Chris: Army dad
How hard is it to combine being a soldier with being a dad? And if you’re on tour in Iraq for months at a time, what impact does that have on your family life? To find out, Dad Info spoke to dad-of-two and army veteran Chris Smart.
Chris is an Army Warrant Officer. He lives in Weymouth, Dorset, with his wife, Angela, and children Bradley, 13, and Courtney, 6.
We spoke to Chris about how his career in the army – especially his months away in war-torn countries like Iraq – has impacted on his family life.
What’s army life like?
‘I’ve been a soldier for 22 years and will retire this August. That will be really strange, because being in the army is all I know. I joined when I was 16 and it has been like a family to me.
‘I’m a warrant officer class 2, which is as high as you can go before becoming an officer. I did have the opportunity to get a commission, but I turned it down because I’m ready for Civvie Street. Now I’m 40, wearing a uniform and being told what to do has lost its appeal a bit!’
How has it affected you as a dad?
‘It has been really hard to be a dad and a soldier. It’s especially tough on Courtney, who’s six now. She was four before I was home for a birthday or Christmas – I was on tour in Iraq, so I missed them all.
‘Although kids are very adaptable, it is hard on them when I’m on tour – it’s a long time to be away from them. If you say you’re away for a week, that’s seven sleeps, which is fine. But if you’re away for 150-odd sleeps, it’s really tough.
‘And it does affect your relationship with the kids. Courtney was just a baby when I first went off to Iraq. And when I came back we had to get used to each other all over again. It takes a long time to get that father-daughter or father-son bond back. I bet they were thinking, “This bloke keeps uping and going – who is he?
Is discipline very important to you?
‘I think I am more aware of it than civilian dads. I don’t lay down the law though – I know some guys who have room inspections in the morning before the kids go to school! I’m not that bad, but because I’m disciplined it probably does rub off on the kids. I like being tidy, for example, and having everything in the wardrobes and squared away.
‘My son’s at boarding school, where they’re really hot on rules and behaving well, so he gets it there too. I think discipline is really character-forming, but it’s important not to force it on kids – hopefully they learn it naturally from me.’
Do your kids worry about you getting hurt?
‘It depends on their age and how much they understand about what’s happening, in Iraq, for example. On my last tour Courtney was just three, so she wouldn’t have understood. But Bradley was 10, so it affected him badly. He was in tears every day, because he knew all about it.
He’s at boarding school, so they get to watch Sky News every night and he knew exactly what Iraq was like. I’ll always remember the day I was leaving for Iraq – he was absolutely distraught. It’s things like that, which make the job hard.
‘I’ve done tours in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, so I’ve been to some pretty hairy places. But the danger is just part of the job for us – we’re trained to deal with it.
Is it hard adjusting to family life again?
‘Yes, it is, because I’ve spent so much time with the lads it’s strange being part of a family again. And when I’m away my wife runs everything her way. So when I come home and start interfering with that it can cause problems. I get put into my place for a while – and I certainly don’t wear the trousers!
‘You can also go through a lot after a tour. When I came back from Ireland for a two-week break I had post-traumatic stress disorder, although no one called it that back then. We saw some horrific things there and when I came home, every day without fail I broke down in tears. I was waking up in a cold sweat at night and didn’t have a clue what was going on. I didn’t want to go back but I had nobody to talk to about it.
‘I pushed my first wife away and I think that was one of the main reasons we got divorced. Fortunately, I came out the other end – God knows how, I didn’t have any counselling or anything. And my relationship with Angela, my second wife, is really strong.
I’m looking forward to spending more time with her and the kids when I leave the army in the summer.’
Chris is the co-founder of Charity Support, which raises money for wounded servicemen and women and their families. Visit www.charity-support.co.uk to make a donation or to find out more.