A new movement among military wives dubbed Battling Bare exposes the challenges of post-combat stress while offering support to the troops and families who struggle with it. (Ashley Wise / Battling Bare)
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Ashley Wise is shown with her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Wise. (Ashley Wise)
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Ashley Wise was about to do something foolish. Instead, she stripped off her shirt, grabbed her husband's AR15 assault rifle and a bottle of eyeliner and asked her friend for some help.
Wise had just told her neighbor and fellow Army wife she was seriously considering streaking in front of the 101st Airborne Division's command building at Fort Campbell, Ky.
"I wanted to do something — anything — that would get their attention," she says.
Her husband, Robert, a former Marine turned Army infantry staff sergeant, was struggling through the fog after war that had left him cold and clouded ever since returning from his second tour in Iraq in 2010. A string of recent suicides among friends and battle buddies had only made things worse.
Military counselors had told him he was just having trouble "reintegrating" from the war. Nothing to worry about, he was told.
But Ashley knew better. The fights were getting bad. The kids were getting scared. One night he retreated to a hotel room, but not before grabbing his guns and some booze. When she called him later that night, she says she was horrified to hear him say he "might do something stupid."
The next day, an Army family advocacy counselor encouraged her to open up, and told her she was in a safe place. Yes, things had gotten physical a few times. "It was never serious, just stupid stuff; never a black eye or a broken bone." Most recently, he had grabbed her by the arms and moved her aside in the middle of a disagreement.
The next thing she knew, her husband was being charged with domestic abuse, and faced a dishonorable discharge from the Army.
"I was shocked. That was never my intent." She was told it didn't matter. She asked Fort Campbell's top enlisted adviser to intervene. She was told it was out his hands.
That's when she considered her bare-all blitz in front of the command building. But then, in a quiet moment in her garage as she thought better of the plan, the words to the poem just came to her. "It was a God moment," she says. She knew exactly what she could do.
This wasn't just about what she and her husband were going through. It was about the struggle of every military family facing off against post-combat stress and a system that sometimes seems ill-equipped to help.
As her neighbor carefully brushed the words onto her back from the bottle of CoverGirl Black Onyx, Wise still wasn't sure of the wisdom. "I felt like an idiot," she says now.
Within minutes, however, the picture was up on her Facebook page, along with a call to arms for other military wives. Within days, it was already going viral.
Since http://www.battlingbare.org/">Battling Bare was born April 20, pictures from other spouses are pouring in, and thousands more have rallied around the cause. Rules for submission make it clear Battling Bare has little to do with titillation: "No Tooshies, ta-tas, hoo-has," http://www.facebook.com/BattlingBare">according to the Facebook page.
"Glad to know I have sisters in the battle. Thank you for all that you are doing!" reads one of hundreds of recent comments on the Battling Bare Facebook page. Another commenter says her marriage is on the brink, but "Now I feel like there is a small light."
While Wise says the response has been overwhelmingly positive, there have been detractors.
"I've been called an ‘attention whore' and ‘another blonde bimbo getting naked for a cause,' " she says, the sting of the words evident in her voice. Another email called her husband a "baby killer."
Even as she wrestles with trying to save her marriage, however, she admits the sudden influx of attention has been overwhelming. And has led to some mistakes.
In a Facebook post on Friday, she admitted to sending revealing photos — originally intended for her husband — to someone else, leading to an online smear campaign.
"I allowed the ‘sexual' attention to go to my head — and I was a fool," she writes.
She's also gotten the attention of Fort Campbell's command group.
Fort Campbell commander Maj. Gen. James C. McConville, flanked by some of his top aides, met with her on Wednesday for more than an hour.
"I just wanted to make sure she and her husband get the care that they need," McConville told Military Times.
Although recently dispatched to a six-month stateside assignment, Wise's husband is now returning to Fort Campbell. She says the charges against him will be dismissed once he's completed a 28-week anger management course.
Meanwhile, she's soldiering on at Battling Bare. "Just raising awareness is dumb. We're trying to put action behind that awareness."