By Dana Bretz
I was recently talking to a dear friend and new military spouse about her perception of what it was like to be married to the military. Like most of us, she was a little nervous due to some things she had overheard. She was terrified of meeting other spouses and reluctant to jump head first into military life. I think that the majority of us can relate or have at least experienced something similar. I, myself, had this idea in my head that I would be welcomed with open arms and have a “Kumbaya” moment when we arrived at our first base. It didn’t quite happen exactly like that, but I found where I fit in eventually. So for those of us who come in blind or worse, with bad information, what do we need to know about what it takes to be a military spouse? Maybe we should hit the rewind button and take a look at some of our predecessors and what they had to endure. Maybe then we will stop and take a moment to realize our worth and appreciate each other a little more. We are in fact, in this together!
We are going all the way back to the infancy of our country, at a time when the thirteen North American Colonies grew tired of the British parliament and their excessive taxes. Did you know during these times, from 1775-1783, military spouses worked farms that were left for ruin in harsh environments? Those tasks were not common for women of that time period, but they endured. Many spouses also served as spies for the Patriots, started the Homespun Movement to avoid buying British goods and supplied the Continental Army with much needed textiles. Some economically depressed spouses had to become camp followers, marching with the Continental Army while serving as cooks, nurses, supply hunters and sometimes even soldiers. In one instance, military spouse Margaret Cochran Corbin watched as her husband was killed, leaving his cannon unmanned. She made the decision to take his place at the cannon, firing until she no longer was physically able due to injuries to her jaw, arm and chest. She just took being a military spouse to the next level. That is the kind of stuff we are made of, remember that!
Fast forward at bit and a few conflicts later we have the Civil War, once again, in our very own backyards. Military spouses again were making sacrifices that we cannot even fathom today. There were a total of 620,000 soldiers that died, which left an unprecedented amount of widows. And at a time were the average family had 8 children, many women found themselves not even having the luxury of grieving. It was time to press on and you know they did! Many took jobs once only held by men and started to create an image of female empowerment, thus giving the women’s rights movement a renewed energy. I don’t want to get all I am woman here me roar….but can I get a ROAR?
Onward to 1917, a month before the United States entered the First World War, Loretta Perfectus Walsh was the first woman to enlist in any branch of the United States Armed forces as anything other than a nurse. So to all you proud military spouses that are men, this is where your official journey begins. I say official because we all really know that women have been involved in military conflicts for over 3,000 years…but who’s counting? Once again, military spouses stepped in to support their country during a war like no other before it, as it was fought on a global scale. Do you want to take a guess at who worked in the factories that supplied munitions to our troops?
Twenty three years later, we were preparing for yet another world war and we answered that all too familiar call. The call that your country needs you, and without hesitation spouses gave what their country demanded of them, even on the heels of The Great Depression when times were still tough. Spouses went to work in defense plants and volunteered for many war related organizations such as The Red Cross. Life on the home front was a crucial part of the war effort and had a significant influence on the outcome of this particular war. Spouses, in part, helped supply the fruits of victory. That is where we come from, remember that!
There have been many, many U.S. involved conflicts since our last world war and spouses have since been called upon in many different capacities. Our role is still important today, it’s essential. The war we are fighting today may not look like the wars of yesterday but one thing remains the same. We must endure. We must do what our country asks of us, stick together and be strong. The 21st century spouse plays an active role in the military community and the military command structure, we have come so far! I would like to see us continue to hold down the home front as a family, amidst political differences and worn out stereotypes. Not only can we do this, we can do it with dignity and we are! So the next time you find yourself having a conversation with a new spouse keep it real, of course, but also remember what we come from and where we can go. Our legacy depends on our actions today.
Spouses are an invaluable part of the military and together we are one.