How The Military Life Has Been Experienced, By 5 Other Women [100th Post!]

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that this, my 1o0th blog post, features the voices of a few of my readers.  If this is your first time reading my blog, previously I had asked for volunteers to contribute to my 100th blog post by answering questions and/or sharing a story in their own words.  I want to thank the ladies who helped to contribute to this blog post.  These ladies were not compensated for their work, (aside from my appreciation), and contributed fully of their own will.  The answers and stories that I received were honest, heartfelt, and while each woman comes from a different background and attachment(s) to the military, the sentiments are shared across the board.

 

My first question to the ladies was to explain their attachment to the military.  One respondent is the “child of a servicemember [sic]– my dad is a retired CMSgt. in the Air Force.”  (Belicia D.)  Another woman is a “military wife of a soldier for The United States Army Reserves” (KF), and another young woman identified herself as an “insignificant other”, as a girlfriend (Anonymous, signed “Newbie ‘SO'”).  In my question, I had asked “What is your attachment to the military? Are you a service member, the spouse of a service member, the child of a service member? Please elaborate as much as you can or are willing to.”, to which one woman responded with, “All of the above.  My father and stepmother are both Retirees, my dad served for 26yrs and my stepmom served for 20yrs.  I was in the military for a short while, but due to some mixup [sic] I was medically discharged while at Basic, total time in was 1yr 8mos.  My husband has been in the Army for 16 ½ years and probably will retire when he’s ready.”  (SG)  And my final respondent has both had experience serving as a Marine, as well as now being a military spouse: “On June 02, 2007, two days after graduating college, I reported to OCS in Quantico, Virginia. On August 10th, I accepted my commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. I honorable served over 4 years as a Supply Officer until my End Of Active service on September 26th, 2011. Two months before my EAS, I married my husband, thus embarking on my journey as a military spouse.”  (Anonymous)

I was excited to read the responses that these ladies had to my questions, having such a diverse group with different attachments to the military.  These women are powerful.  Although I do not know all of them personally, and those that I do know personally, I can tell by their words that they are just as strong as the military members that they are attached to.  Maybe it’s because most of them have been attached or involved with the military for quite some time.  Anonymous has been with the military, serving herself before the end of her active service and now as a military spouse, for a total of 8 years and a few months.  KF has been with her significant other through most of his career; “I have been married to my husband for 13 (almost) years. We have been together for just under 18 years. My husband has been in the Reserves since I’ve known him.”  SG has been attached to the military since she was “in utero.”  And Belicia D. is a self-proclaimed “military brat for 14 years.”  (Can I say, that I love that someone used this term for themselves?)  Only “Newbie ‘SO'” considers herself the least attached to the military; “Again, I am nobody in particular… I have really no category. So I take what I can get, and I am very excited about it! I think it rather encouraging to just relate to others. Anyone in the Army (employed, or married to a soldier) who perceives me to belong and doesn’t think to question that, is pretty awesome, by my book.”

One the one hand, my heart broke when I read her dialogue.  My husband and I dated for 2 years before he enlisted, and were married within the same year of his enlistment, so I had been with him through his entire career.  We continued to date through his Basic Training and AIT, and were married before he had to report to his first duty station, so I had made myself a significant part of his life and military life, as I became involved with the FRG and events on post.  I didn’t have time to think of myself as an outsider, how the role of being a girlfriend (even to a fresh relationship) might feel for someone trying to navigate a military world that seems to revolve around spouses of military members, leaving out unwed significant others.  And why wouldn’t it?  Girlfriends and boyfriends have no legal binding to their soldiers, Et al.  Here is her story:

I have to say, pretty much none of those questions applied to me.
That’s the hardest part. If I’m being honest, this entire deployment has felt so awkward to me. Who am I? I’m not a wife. I can’t say I’m anything. To pretend otherwise would be a discourteous slap in the face to those who have built their entire lives (extended/immediate family life, bore offspring, raising offspring to learn of this life, personal schooling, careers) around the military schedule and say-so of leadership and their higher-ups of the ones that they love – so much, that they are able to call husbands – have to follow, through:  years of tough, long deployments and missions. Crack of dawn roll call and long nights that turn into days away from home. Training that takes them near or far from family and home. Miserable paychecks that may never come on time, when someone up the chain screws up (minus the taxes… can’t forget to take those out). Endless paperwork for everything.
Out of respect for those who do go through all these things, and have for really any length of time, I would almost venture to call myself an insignificant other. I don’t know that anyone else feels this way, but I feel really out of place. I haven’t even been involved in this world for long, and so much of it is a mystery to me. I’ll see a slew of capitalized letters, and not know what they are for. But I don’t usually mention it, because it is common knowledge in this community, and I don’t want to feel like a dunce. I’m sure nobody (or very few) are actually so pompous, because it is a community that largely must thrive on support from one another, but in a strange way I still feel like I will be looked down upon, because I’m new, I don’t know much, and I’m not even officially in the “group,” because I’m unmarried; and who knows if I’ll last? For all anyone knows I could just be a temporary girlfriend, and then fade to the past, a forgotten memory of someone who never was. I for one, know that I won’t be. But who else can really know that, without having known me, first? I have a (dare I say “prominent”?) history that will continue to build, with my “SO,” in these Armed Forces. I do all I can possibly think of, to support him. Any small way I know how. I’m still new at this, remember, and don’t know much. But I’m there when the wifi kicks in, from halfway across the world. I’m there when I’m working, and probably shouldn’t be on my phone (okay, I know I shouldn’t) but screw that! Because there are only so many hours of precious time to relay meaningful communication, before one of us is asleep because of the time-difference. And sleep is really important on both sides of the fence: everyone needs to function – and healthily. Sometimes one of us stays up late to chat, and that really means a lot, because that is really a sacrifice, right there! I’m not saying it is a sacrifice like those who’ve lost their lives or who have become a DAV. But it is important to me, in my world. All I can do is be there for him, send packages full of love, care, and amusement, and be a liaison if there’s something he needs handled, over here on this side of the world.
As far as I go, I hear everyone say something a lot to me, or about themselves: “stay busy”. Yes… and no. Different for all, of course. For me, being “busy” is not the problem. I have plenty to do. I have a job, I have things at home to do that never end. What lifts my spirits, what is the glue that holds me together, is if I am able to make time to hang out with friends/family/loved ones. Sure, doing exciting things is awesome, but honestly, just being able to chill with people who know me, care for me in any way, and are also going through this deployment means a lot to me!! Again, I am nobody in particular… I have really no category. So I take what I can get, and I am very excited about it! I think it rather encouraging to just relate to others. Anyone in the Army (employed, or married to a soldier) who perceives me to belong and doesn’t think to question that, is pretty awesome, by my book.
It’s simply reassuring to know that I’m not alone, and people care about me, too. I need a teeny little dose of that in some form, if every day would be nice. It’s after communication runs dry and planning to get together doesn’t happen at least every so often, that I start to feel the effect of deployment. I don’t have to be the reason to convene, it would mean the world to me to go help someone else who is struggling in the same way, or worse (I have such respect for military spouses and families, I put them at the top billing of priority). I don’t pretend. I know that there are people in this that have actual kids, who will be alone this winter, no one to bail them out in the snow, going through all hell trying to deal with all manner of things on their own; whatever it is that their husband/spouse would normally do. When the time comes, it is my sincere hope that I am called upon to help, because I may not know a whole heck of a lot, but I do have two arms. I have two eyes. I have two ears. I’m not a hero, I still don’t know hardly anybody. It would still actually help lift me up, to be able to help out, to reach out, connect. That’s my honour. I am glad that we are all somewhat connected even if only on Facebook here or there, so we can sort through these things, as it gets us “one day closer” to when they come home.
To those who are married, this will not be an issue. They get their husband back, and their children get their father back! Paradise, completion. For me, I don’t have that to pick up on. What the heck will happen next is a mystery to me, but I am very excited to find out. I am in this for the long haul, too. I am excited to get to know more families of the many people my SO has been working with and has known – some, for years. I can’t wait to map out the people involved, and pick up some lingo and understand what in the world is going on!! Haha. For now, this is my input. ~Newbie “SO.”

But, fortunately for those who might find themselves in a similar role as Newbie SO, my other contributors were able to offer some advice for those new to the role.

Get involved, sign up to take the various classes offered at ACS (Army Community Service), volunteer (job experience, meet new people, network); don’t hide and isolate yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help (but also don’t forget to see if you can find the answers on your own). -SG

It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be worth it. Keep your head up, make friends, and enjoy the ride. -Belicia D.

Follow the cause. Learn what your loved one’s role is. Support you’re loved one and know that you are loved by loved him / her regardless of the time away from you. Get to know other soldiers in his unit. Trainings are necessary to learn safety and strategy in the event of a deployment and/or war. Remember, preparation will more likely bring your soldier home. Your loved one believes in what they are doing. Never assume deployment “will never happen.” Communicate with your loved one. Express to them what you need and struggles you are having. You matter also. It is easier to accept the downs of military life when you understand where your beloved military one is coming from. Why he/she does what they do. Accept it as a part of them AND let them know what you are struggling with too. Let them know that you are proud of them, this country, and the need to protect it. -KF

Never lose your own identity. When I joined the military I had to face this weird belief that you have to look manly say good bye to dresses, makeup, natural manicures, and perfume. I never bought that. Even though I was a Marine, I was still a women [sic] who wore conservative makeup, had a French manicure, and wore dresses to church every Sunday. I still did Zumba classes in the gym and took dance lessons out in private studios. This was who I was and I wasn’t going to give it up.
On the civilian side of things, I wanted to get my MBA and I wanted to start a career as a sworn law enforcement officer. I did both within 4 years of getting married. -Anonymous

Do you see the common themes?  Communicate: With your loved one, with your family, with your community.  Get involved: Don’t lose yourself in your spouse’s/significant other’s military life.  You are not JUST a MILSO.  You are not just a Service Member.  You are not just a Military Child.  You are not just anything.  You are someone, with your own goals, priorities, and aspirations.  You have chosen to share your life with your loved one.  Or you have chosen the military as your personal goal, but that doesn’t strip away your identity of who you are as a civilian.  As a military child, it isn’t so much your choice, but it does become a part of who you are.  It just doesn’t define everything that you are.  Get involved: In something social, in your own interests, with your MILSO.

Not to make the military life sound daunting, these ladies had some wise words about what the best part of their experiences have been, why it’s a “wonderful thing to be what [they] are.”

Best part of active duty is serving my country with pride and giving back to the country that welcomed my family with open arms…best part of being a military spouse is diverse group of women with amazing backgrounds. You never know who at a certain point in your life someone can use your help and expertise. Likewise, you never know when you might need help, advice, or companionship from the awesome spouses that you meet. -Anonymous

Getting to attend a promotion party, or seeing your parent honored— that’s one of the best experiences. I love seeing my dad’s Class A uniform, his awards and recognitions, challenge coins, and everything else he’s received. I was so proud of being a military brat because I was so proud to have a parent that was so courageous, brave, respectful, dedicated, and willing to serve the people of this country. Also, he got to do some really neat stuff and have some really high up supervisory positions that I always thought was the coolest. -Belicia D.

It isn’t easy to pick just one experience and consider it the best, but I’ll give it a go. I’ll go with meeting new friends in the most random way and end up being lifelong friends is one and the mentorship by and friendship of senior spouses (regardless of rank (Soldier’s) and/or differences in rank (Enlisted/Officer).
When I met one of my closest friends, it was during a briefing during our husbands first deployment and they were speaking about the satellite and DSN phone situation in Iraq (03-04) and one of us piped up and mentioned our husbands being charge $50 per phone call by someone who had their own phone because the military one was always broken by the time it was their turn to use it. We got to talking and became fast friends, we still keep in touch even today. -SG

There is nothing more gratifying than watching my husband stand proud. Learning who he is , after so many years, and watching him persevere, work hard, and lead. It is a wonderful thing to admire his strength and ability to do what he loves.
In addition to this, I myself stand proud next to him. It encourages me to do the same inn my own life. When I am with him. And when we are apart. I discover that I rely on myself to complete things, try new things, and find my own place in this world. “I am woman, hear me roar”
It is a wonderful thing to know that my husband is who I want in my life by side but that I also can do what I love. Sometimes that’s together. Sometimes its [sic] apart. In the end, my heart longs for him to be home.
Even though that sounds sad, its wonderful to know that love exists so strongly. -KF

And the most difficult parts of their roles?

Convincing myself on a bad day, that the above is true. -KF

I can’t really say moving is hard because we didn’t actually move a lot, though it was hard losing friends that did have to move. Also, it’s hard growing up and relying on one parent to do the jobs of both…plus it’s hard dealing with the missed birthdays and holidays. -Belicia D.

I don’t think that I can pick just one thing that’s difficult, so I’ll list a few:
Trying to find a new job with every PCS is challenging.
Being so far away from family and missing out on major milestones is far from ideal.
Trying to find a good PCM can be a challenge.
But what I do not like or enjoy at all is when my husband is deployed or TDY and seeing the kids’ faces and hearing the sadness in his voice about the things he misses out on is just heartbreaking. But I include him in everything that I can. During his first deployment the letters I sent detailed our day so that he knew what the kids and I were doing, oh and we both had voice recorders so that we could hear each other’s voices at will. During his second deployment, we were able to talk all of the time, so it was a lot easier for the kids and I to talk to him about stuff and tell him about our days. During his third deployment, technology had come along way and now we could Skype without being stuck at home and he was able to see things happen in real time, even seeing our youngest daughter seconds after being born. -SG

Speaking on deployments, three of these ladies have been through multiple deployments.  SG, as mentioned, has been through three deployments with her husband.  She elaborates that he has been deployed twice to Iraq (2003-2004, and 2005-2006), and once to Afghanistan (2010-2011).  My husband was also in Afghanistan during 2010-2011, so of course my curiosity wonders if the two crossed paths, or if they were even stationed at the same FOB.

Belicia D.’s father had been deployed twice during her time as a military brat.  She states that he was deployed twice to Osan AFB, Seoul, South Korea

And KF writes that “currently, my husband and I are managing our third deployment.”

I asked the ladies to elaborate on their perceived biggest struggles during deployment, how they coped, and if they remained on post during deployment or moved.

It’s hard to pin point one struggle. Each deployment has been different.
Deployment #1 (2002/ 2003, 14 months) – I had been with him for five years and was fully aware of the military life. When 9/11 happened it hit me. He may go to war. Although his unit at the time was put on high alert, it wasn’t until a little later when he was actually deployed. We were engaged, expected to marry in September of 2003. When he received the call, he had four days before having to report for Deployment. So, we spent our time contacting family for a very quick wedding. We got married a year earlier than planned, October 2002.
The hardest struggle in that first year was missing our first year of marriage. No honeymoon. No time to decide how money is combined, spent..etc. No time to enjoy just being married that first year. Not knowing what marriage was suppose to be like. In hindsight, I believe I disconnected from him in a way. It was too hard to think about him not returning and even harder to imagine anything positive around it. Although his first deployment was not in a combat zone, being away from him made it harder to think of a life with him. I carried on, pretended I was fine. It got me through that first year without him.
Deployment #2 (2010/ 2011, 14 months) – This was a whole new ball game. A lot had happened in the six years between deployments. Two children. Family circumstances too complicated and private to share at this time, left a fear like no other. Parenting without my other half, living far from the unit with no support, no family in the area, and very few friends. Special needs children. These were all struggles. But the hardest one of all? Was his return. He was different. I was different. Our kids grew a lot (mentally, emotionally, physically…) in the 14 months he was gone.
This deployment was different for all of us. Being in a combat zone changed the level of fear from what if…to Oh shit. Not just on my end….perhaps even more on his end. The adjustment was hard. Still having a hard time sharing this one. Still brings tears to my eyes. Actually, it remains quite fresh seeing as it was only 4 years ago…
Deployment #3 (2015/2016, current) – My mind is in a different place than previously. Right now, the hardest part is seeing glimpses of my husband’s sadness and tiredness. The hardest part is missing him terribly because previous deployments taught me NOT to disconnect. Seeing my children miss him so much breaks my heart. This time is proving to be somewhat easier despite that. I am present. I am engaged with him. I am thinking of him and my children. And I can’t wait for him to return. Because he will. -KF

We stayed at Fort Hood for the first two deployments. The first deployment was 6mos after we arrived to Fort Hood and financially it didn’t make sense for myself and our 4 kids (at the time) to move back home and my main concern was being able to be there when he came back from deployment and not to just be trying to get back. For my husband’s 3rd deployment, we (the kids and I) went back home. We only went back home because we were unable to find a place to live in the Fort Knox area, we arrived in Sep and my husband was deploying in Dec; we had 5 kids (one being an infant) and I was expecting again.
(From previous question)
But what I do not like or enjoy at all is when my husband is deployed or TDY and seeing the kids’ faces and hearing the sadness in his voice about the things he misses out on is just heartbreaking. But I include him in everything that I can. During his first deployment the letters I sent detailed our day so that he knew what the kids and I were doing, oh and we both had voice recorders so that we could hear each other’s voices at will. During his second deployment, we were able to talk all of the time, so it was a lot easier for the kids and I to talk to him about stuff and tell him about our days. During his third deployment, technology had come along way and now we could Skype without being stuck at home and he was able to see things happen in real time, even seeing our youngest daughter seconds after being born. -SG

Well the first time I was younger and didn’t really understand what was going on. It was really hard coping with the missed birthdays though. The second time, I was just starting middle school. It was probably more difficult for my mom because I was entering that “rebellious” stage and at the same time I was getting sick and the doctors didn’t know what was wrong. I probably coped by acting out which wasn’t the best response obviously. My dad was deployed to Korea again, and so we didn’t move. We did actually get to visit him this second time which helped a lot- it was a wonderful experience to have. -Belicia D.

In lieu of the hardships, we are able to make some great memories in part because of the military.  A couple of the ladies also shared with me their favorite memory as it pertains to their military life.

My commissioning ceremony by far. LOL I wanted to cry from how proud I was for going through 3 months of intensive military training and successfully meeting all the completion requirements. Being a military officer was my very first career goal and I felt like I was on the right career path to accomplish ALL of my career goals simply because I successfully accomplished my first…and that proven to be true. In 2007 I got commissioned in the United States Marine Corps. In 2011 I got hired as a GS-6 in Federal Law Enforcement. So far ALL my dreams did come true. -Anonymous

We lived on Langley AFB, in Hampton, VA and we literally lived right down the street from the airstrip. Some of my best memories are waking up in the morning and hearing the jets take off and coming home and seeing them land. Plus, we always got some of the best seats for the airshows. -Belicia D.

A couple of these women have children, and they have gone through a deployment or two with their children.  I asked them to elaborate on the experience of not only being a military spouse, but also being a parent.

During the first deployment with children, it was harder. They were younger and unable to understand why he was gone. They are old enough now where we can support each other through rough days. Now, this is his second with children and I feel as though it is a strength. They keep me moving and they keep me remembering to stay in the present moment. They need to hear about Dad. So, I hear about him too. He remains a presence because I learned that shutting down is not the answer. We are close to him even though he is far apart. My children give me strength and we work together as a family unit. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be right now. They are my only family nearby. -KF

We had our 4 older children during his first two deployments, during his third deployment, we had 5 kids with our 6th being born in the middle of that deployment; and we’re currently have 7 and are expecting our 8th this December.
When it comes to deployments or just life in general, having kids is a blessing and a challenge. I don’t know how I could’ve or would’ve made it through my husband’s deployments without them. They were and are my reason for waking up and getting things done every day, and they’re the only reason why I even bothered with celebrating any holidays when their dad was deployed.
Every kid is different and each of our kids handles Dad being gone differently. During the first deployment, they all took part in writing Dad letters and making drawings for him and even picking out things to send in his many many care packages, and the kids loved making recordings to send to their Dad and listening to his recordings and reading his letters when they came in. During his second deployment they got to talk to their Dad all of the time on the phone and during his third deployment, they got to talk to their Dad on the phone and on Skype almost daily; it was like he was and wasn’t there; so that made things a little easier on them. -SG

Three ladies then wrote their advice to anyone who might be coming up or experiencing their first deployment of a loved one:

To be strong, and help out at home. Acting out doesn’t make anything easier, and you’d make your parent really proud by stepping up and helping out. Showing your maturity (regardless of age) will really help make things easier for everyone, and make the time go by faster. Also, it makes your parent happier and makes their job easier, which makes your job easier. -Belicia D.

Stay active, don’t hide away, find a job, volunteer, go back to school, and don’t watch the news. -SG

Feel what’s real. Take the moments, or hours, or days to be sad, angry and whatnot. Then get up and move forward. Balance your emotions and your time and your routine. Stop and smell the roses. Stand proud. -KF

Belicia obviously spoke from the perspective of her experience, of being a “military brat”.  I don’t feel like her advice is restrictive to military children, although that is her experience.  As someone who was not a military child (my Dad was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, but he let his service end with the end of his contract, and was not enlisted when I was born), I would read her advice as “Be strong, help others.”  Whether they are other MILSO’s in the same situation as you, or your friends or family who need help.  Whether they are the service member’s immediate family or your immediate family if you are married to the service member and they absolutely love him or her as much as you do, help them through their emotional struggles of missing him or her, too.  I’d agree that showing maturity, as a juvenile or adult, will help you and others handle the deployment a little easier.  If you wall yourself up in your own sorrow, pity, and temper tantrums all of the time, deployment will only be more difficult for you and those close to you to handle.  Don’t “suffer” through deployment, work through it.

SG’s advice about not watching the news rings so true with myself and my family.  Even when my husband is not deployed, I don’t really follow the news as closely as I sometimes should, to stay up to date on current events.  Mostly because I can’t stand the sensationalized delivery of 90% of the news stories.  I believe in staying informed, but I do not believe in panicking over stories that are part truth, and part hype.  And that hype, that vague style of reporting the events that are going on that involve our troops, will eat at you mentally.  So, if you do catch yourself watching the news, take those stories with a grain of salt, as they say.

And KF’s honesty about facing all of your emotions, even the negative ones, is important.  Push on when you have to, but also take the time to accept those emotions, feel them, cry or scream them out (but don’t scream at your children, for they don’t understand).  Exercise them out of you, by literally physically exercising.  Physically exhausting your emotions out of you will make you feel better, maybe because physical activity releases those positive chemicals in your brain, endorphins, but I think also because you can use all of that stress and negative emotions as fuel for your workout.  And exercise, when done properly for your health, will help you be physically healthier, too, and who can’t be happier with that?  (And no, I’m not just talking about being happier because you could drop a pant size or two, but because your overall health can improve, including reducing your risk of diabetes and other diseases that are associated with weight gain and sedentary lifestyles.)

Obviously I’m adding my own thoughts to these lady’s comments, but don’t neglect the advice being offered by them.  You aren’t wrong for feeling sad during deployment, for missing that person more than you thought you could, for crying as often as you need to.  But you do need to also find your purpose, your support, and move on from those emotions.  Not every day will be a bad day, unless you let it become that way.  I miss my husband every day that he is gone, but I also laugh.  I have fun.  I don’t stop living.  I make plans for what we’ll do together when he returns home.  And he enjoys hearing about my days, about life back home.  He may wish he could be home to do those things, even if they are simple and mundane, like washing the dishes after I’ve prepared dinner.  But knowing that you are still able to do your thing, they will feel better knowing that.  And vice-versa: wouldn’t you like to hear that your loved one is finding things to have fun and keep entertained while deployed?  That not every day of their deployment was spent in misery?  That he or she is able to find reasons to smile and laugh, too?

I think that’s a stereotype of military spouses, one that none of the ladies addressed, and I didn’t approach it directly in my questions to them.  But let’s talk about the military spouse who is left behind during a deployment.  Civilian couples who have never had to experience a separation for an extended length of time seem to have a difficult time understanding how we get through it.  But we do.  Well, we do, or we don’t.  I’m not sure what the statistic is, but there are a reasonable amount of divorces that come from deployments, for one reason or another, that someone just couldn’t deal with the separation.  Remember the ol’ “Dear John” letters?  For those of us who make it, who survive as a couple through deployment, do it because we don’t see any other choice.  We do it because we have to.  And it’s amazing what you can do because you have to.  People often make uneducated, ignorant comments to us, simply because they don’t understand it.  Most of the time, they mean nothing malicious by it.  “How do we do it?”  “That must be so difficult, I bet you miss him/her.”  “Will he/she be home for _insert Holiday or momentous occasion here_?”  Without knowing someone who has deployed, and leading up to our first deployment, I think we all get the same image in our heads.  Correct me if I am wrong, but for me it was something like the Normandy Landings, or choose any action-packed scene from any war movie.  Or, any action scene from any Michael Bay movie.  We don’t know, so we resort to the worst thing we can imagine.  Thank you, cinema.  And I think this is where people’s minds go when they try to understand the deployment of our loved ones.  And if you’re bombarded with those kinds of images, how can you expect anyone to remain sane, and not go crazy with worry for the safety and return of their loved ones?  I think there’s a stereotype that we must cry ourselves to sleep every night.  That we don’t handle deployment (well).  And, dare I even mention the stereotype that everyone is cheating on everyone?  The truth is, that yes, sometimes that happens.  But not to everyone.  And not always for the reason you expect – it must be easy, right?  It’s unfair to prosecute every military spouse, and every service member because we as civilian spouses are not the only ones who are capable of adultery, just because it happens sometimes, or because you know someone who it happened to, or has done it.

So, common misconceptions and stereotypes of the military spouse: we cry constantly during deployment, thereby keeping the Kleenex, Puffs, and Softelle companies in business.  We cheat, pick a reason.  And, I think the most common one I see on social media memes is that we are gold diggers, and marry for the benefits.  I’m not denying that people like this exist, I know they do, but that’s not everybody.  And people like this exist outside of the military spectrum, too.  Be nice, get to know someone before you make your judgments.

One other misconception about the military is our use of discount programs.  There are a lot out there to take advantage of, some worth it and others not, some easy and others take some patience and navigation.  But for the most part, we might be offered some discounts at retail stores and restaurants, and most of them have to be asked for – we won’t be asked if we qualify, we have to ask if they are available.  But, not everyone takes advantage of these offers.  For one reason or another, some do, and others don’t.  I asked the ladies if they took advantage of their military discounts:

I do admit that I ask for them at places that I know that offer them, and once in awhile I may ask other places if they offer a discount. But I take no offense if the discount doesn’t apply to me and only applies to my husband or if there’s no discount at all. -SG

I do not ask for discounts. Sometimes because I forget. But mostly because….well, it’s kind of like saying “Thank you” to a soldier, and they don’t know how to respond. I guess I feel like its not a privilege to be in the military. I don’t feel “entitled” to it. Funny though, I don’t have a problem with those who use it. At all. Actually, I would probably tell people to use it if they have it. Hmmmmm. -KF

I always ask for discounts— it’s how I grew up. I followed my mom’s example and she asks for them all the time. Plus, my boyfriend was in the Army and he would always use his discounts applied towards me. In my opinion, stores offer them so I’m going to use them. Maybe I didn’t actually physically serve, but I feel like when any family member serves, the rest of the family does as well— sacrifices are going to be required of everyone, and so I think a discount (even if it’s just a little one) is well deserved. -Belicia D.

A few of the ladies did mention some myths they have heard, but were glad to have had discovered to be false.

I’ve always heard “Air Force, chair force” growing up. I don’t necessarily know if this falls under the myth category or not, but I always believed otherwise. Growing up on an Air Force base, I always got to see a side of the Air Force that not too many people do and I know that they don’t sit and push paper all day. My dad was on the IG (Inspector General) team and worked in ACC (Air Combat Command) HQ and did way more than paper pushing- part of his job required him to travel bases across the US and do security checks for one thing. I am really happy that I know this myth isn’t true becasue for one thing, I get to call people out on it, and another, when I tell people I’m thinking about joining the Air Force. What I want to do is actually aerospace physiology and working with pilots which is way more than just sitting in a chair all day. -Belicia D.

Rumor: FRGs are only for gossiping and other drama.
One cannot judge any one FRG based on an experience with any FRG or based on what others say. Thankfully I didn’t listen to any of the nonsense and I’ve been lucky and have had great experiences with all of my husband’s units FRGs.

Rumor: Officers and Enlisted Spouses can’t be friends
Regardless of my husband’s rank (from SPC to SFC), I’ve never been treated any differently by any Officers wives through the years. Many have become very good friends and amazing mentors. It’s never been about what rank our husbands are, aside from those that were/are in the military, none of us has rank. -SG

I have heard a myth that once you marry a military member, your civilian career and educational aspirations are over. Literary, I read discussion boards, blog posts, overheard conversations over on base that once I get married to a Marine, it would take me a decade to get degree, that I would not be able to hold a career of my dream for more than a year or two…if EVER and basically, I have to count down time to make my dreams come true…
…..luckily I found all of that to be UNTRUE
Before I got married, my active duty military transition plan was to a. get my MBA, which I can utilize to achieve a supervisory position down the line b. commence and get established in my second career (law enforcement, whereas I count military as my first career). 4 months after my EAS, I started my MBA program at San Diego State University, whereas I specialized in Information Systems and Supply Chain Management. 4 Months after my college graduation I started working for the United States Department of Justice as a Federal Law Enforcement Officer. Both were my active duty transition goals and both happened within my 4 years of getting out of active duty and 4 years of me getting married. Being a military spouse did not slow me down a bit!!!! -Anonymous

When asked if they would trade the military lives for one that was civilian, hands down the simple answer was “NO!”

I would not trade military life for a civilian one because I always wanted to have three careers: a military career, a law enforcement career, and a career in education. So far, I accomplished 2/3. I am not planning of accomplishing goal of becoming a community college/university criminal justice professor until way later. Right now I just want to settle down in my law enforcement career and start a family. My goal is to become a mother of three kids while successfully balancing out my federal career. -Anonymous

Nope, I’m probably what could be considered “institutionalized”, I honestly don’t know life without the Army in any way, but since I haven’t been in the military in a long long time, I am a civilian.
Given that I’ve been part of the Army Family for all of my life, I don’t think that I could answer that question well enough. There have always been BDUs, ACUs, Class As and Bs, combat boot, rucksacks, and duffel bags everywhere that I’ve lived. I’ve almost always gone to an MTF (Naval Hospital Guam, Andersen AFB Clinic, Darnall, Madigan, Martin, and Ireland Army Hospitals), and I’ve always been able to shop at the commissary. -SG

No. Through it all I would not change a thing. It has made us stronger. (That does not mean that retirement doesn’t sound appealing though). -KF

Never! Even though my dad is retired now and out for a while, I wouldn’t have changed anything. It’s hard yes, but it’s so incredibly rewarding and you get to meet some amazing people and (fingers crossed) go and live in some amazing places. -Belicia D.

While this life is filled with its own sets of challenges and rewards, and the most honest of us will never claim that we are better than anyone else for it, we would never give up or undo what we have for a life without the military as a part of it.  Even though sometimes we might kick, yell, and scream because OF the military, it’s just behavior that comes with the role sometimes.  No, we don’t particularly like it when Uncle Sam calls our loved ones to duty far away, but we are realistic and understand that it’s just a part of the job that we signed up for, either as a service member ourselves or as a MILSO to a service member.  As Belicia D. had also mentioned in response to a question I had posed, she advises to never set plans in stone.  “Something will literally always come up at the last minute, at the worst possible time and so just be prepared.”  We have to learn to be flexible.  I have personally seen other wives struggle as their spouses’ homecoming dates got pushed back, first by a few hours, then a day, and then another day.  My husband’s homecoming wasn’t any different: as I sat in the hotel room and would receive the first update that he would be coming in in the afternoon instead of the morning, which then turned into the next day, and finally turned into the day after that.  What’s defeating, is that there is nothing you can do to change what the military plans.

In closing, I asked the ladies to provide a statement of something they would like to say, if they could say something anonymously, to the civilian world about their life.  Would they clarify any misconceptions about their role, or their spouse’s role, or their parent’s or child’s role?  Here is what three of them had to say (names intentionally left off):

“Life isn’t easy regardless if you’re a military family or not, the challenges just vary.
Our kids have to deal with their Dad being gone for long period of time. They have to deal with the reality of what could go wrong during a deployment not unlike what the kids of policemen/women and firefighters when their dad/mom is on duty, and sadly they’ve known friends and classmates that have lost their parents.
As a spouse, it’s nothing like Army Wives (tv show) even though there were a few similarities. Like any other spouse, some work, some stay home, and some are in school; some are moms, some have the same issues with trying to conceive, and some choose to not have kids.”

“About active duty is not just being in the field, training for convoy operations or training in marksmanship -we actually obtain important leadership/management skills, get superior technical training, and are presented with numerous training opportunities that can be used successfully in a civilian world. For example, many military bases offer Lean Six Sigma, Project Management, and 7 habits of highly effective people workshops to active duty personnel to enhance their management, operational effectiveness, and leadership skills.”

“Children can be forgotten heroes when it comes to military life. I think sometimes parents, schoolteachers, etc., sometimes don’t realize or can forget the impact that a TDY, deployment, etc., can have on a child. I know children have this stereotype of being labeled as “brats” but we’re really all not legitimate brats.”

 

I want to extend an appreciative “Thank You” to these 5 ladies who helped me with this, my 100th, blog post.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading through your responses, and thinking about this life in different roles attached to the military.  I can tell by your responses that you are all strong, caring, and hardworking women.  I hope that I have done you all justice in this post, and that you have also enjoyed reading each other’s responses.  To those of you who also included your story about your significant other, I am showcasing those stories in my 101st blog post!

 

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One thought on “How The Military Life Has Been Experienced, By 5 Other Women [100th Post!]

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  1. This is very powerful. I particularly like comments made by the “military child” as well as Newbie. I have cringed at the “military brat” label as I wondered how children cope with a lifetime of military parents coming and going. Brat just doesn’t seem accurate and you are strong…and a shout out to Newbie: although I am not new at this I feel that I can relate a little as my husband is new to his unit and I am only just learning who everyone is…and there is new lingo to learn. I hope you find this post helpful because even though you feel alone, you are not.

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