Tara Campbell grew up with a mother who had been a Navy nurse and a father in the reserves with Naval Special Warfare, but she still tries to learn as much as she can about her husband’s role in the Navy and what she can do to support him. Married to LS1 Benjamin Campbell who is stationed aboard USS Arleigh Burke at Norfolk, Tara has led the family readiness group (FRG) and volunteered twice as an ombudsman.
“I started with the FRG as a way for me to give back to my husband’s command,” said Tara. “If it’s important to him it should be important to me too. Even though I’m a navy brat it was a way for me to learn about what he did. I wanted to learn what else there was to the Navy outside of special warfare so I started in the FRG before we even got married.”
Tara, a native of Westchester, New York, now calls Virginia home. She attended Virginia Wesleyan College in Virginia Beach and her parents relocated to the area as well. She continued her studies and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history just two weeks before their son Aiden, 4, was born.
The couple has been married 7 years and has two children, Aiden and Collin, age 2. Tara is employed as a litigation paralegal in addition to her volunteer work and enduring four deployments including an individual augmentee (IA) assignment for a year in Afghanistan.
“I cope on a hope and a prayer,” the busy mom said. “I’m very organized as far as calendars for calendars and lists for lists.”
As the ombudsman, she writes a newsletter, updates the ship’s website, sends out frequent emails, and attends meetings and get-togethers with other command spouses.
“I wanted to be the wife who could help other wives,” says Tara. “The interaction with the other wives is important. Everyone should have a working knowledge to help support the mission, not be in the dark and be involved.
She says she volunteered for a second stint as ombudsman after the command master chief realized her past experience and asked her to put it to use again. She says she’s learned a lot herself, but she doesn’t volunteer to “be in the know with the command,” but to help other families increase their knowledge by raising awareness of different resources and programs.
“The navy is a lot different from when we got married,” Tara said. “Everything is changing and I think the biggest thing is keeping up with the changes: that we’re boots the ground now and the Navy’s not just ships anymore.”
Tara realized this first hand when her husband deployed as an IA with the Army.
She said she received one phone call and a monthly newsletter from IA support personnel and her husband’s previous command also checked in with her. But it was very different from the traditional support Navy commands and FRGs give to spouses. She recommends more funding and staff for IA family support.
“With this new Navy and not a lot spouses getting a lot of preparation for this kind of (IA) deployment, I didn’t know who to call,” Tara remembers. “The newsletters were helpful, but a human would have been so much more helpful.”
When her husband left for his IA tour, their youngest son was just six weeks old. Tara remembers a big difference in deployment experience with children as well.
“With children it’s a lot different,” she said. “The kids didn’t understand where daddy was going and how long he would be gone. But you just get through it. The time seemed to have gone by when it was all said and done. Our family in the area really helped and the neighbors were great. They all kept an eye out for me.”
While her husband had to come home on emergency leave and also visited on R&R, Tara says it would have been easier on the family to have shortened the deployment.
“I would rather just shave two weeks off the end instead,” she remembers. “My three year old would say is dad was in ‘ganistan booming the bad guys.’ But every time he would come home, my son wouldn’t understand him leaving again. While he was home, the whole time was just a countdown for him leaving again.”
Tara was nominated for the 2010 Heroes at Home Military Spouse of the Year award by her husband who wrote: “She made me feel like part of the family even though I was not present. Though she may not have always been allowed to know what I was doing and given the fact that this was our fourth and most stressful deployment, she never let it show and her support of me never wavered.”
Tara also supports others. In addition to her duties as an ombudsman – official family liaison appointed by the commanding officer – she has also volunteered as a youth coach for MWR sports. She describes her job in a family law office as “helping people through their tough times.” Tara also participates in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life – once walking in an event three weeks before her due date.
“There’s only been one command that I haven’t been officially involved in,” said Tara, “and that’s because they didn’t need the help. But I’ll always be involved. Spouses should always have someone to turn to that knows what they’re going through.”
The boys’ daycare provider is a former Navy spouse, an attribute Tara has found very helpful. Surrounding herself with family and friends who understand military life – an easy task especially in this area - has enabled her to cope well with her deployment challenges.
“It’s really nice to have people who understand,” she said. “To not ask for the help but get it anyway. I thoroughly enjoy being part of military life: being able to bring special people into our lives, either for a purpose or a long time, and being proud of what my husband does.”