Written By: Sarah Ortiz Benson
I met my husband in the summer of 2004, moved to Hawaii in 2005, and officially became a military spouse upon marrying him in 2007. The past 16 years have taught me lessons that are hard to put into words. Yet while I was running today (exercise is a healthy way to deal with anxiety) words and thoughts just kept circling in my head.
In my 16 years as a military spouse I have moved from Texas to Hawaii, Hawaii to Florida, Florida to DC, DC to Jamaica, Jamaica to Alaska and most recently from Alaska to The Bahamas. 6 moves and 4 islands (Oahu, Jamaica, Kodiak, New Providence) in 16 years…which brings me to my first point:
What comes to mind for you when you hear the term “military spouse?” I have heard the following words used to describe us: resilient, dedicated, supportive, adaptable, flexible, selfless, strong.
We as a world are facing a global pandemic at the moment that is literally changing the world as we know it FOREVER…and then changing it AGAIN…DAILY. This brings me to my second point:
Being a military spouse has prepared me in ways I didn’t know possible for COVID-19. How? Let me count the ways…
The one constant in military life is change. Those in the military never know where they will be next or for how long. Just when orders arrive, or you get verbal confirmation of something your spouse has on the horizon, and just when you start to bank on that and make plans, it changes. This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me for the uncertainty and constant change surrounding a global pandemic.
Uncertainty of Healthcare
The military screens us from a medical standpoint before they send us overseas or to remote island locations within the USA (OCONUS). However, this screening doesn’t account for what happens once you arrive in a location and develop unforeseen medical needs (a detached retina, placenta previa, dengue fever, just to name a few). I have lived in places with amazing healthcare facilities and have lived in places where I would avoid the hospitals at all costs no matter how sick myself or my family became. This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me to stay home and not overrun the healthcare system in the face of a global pandemic.
One of my husband’s favorite sayings is, “They are called orders for a reason dear, they aren’t giving us a choice.” While I hate when he says this, it is the truth. Our lives are based on orders which are dictated by the government. These include travel orders, PCS (permanent change of station) orders, temporary duty orders, granting of leave (vacation time.) This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me for the government-imposed orders designed to keep people safe during a global pandemic.
Being Removed from Family/Friends
6 moves, 4 remote islands…since 2005 we have only lived in one place with direct flights home to see family and that is only one side of the family. FaceTime, What’s App and Skype have been part of our world for years. We often can’t afford to take the time off from work or the travel expense to get to things like weddings, funerals, graduations, baby showers, etc. Hence, we miss a lot. This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me for being removed from family and friends near and far, has prepared me for canceling my child’s birthday party, and for missing important family events in the wake of a global pandemic.
I am not too proud to say I have collected unemployment as a military spouse because I have been forced to move and thus change jobs constantly. This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me for the possibility of further unemployment due to a global pandemic.
Military spouses get sick of always starting over with our careers and lives so we make changes to mitigate this. I went to nursing school in 2011 despite already having a university education, bachelor’s degree and existing career. Nursing is something you can do everywhere, always, right? Sure, that is until the military moves you internationally and you are not allowed to work in certain countries. We are forced to reinvent ourselves and our careers constantly. This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me for seeking any job or career possible following a global pandemic.
When you live by the water constantly and have lived on 4 islands you know all about preparing for hurricanes, being surprised by earthquakes and hearing the tsunami sirens. Having your pantry and house stocked with canned food, paper products and “go-bags” is the norm. This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me for how to shop and use what I have at home already during a global pandemic.
Saving Money/Clipping Coupons
Does a government shutdown ring any bells? As a military spouse I’ve dealt with two. No paycheck on occasion? No problem, we got this. We know how to clip coupons, shop sales, and leverage a military discount to save money. This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me for the economic fall-out that will follow a global pandemic.
Being Able to Multi-Task
Nothing will teach you how to multi-task faster than your spouse being thrown into an unexpected deployment while you are working your own job and have a kid/kids to take care of at home. This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me for homeschooling and trying to keep up with all other spouse/mom duties during a global pandemic.
Comforting Children in Times of Fear
I highly dislike the term “military brat.” Military children are some of the most adaptable and successful children I know. However, it is also the case they can be confused, scared and socially awkward. Other children and families often don’t accept them easily because they know they will move. The attitude is why bother? Military kids and families are isolated by others who don’t understand the military culture. We as parents of military children are used to providing comfort and stability for them in times of change such as PCS moves, deployments, and parents working long and unexpected hours. We are constantly teaching them how to deal with change and how to say goodbye to their current normal while encouraging them to get excited about their new normal. This is our reality all of the time. This has prepared me for explaining to my child what is happening in the world, why her birthday won’t be spent amongst friends and family, why she can’t go to school, why daddy is working so much and why we can’t have play dates in this time of social distancing during a global pandemic.
I could go on, but I won’t. You get the point. However, here is one final point to consider:
We all have past experiences in our lives that have prepared us for this moment of uncertainty. Look back and you will find them. Choose now to see them in a different light because they were preparing you for the future. Think of the doctors, nurses, first responders researchers, and all medical professionals. Each of them has endured training for mass traumas, mass causalities, rare pandemics, and codes which have prepared them to care for you during this time.
If you find yourself feeling uncertain and anxious as we all do right now, find an active duty military member, military spouse, military child, or veteran and talk to them. They will support you now as you have supported them during their times of need. Better yet, thank them for all of the sacrifices they have made and continue to make for you and your freedom. They could yet again be called to duty in new and unexpected ways due to this global pandemic.
Finally, continue to think about the medical personnel putting their lives and families at risk to help others. They are the soldiers on the front line right now. Yet another example of selfless service to others no matter what the cost.
THANK YOU to our military service members and to our medical professionals. Because of you, I am not only a military spouse, but also a nurse, and I am far better prepared than I realized to weather yet another storm of uncertainty – COVID-19 and its impact on the world of healthcare, the economy, family, society, and normalcy as we know it.