By Meredith O'Brien
When Army Wives  began airing on Lifetime in 2007, of the drama’s five wives, only two were employed outside the home. Joan Burton served as an Army major and Roxy LeBlanc got a job at a bar near the fictional South Carolina Army post, Fort Marshall. Now, in its fourth season, one of the wives has divorced her husband, another came thisclose to divorcing hers, and all of them are now employed, except for the post commander’s wife who has gone back to law school to complete the degree she abandoned when she met and married her husband.
What a difference a few seasons has made.
The evolution of the Army Wives characters has been striking as they’ve moved away from the original portrait of traditional, at-home wives who raised the kids, cooked all the meals and threw crisp dinner parties to help elevate their husbands’ careers. (Claudia Joy Holden, the post commander’s wife, was the chief party-thrower.) The one wife who actually serves in the Army, Joan – whose husband Roland worked as a psychiatrist -- has been an exception from the get-go.
The changes in these characters have, for the most part, been gradual. Like most of the spouses on the show, Denise Sherwood had left behind her medical career when she married Frank and then had a son, who, in season one, was commencing his own Army training, leaving behind an empty nest, particularly with Frank deployed in Iraq. Denise decided to resume her nursing studies and found work at an Army hospital, events that displeased her husband who wanted her to remain in her traditional wife and mother role. Several seasons and a near-divorce later, the motorcycle driving EMT whose husband is now comfortable with his wife’s independence, fortysomething Denise was shocked, in a recent episode, to find herself pregnant. What will this all mean for Denise, her late-blooming career and her independence?
Claudia Joy, who never completed her studies at Harvard Law, just recently started attending law school again to finally earn her degree after years of serving as the supportive wife to her husband, Major General Michael Holden, helping to boost his career and doing loads of volunteer work at Fort Marshall. Watching the consummate political helpmate take the reins of her own career and become the oldest member of her law school study group after having raised two daughters (one died, the other’s a high school senior), has been interesting and inspiring to those folks who think that once you’ve shelved your career for family, it’s all over for you professionally. The most challenging moment for her budding legal career occurred in a recent episode when Claudia Joy was assisting her law school professor in court in a case against Fort Marshall. By having Claudia Joy question one of the Fort Marshall officials, she literally and figuratively struck out on her own, putting more distance between the business of being the general’s wife and that of being a lawyer.
The character who has made the most significant transformation over the course of four seasons is Pamela Moran who, when the show began in 2007, was serving as a gestational surrogate – carrying twins – for another family in order to raise some cash. Pamela had originally left her career as a Boston police officer when she met a guy who served in Delta Force named Chase, whom she’d marry and to whom she’d serve as a supportive spouse while raising their two children. For a brief period, Pamela had a talk show on Fort Marshall’s radio station where she loudly encouraged other Army wives to be patriotic and magnanimous by being stoic, tough and understanding when it came to their husband’s lengthy absences and military work.
Everything changed this season, however, when Pamela discovered that she herself could no longer tolerate having her marriage and their children come in second behind Chase’s military career. The pair divorced and she lost all her on post privileges, including her Fort Marshall home. When Army Wives leapt six months into the future, after the divorce had been finalized, Pamela was working at Roxy’s bar until she secured a job on the local police department and became a “rookie” again. In short order, Pamela went from being the at-home wife of a Delta Force officer who lived in a nice house and carted the kids around to dance classes and Little League, to a uniformed police officer who lived in an apartment and had part-time custody of her children.
So as the fourth season hits its halfway mark, I’m interested to see where these Army wives will be headed, with Joan, now a lieutenant colonel, experiencing cognitive difficulties, which may or may not be related to head injuries she sustained when her unit was attacked in Iraq, Claudia Joy making strides in the legal arena, Denise pregnant while working as an EMT and Pamela walking the beat.