USSOCOM senior enlisted advisor speaks on family preservation

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Whitney Tucker
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
By all accounts, they were the perfect military family. The husband: hard-charging and gallant. The wife: beautiful and accomplished. Yes, like a page ripped from a child's picture book, the Faris family was 'Happily Ever After' come to life, or so it seemed.

Beneath the counterfeit smiles and entwined fingers, a war was raging in the Faris home; an emotional conflict fueled by insecurity and punctuated with the ear-splitting silence of words left unsaid.

Air Commandos, spouses and civilians from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., sat slack-jawed and spellbound as Army Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris, U.S. Special Operations Command's senior enlisted advisor, and his wife, Lisa, described the decay of their 22-year marriage in graphic, unabashed detail at the base theater, Oct. 9.

"The Chris and Lisa Show," as Chris aptly calls it, is in keeping with an initiative by Adm. Bill McRaven, USSOCOM commander, that calls war-weary service members to fight for the survival of their families in the face of seemingly insurmountable emotional turmoil.

For Chris and Lisa, what had begun as love at first sight quickly disintegrated into a marriage filled with hate and resentment as years of back-to-back deployments, combat and unimaginable loss ate away at the foundation of their relationship.

For years, Lisa struggled in vain to reignite the spark between herself and her husband. But as the cycle continued: deploy, redeploy, refit, train - she saw her spouse become a shell of the man he once was, internalizing his pain and retreating further and further into himself.

"First, all I wanted was to make him happy," she said. "I would make sure his favorite ice cream was in the freezer and I would cook his favorite foods, but soon I realized it didn't make a difference. He wanted to live as roommates. He didn't want to be a part of the family we'd created together and it was like being slapped in the face."

From Chris's perspective, he was simply surviving. Having first mastered the art of detachment during the infamous 1993 Black Hawk Down incident in Mogadishu, Somalia, his estrangement from his family was nearly absolute by 2007 when combat operations peaked in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"When I was home I couldn't answer the phone," he said, "I was always checking my watch; always wondering whether my men had made it through the night or if I'd be delivering another notification of death, hearing another blood-chilling scream."

Such was life for Chris and Lisa; walking on egg shells around one another and endlessly teetering on the brink of dissolution. And on a day like any other, Chris broke.

"'You disgust me!'" he yelled into the audience, with the depth of past conviction audible in his voice. "'Don't you know what's important in the world?! I'm the Command Sgt. Maj. of the joint task force; if any family should care what's going on, it's you!' Listening to them talk about reality television when men and women were overseas dying made me sick. I wanted nothing to do with them."

Shortly after D-Day in the Faris house, Lisa began therapy at the urging of her eldest daughter.

"My therapist asked me what I wanted out of life," she said. "After a lot of thinking and a lot of bawling, I asked her to help me find the strength to leave the love of my life."

Unbeknownst to Chris, his wife had made the decision to end their marriage. As the holiday season drew nearer, fate smiled on Chris in the form of a frank conversation with his youngest daughter; a conversation that would ultimately save his family and resurrect his long dead marriage.

"My youngest daughter said to me, 'Dad, do you know how old I was the last time you were home for my birthday?'" he recalls. "I told her I didn't know and she informed me that I had missed every birthday since she was 10. Eight years of missed birthdays. That was hard to hear, but it was like an epiphany for me. I resolved to make a change."

Today, Chris and Lisa Faris are devoted to using their story, however ugly or raw, to help other families navigate the mine field that is military marriage. Though they made the decision to shed the hateful, antagonistic people they had become, the Faris' are very clear on one point: they've still got a long way to go.

"Our marriage is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination," Chris said. "But the good thing is, we're back to arguing about the normal things - we have the same issues any couple would. We've made the decision to work at it, to see it through to the end. The point I'm trying to make is I had become consumed by the all-powerful phrase 'mission first'. But it should be about mission accomplishment. True readiness begins at home and the commander and I are committed to preserving the family and the force."