makes our military great is that it is a volunteer force. As an Army spouse both myself and husband are proud of what he does. If you really want to know how grateful you should be for the people who choose to do that you should talk to someone from the Vietnam era that didn't have that choice. They were forced into serving and their families were forced into sacrificing. I don't think that you realize that either way we would have to have a military- either by choice or not.

      August 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • Jay

      Both responses are a bit biased coming from military families. I do appreciate that you guys are taking on the extra risk. But I didn't ask you to do it, and I still stand by my assessment that the risk to you and your family doesn't outweigh the benefit to you and your family, especially given the pay and benefits currently received by soldiers. Also, aren't you more able to protect your children if you're here with them and alive? I do believe that policemen and firefighters also accept the risk, although I think the risks to them are generally lower than to those in combat.

      @Amadeam What about my post makes me an idiot? The fact that I question the generally unquestioned ideal of valor and nationalism? I never said that soldiers and police weren't necessary but that they were essentially placing themselves and their loved ones under great risk for not much benefit. Really, they should be demanding much greater compensation for what they do considering the risk. Instead, the "glory hype" as you put it encourages them to serve for mainly for honor, leading to subpar compensation.

      August 10, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Chris

      Perhaps it's not rational to you.

      For the soldier, it's something they've identified as rational long before they came of age. Be it from their fathers, their grandfathers, their heroes, historical and present, there's a calling that cannot be explained. It's not about the risk, it never has, nor will it ever be about the risk, to make that decision. It's not about glory, it's not about money, it's not about killing. It's about standing up for what you believe is right, for protecting the rights of others. Sometimes that means a conflict you want no part of, sadly, but that it the way of the world.

      Look up the core values of any military service. It's all the same, despite different words, respect, duty, loyalty, courage, sacrifice, integrity and honor. It's not for everyone, that's understandable, but when you do go that route you are part of a brotherhood (sisters included in that). You may pay the ultimate price just like those who came before you, in wars just and unjust. The loss of a soldier, no matter where, always drives the question, "Could it have been me?" Yet, the fear, the doubt, cannot stop you from doing what you've promised.

      Is it rational? Maybe. Maybe not. It's who we are as soldiers, it what we shall always be.

      August 10, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Jay

      @Shannon and @Chris
      I think the honor, valor, defend your nation thing really makes it an easier pill to swallow. It honestly amounts to brainwashing. If people looked at it more as a cost-benefit situation, they would be far less willing to accept forced drafts, especially for unnecessary wars like Vietnam. Perhaps if it were more difficult to muster a large army, we would fight fewer wars. Isn't it at least possible that the ideals of duty, honor, loyalty, sacrifice, etc. are simply fed to the public intentionally to get people to look out for the best interests of the government instead of themselves?

      August 10, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Pierre

      Jay, you live a rational and sad life. If everything is a cost-benefit situation, what do you plan to own on your death bed? Lots of money would be stupid, you could have spent it in a more pleasant way. None is dangerous, you could live a little longer an need it. So? This to prove there is an inherent randomness in life that does not play well with cost-benefit analysis. And there is also infinite possibility of greatness that are not explained by cost-benefit: giving time, money, your efforts, to a cause you find just is very gratifying. Having brothers of arms you can really trust because they are not applying a cost-benefit analysis to their relationship with you is very gratifying. Taking a bullet for our children appears natural to most of us. It is not a cost benefit analysis. So frankly your remarks are too left brain. Let the two hemispheres work together, you'll have a much more pleasant, fruitful and honorable life.

      August 10, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Jay

      @Pierre I guess I misspoke. Soldiers apply a cost-benefit analysis as well. It happens in every decision we make. The difference is that the values that lead one to join the armed forces are simply skewing the analysis to make the soldier believe they are getting greater benefit than they are. In terms of making a difference, couldn't you make a much bigger one at home than abroad?

      Also, why do you think rationality has to come with sadness? Happiness is indeed a benefit that should be accounted for in many cost-benefit equations. Randomness (also known as risk) also should be accounted for. Businesses do it, why shouldn't we?

      Finally, taking a bullet for your children is something many would do because many people would value their child's life over their own (hence the benefits outweigh the cost). However, the bullets soldiers take aren't aimed at their children. They could make a much greater impact on their child's life by staying at home and parenting them. Instead, they take the bullet (and honestly inadequate compensation) for the intangible (and essentially meaningless) ideals of honor and country. There is also the question (that soldiers basically never ask) of whether their participation in war even makes the country safer. They are not defending our borders from invasion and may in fact provoke aggression against us.

      August 10, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • 1 Taliban > 30 Navy Seals

      1 taliban would rather shoot a rocket to kill 30 seals than waste several rockets on 1 Pilot . I bet that Taliban's son is proud of his dad.

      August 10, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • BG

      @ 1 Taliban >

      I bet they're both dead.

      August 11, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • Tyler

      Jay, I'm active duty Navy and I agree with you.

      August 11, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Frogist

      @Jay: I think you make an important point that seems to be getting lost in the rhetoric: What is the worth of a soldier? How do you measure it? And who does the measuring? If we are told over and over that going to war is about honor and duty, then that's what we come to believe, no matter whether it's true or not. But is it really true if you come home in a box? The compensation for putting your life on the line isn't very much. If we look at the degree of poverty, mental illness, homelessness that our vets face when they return home, I think it is important to ask those questions. Honor, duty, respect, loyalty, courage... how do you measure those things? And is that subjective measurment clouding our opinion of the practical and deadly aspects of war?
      I am also disappointed to see so many insults being aimed at you. If honor, respect and courage were really part of the military way of life, I would think hurling insults would be off limits to those who believe in the military.

      August 11, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Ben

      Jay, I understand your view on the Sacrifice not being worth the pay and such... I am a Marine who has seen combat, felt the loss of a brother in arms, and my wife has had to suffer many months not knowing if i was coming home. here is a quote to ponder.
      "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
      –John Stewart Mill–

      August 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  6. vilay

    "...and the death of the 22 SEALs in Saturday’s tragedy speak to the utter lack of assurances life offers us."

    First of all, only 17 of the 22 were actual SEALs. And secondly, 16 other people lost their lives in "Saturday's tragedy," you stupid beezy! Remember them, too!

    August 10, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • 1 Taliban > 30 Navy Seals

      Not a tragedy....But a Victory!

      Many proud Taliban families with Heroic dads out there.

      August 10, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • 1 Taliban > 30 Navy Seals

      Come American Football season NOBODY will remember them...NOBODY!

      August 10, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  7. J L M

    What exactly was the point of this article? It is poorly written, very choppy, and teaches us nothing. I hope her husband is retired (for OpSec) and that this woman, Maya, didn't mind being the center of this article. Maybe next time Leanna wants to share about being a military spouse, she shares her own story.

    August 10, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  8. Gautam Banerjea

    I don't cry easy but I did as I read this article...it speaks to our values as Americans and the commitment to our country that a few have volunteered for...there is nothing of greater value than to die for your country and protect us from evils that we cannot surmise. Thank you Marc, Maya, Leanna and Steve. I look up to you with great pride, respect and amazement.

    August 10, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  9. *frank*

    Did this lady's essay have a point (other than wanting to hear herself jabber)?

    August 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  10. Wait

    You're kind of putting your husband in danger there aren't you. Look up OPSEC and delete this article if you have a conscience.

    August 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  11. frank

    Leeana: Does your husband know you are compromising OPSEC?

    August 10, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • James

      You have no clue what you're talking about.

      August 10, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  12. frank

    Leeanna: Does your husband know you are compromising OPSEC?

    August 10, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  13. shimaza

    I have one thing to say that we americans greatly lost a lot real heroes n may they be in the lords company.

    August 10, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  14. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

    Any soldier lost is sad. I have a nephew getting ready to go on his 3rd tour. I hope my sister never gets that call and we see him return safely.

    August 10, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ACTS: I hope so too.

      August 11, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  15. Brian K

    The first SEAL killed in the OIF/OEF was Navy Lt. (SEAL) Michael P. Murphy
    Died June 28, 2005 serving during Operation Enduring Freedom

    August 10, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • FO Mike

      Don't forget his teammates and the fellow SEALs that came to rescue them who were killed that day as well. Don't forget any of them.

      August 10, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Joe

      The first SEAL killed in War on Terror was Neil Roberts (March '02) in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan

      August 10, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  16. Brother of Seal

    I am a brother of a 15 year Seal. The one thing I have always respected about Seal families is not profiting off of someone in the community's death. That article added nothing...except that Leeana Tankersley feels bad when Seals die. We can all follow her writings and twitter postings on the back of 22 dead members of the community. In the future, leave your name and face out of it. I hope the wanted attention doesn't put your husband or other active members in harms way.

    August 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Miss Viv

      I didn't think of it that way–so thanks for sharing your point of view. For me it's enlightening.

      August 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  17. DamianKnight

    Yup. Definitely an enemy of freedom. 🙂

    August 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Whoops...that was meant for JW.

      August 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • J.W

      Yeah because if we hadnt fought the Iraq war you know they would have taken over us with all of their weapons of mass destruction, and we would all be Saddam's slaves right now.

      August 10, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • BG

      @ J.W

      What? You have a problem with overthrowing dictators? Hope you've written your legislators to complain....

      Nit.

      August 10, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      BG

      @ J.W

      What? You have a problem with overthrowing dictators? Hope you've written your legislators to complain....

      Nit.

      ------------–
      So you like the idea of us being the world police????????????

      August 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • BG

      It's worked pretty well for the last 75 years.

      We just have to remember to collect for our services.

      Do you have -any- concept of the total, complete and utter shíthole the world could have become without us?

      Of course, as hard as everyone is working at it, it still may happen. Who do you put your trust in, NATO or the UN Security Council?

      August 10, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @BG
      Have you forgotten how many dictatorships have been bolstered by the US government?
      Sadaam was considered a valuable ally not very long ago.
      He was a brutal, dicatatorial, murderous, genocidal madman back then as well. It was only when he began to threaten US oil interests that he became a bad guy.
      Let's not forget the fun history of American intervention in Haiti, Guatemala, Panama, Grenada, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, The Domincan Republic, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and pretty well anywhere else with oil.

      If there's oil to be had, America considers it theirs.
      In 1944, the Anglo-American Petroleum Agreement was signed, dividing Middle Eastern oil between the United States and Britain.
      As FDR said to a British Ambassador: "Persian oil …is yours. We share the oil of Iraq and Kuwait. As for Saudi Arabian oil, it’s ours."

      August 12, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  18. J.W

    She said even though she prays she does not feel guaranteed her husband is safe. She should have more faith than that. She should know when she prays that God will protect her husband. You have to have faith.

    August 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Are you kidding? Do you have any idea how many bazillions of prayers go "unanswered"? Of course her husband isn't safe just because she prayed.

      August 10, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • BG

      Better change the batteries on your sarcasm detector, John.

      August 10, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • tharris19

      I think this wife knows her relationship with God and is realistic about her faith in him. She also understands that death is a integral part of her husbands job. She knows that taking a life and yes, losing her husband or fellow team members is a real part of the equation.
      SEALS kill and do damn good job of it. But they also die, just like all marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen who go in harms way.

      August 10, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  19. Maria

    Just a great article overall. First of all, please thank your husband for his service and for putting his life on the line everyday. Second of all, I admire you and look up to women like you; those who stand by their significant others' side through this war. Third of all, the more and more I read about these soldiers the more it hits home. I am thankful that one of my friends made it home safely last night after a tour in Iraq. But still, I have many left overseas who I do not hear from very often and these news scare me more and more every time I hear them. For the soldiers that lost their lives in this horrific act of terrorism, my prayers are with them and with their families. I will live every day remembering them, the ones over seas as of right now, my friends especially and the ones who will serve in the future. We are here, FREE, safe and sound because of them.

    August 10, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  20. J.W

    I think we should just not go to war.

    August 10, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      @ J.W.

      ...not go to war? But...but...we're America...we've been doing it so long that if we stop we–never mind! YOU are an enemy of freedom! The Patriot Act will get you because the government needs to see all of your emails!

      -end sarcasm-

      August 10, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • J.W

      Actually I consider myself a pacifist and sadly pacifism is considered to be evil and unamerican these days.

      August 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @JW Pacifism has always been considered evil and unamerican by the mainstream.

      August 10, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • BG

      @ Richardson

      " Pacifism has always been considered evil..."

      Not evil. Just not very pragmatic.

      "You may have no interest in war, but war is interested in you."
      Tolstoy

      Doesn't it ever get a bit cold and lonely in your little tower of correctness?

      August 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • frank

      "“Anyone who clings to the historically untrue - and - thoroughly immoral doctrine that violence never solves anything I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler would referee. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor; and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms.”

      Robert A. Heinlein quotes (American science-fiction Writer, 1907-1988)

      August 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Frogist

      @JW: I'm with you on that. I wish I was more of an adherent to pacifism. I think it is a worthwhile endeavour to find a method of conflict resolution that recognises the finality of war. I think we haven't really tried to give the pacifist idea a proper chance. I wish more people considered it an option.

      August 11, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • J.W

      If everyone in the world were a pacifist the world would be a great place. I just have to make it my mission to convince the entire world of that.

      August 11, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Frank
      I thought I was the only one around here who quoted Heinlein. 🙂

      As for the feasibility of pacifism – Dr. Greg Graffin summed it up when he sang:
      "When all soldiers lay their weapons down
      Or when all kings and all queens relinquish their crowns
      Or when the only true messiah rescues us from ourselves
      It's easy to imagine
      There will be sorrow no more"

      August 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.