Gold Star wife Ashley Bugge wants her three young children to know something deep within their bones: their lives did not end alongside their father’s four years ago. In fact, she’s demonstrating that truth firsthand.
“If this is my kids’ baseline for normal life now ― like, ‘My mom goes on polar expeditions and writes books and travels the world’ ― that is setting them up with so much success for the future,” Bugge said. “I just want them to live the coolest life and show them that the possibilities are endless.”
It’s an attitude developed during an adventure-filled five-year marriage between Bugge and her late husband, 35-year-old Navy Ensign Brian Bugge. In 2018, Brian died in a scuba diving accident in Hawaii. Since then, his widow has grieved while on the move: placing an artificial reef made from his cremated remains on the ocean floor; writing several books; befriending the recipient of Brian’s ACL tissue donation; jetting all over the world, with children in tow.
And now while joining a team exclusively made up of women, Ashley is going on a polar expedition to the Arctic from Nov. 13-22.
In 2020, a documentary on Brian’s accident released and began making waves in the diving world. Susan Eaton, founder and leader of Sea Women Expeditions (SWE), was blown away by Ashley’s story. Susan reached out, asking Ashley to join their next trip to the top of the world.
“I’m like, ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right person?’” Ashley said. “I’m not anybody, I’m a solo mom. I’m literally changing diapers in between phone calls.”
But did she want to? Resoundingly yes!
“A dream come true,” she added.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, delaying the research expedition until now. Ashley will be part of the leadership team helping to document climate change in the Arctic Ocean.
“We’ll be collecting water samples and extracting genetic material from orcas,” she explained. “The plan is, over a series of years, to see if the same orcas are coming back to the same place, and if the herring are coming there, too.”
Ashley has been capturing her thoughts through a series of books, with her latest, “The Ocean is Calling: A True Story of Love & Loss by the Sea,” released on Oct. 4. She said she hopes to turn the photos and details of the expedition into a children’s book. Proceeds would go toward funding future explorations, as SWE team members are all self-funded to the tune of approximately $8,000 each.
“Ashley is a perfect fit for our expedition team. Not only is she a master scuba diver, but she is also an incredibly talented storyteller and remarkably strong woman who overcomes in the face of adversity,” said Sarah Neill, co-leader of SWE’s whale research program. “She is mentally tough, builds others up and has a positive outlook even in crisis situations. How she has dealt with her loss demonstrates her resilience and strong coping mechanisms for whatever is thrown at her, whilst also still caring for those around her.”
That includes Isabel, Hudson and Adeline, Ashley’s children who range in age from 4 to 8 years old. Ashley said doesn’t want “Gold Star children” to be their only label. She knows Brian would want them ― and her ― to keep chasing down the next adventure, to choose joy even in the presence of sadness.
“Brian would be so stoked and proud of me going on this polar expedition, like ‘Of course my wife’s doing that; what else did you expect?’” Ashley said. “But I want other Gold Star wives to see that if I am doing this, then nothing is out of reach.”