Marrying my high school sweetheart on March 20, 1982, was an exciting day for me. Mark had recently graduated from technical school for the Air Force and came home on leave for our wedding. After a brief honeymoon, we moved to his first duty assignment in the small town of Rantoul, Illinois. I really looked forward to spending the rest of my life with this man and joining his journey as a military spouse.
Spending 24 years in the military lifestyle provided me a plethora of experiences, many with challenges and changes. In hindsight, I wish I had been more informed about certain aspects of my title as a military spouse in order to have prepared me for some of those changes. Here are some things I’ve discovered over the years that I want to share with a potential spouse of the military.
1. Know the Lingo
In order to understand the language of the military and what your husband is referring to, it is important to know the acronyms used daily. Your husband will receive an LES (leave and earnings statement) that will explain his pay and leave status monthly. There will most likely be a time that he will go on a TDY (temporary duty assignment) for a certain length of time and a PCS Move (permanent change of station). Know your husband’s social security number because that will be used for identifying you as his dependent. You will be issued a military ID card to permit you access to healthcare at the clinic, commissary and the BX. I quickly learned the significance of having an ID card when I couldn’t gain entry to a building while the base was under a mandatory exercise. So, here I sat outside the building while my husband had to draw up the paperwork inside and bring it to me outside to sign before being allowed to come in to get a picture taken for my new ID. Having a knowledge of ranking status is relevant when approaching a military member so that you don’t embarrass your husband when he has to salute them or introducing yourself by acknowledging the person with their correct rank. Lastly, be sure not to show any PDA (public display of affection) while your husband is in uniform, as that is frowned upon and not professional.
Most likely your husband will go on a TDY at some point in his career, lasting anywhere from 3 months to a year. The best advice is to be understanding, patient and maintain a positive attitude to get you through the duration one day at a time. A positive attitude can set the tone at home, especially if you have children. There are several resources on base, as well as friends and family to assist you. Family Services Association (www.family-service.org) and the wives club for my husband’s squadron were two organizations that were beneficial to me. They each provided me a genuine camaraderie with mutual trust and understanding of others. According to the Family Services Association website, four traits have always characterized this organization: “Their focus is on innovative programs, collaboration with others in the community, responsible fiscal management, and an abiding dedication to families.” I chose to get involved by volunteering and sharing my own experiences to other wives who were new to military life. Communication with your husband may be limited; however, it is important to maintain a means of reaching out while he is deployed. Today’s technology has the capability to keep in touch through skyping and social media, but letters and sending care packages are also essential. He needs to know that you (and the family) are doing well while he is gone so he can be successful on his job. The line of communication avoids the potential of rumors and affairs while being separated.
Homecomings can be just as challenging as the deployment themselves. There is an adjustment for all members of the military family. Schedules and routines created for the duration of the deployment are rearranged upon the homecoming. My husband returned to a very independent woman and felt he was longer needed. During his absence, I had redecorated the house and made purchases without him, to include a dog! Ensure that your husband feels welcome in the home and not like a stranger. Reuniting and returning to cohesiveness takes time. Again, this is where communication comes in and working together to form a sturdy relationship.
4. Careers and Higher Education
It is not uncommon for a military spouse to put their own career on hold temporarily or even changing a career due to frequent moves and deployments. According to an article by Erin Dooley, March 1, 2014 (www.ABCNews.go.com) there are 90% of military wives that are either unemployed or underemployed. This is partly due to employers not wanting to hire someone affiliated with the military, knowing they move frequently. The other conflicts are duty hours between the husband/spouse and daycare. Some wives, in order to contribute to an income will take a job through a direct sales company such as Mary Kay, Tupperware, Pampered Chef, etc so they can work from the home. Putting higher education aside depends on the status of completion and whether your credits are transferable. Fortunately, most bases have an Education Office that can provide you guidance and support. You also have availability to take online courses.The important thing to remember is to remain focused and positive.
5. PCS Move
At some point of your husband’s career, your family will be required to move to another location: stateside or overseas. Moving can be a blessing or a curse depending on where you will be assigned and how you handle the situation. Some military families move every 2-3 years, having to adjust to a new environment and leaving family and friends behind. Depending on whether you will move at the same time with your husband or not creates a new realm of issues and concerns. It might mean having to pack alone, find a house and get familiarized prior to your husband’s arrival or vise versa. The key here is to be patient, understanding and organized. The military liaisons and sponsorship programs assist with the process and get you through the transition. The best part of moving is encountering new things, making new friends and seeing different parts of the world that you may never see, Our most memorable assignment was living on Okinawa, Japan for 5 years where we were exposed to typhoons and living off base; however, we thoroughly enjoyed the food and the culture. The beautiful weather allowed us to participate in several outdoor activities such as scuba diving, softball, parks, and scouting various beaches. Each PCS move has provided us an opportunity to grow and establish friendships that continue today.
6. Children and Flexibility
Contrary to what people fear, children are resilient and adapt to change, especially those in the military. There were many times that birthdays, holidays and vacations were rescheduled due to my husband’s job as a firefighter in the Air Force. Milestones, recitals, games and anniversaries were commonly missed. No doubt there was disappointment, but we had to learn to be flexible and enjoy the times we were together. Most bases have a Child Development Center and a Youth Center so children can participate in various activities, which prevents boredom and a way to get out of the house. Associating with other military families has an advantage when it comes to developing a special bond-we depend upon one another for support.
Being a military spouse taught me to be a strong and self-sufficient woman, standing proudly beside my husband in the Air Force. These experiences contributed to the success of our two daughters who grew up to be well rounded citizens and provided us many memories to cherish forever. And just like the vows I took on our wedding day, it was for better or worse.