By Alisa Giardinelli

As the wife of an Army Reserve drill sergeant, I occasionally find myself in decidedly non-civilian spaces. A recent retirement party for one of my husband's fellow "drills," as they call themselves, is the latest example. I almost didn't go, but I rallied. This time it will be different, I lied. This time, I won't cry.

See, I'm no good at stoic. And if there's one thing even a part-time military wife is supposed to be, that's it. You can discuss your challenges with other wives, and you can worry behind closed doors. But it's just bad form to complain. Not that this is news. Writer Tom Wolfe famously found that having

The Right Stuff

applied to military test pilots and their wives more than 30 years ago. So, crying? From a drill sergeant's wife? Not an option.

Admittedly, I don't have much to cry about. My husband's deployments have all been Stateside, so we have not had to face the daily realities of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're like most civilians in that respect. However, it's not a given that will always be so, and the military is always looking for "volunteers." At military events, even the parties, I'm reminded in very visceral ways of what his commitment really entails.

Ah, the party. The reception took place in South Jersey. If old soldiers never die, they also don't always just fade away. Some clearly hang out at American Legion posts.

We walked past the paneled bar and small dance floor and through a sliding partition into a larger but windowless back room. With no monetary help from their unit, the honoree's fellow soldiers paid for the event themselves. White paper and red-and-blue bunting covered the folding tables, each of which held bowls of nuts and chips. A well-stocked buffet lined one wall. The crowd was a respectful 40 or so people, most of whom wore uniforms of dress blues and greens. It was a modest affair, to be sure, but thoughtfully put together, complete with a bouquet of roses for the retiree's wife. Yet I couldn't keep myself from asking: After a career of exemplary military service, after all the years of work and sacrifice, is

this

the beautiful reward?

Mingling soon gave way to a slide show and testimonials. Amid all the jokes and good-natured ribbing - look, there's our guy in WWI; there he is in scenes from

M*A*S*H

and

Platoon

- were the real photos of a hard-as-nails soldier in a T-shirt, fatigues and no helmet, holding a machine gun in front of a mystery mountain range in Iraq, where he recently completed two tours.

Then, one at a time, men who in their civilian lives work as cops and in corrections, in construction and information technology, addressed the room. "He's the best NCO [noncommissioned officer] I've ever known." "I want to be just like him when I grow up." "He made me feel proud to be an American."

At first eschewing the attention, the honored guest finally made his way to the front of the hall, a hard body wearing a crisp uniform and silver buzz cut. He spoke briefly, about the men and women who taught him and how fortunate he was to learn from and work with them. He spoke of a man in their unit, a "good troop" and friend to most in the room, who didn't make it home from Iraq (and whose wife was seated a few feet from me). Then, quoting John F. Kennedy, he said: "A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers."

In that moment, the surroundings that before could have detracted from the proceedings just faded away. The message was clear; it didn't matter if there were 40 people in that room or 4,000.

This is what the saying "support the troops" is about, no matter your politics. Show up. Pay respect. Remember and honor our men and women who wear the uniform, and not just on Memorial Day. And cry a little if you have to. I did.

Alisa Giardinelli lives and writes in Philadelphia.