by Sunshine Burgess
The moment it hits us that we are actually military spouses happens at different times for every person. Some feel it from day one, some have an A-HA moment, and some may never really feel it. I think it is important for all spouses to tell their stories and to share that moment. Every new spouse who feels lost and alone needs to know that even the most seasoned spouse was once new also. This week’s article is not exactly written by me, it is the story of another seasoned spouse who wanted to share her moment and story with you. If you are interested in sharing your story, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am sure many of you have a story worth telling and we can all learn from one another.
How Do You Tell a Military Spouse Who Hasn’t Lived It Yet How to Prepare?
by Chrysta Dickens, Air Force Spouse and MSAN Advocate
When you first get it…Being “all in” as a military spouse has to come to each of us individually.
Many of us remember that day, the first time we were staring at the reality of our future in the face. Whether that “all in” type of commitment was easy to accept before you married your military member, or if it came later, for those spouses who feel it, it probably did not take them by surprise, but it certainly did me. That day was about 18 months into this life adventure, and when it came, my whole life was transformed. We had been married for almost 4 years when he left for OTS. Sure, he had been working on the process of being accepted into the program and receiving a training date for a while, but that process in no way prepares spouses for what lies ahead. My father had been in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam War but our family was never truly affected. Not only was I a baby, but we did not move, did not ever visit a base, or even know what a commissary was. So needless to say, when I drove him to the MEPS that cold morning in January 19 years ago I had absolutely no idea what was about to happen.
A kind friend, who had been an Army wife, took me to an Army Reserve Base so I could get an ID, and it all seemed so foreign to me. I wanted answers and I wanted them quickly. I wanted to know why I got this weird sheet in the mail called a “Leave and Earnings Statement,” and yes, I hear what you are thinking, the DOD did really used to mail them monthly. The boxes and numbers made no sense, yet when I asked my husband to explain, he was so tired and getting information via firehose, regurgitating a briefing he had 2 weeks previously to someone without a clue was pretty difficult. Had we been paid everything we were supposed to be paid? The seasoned spouse expects there will be delays in pay or reimbursements, but how was I to know this? I knew the location of our first duty station, but most businesses were just discovering the World Wide Web. Moreover, we certainly did not have an internet connection for searches, even if I could have logged into an apartment finder or real estate site. I was worried, I was scared, and I had never moved more than 4 hours away from the town where I was born. Thank goodness my husband was wise and introduced me, via phone, to the spouse of a fellow classmate. She was amazing. She had been able to visit Maxwell on weekends, so she was beginning to understand some of the basics and impart her “wisdom” to me. She went to our gaining base and found apartments next door to one another, which was the best choice, not only because she did a fantastic job finding us a place to live, but also because she helped me through the first move, the scariest move.
We arrived, we unpacked, my husband started training, and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel…there was an option at the end of his training that could get us back to our home state. I did not see any other merits to the choices, other than location. Luckily that was the choice he wanted because I had determined in my mind that was the best and only acceptable option. I patiently planned and waited, hoping for that drop that would tell us if I could return home or not. In the meantime, I was learning. Our second daughter was born in the base hospital (which still had 4 maternity patients to a room), l learned how mad the retirees got if you didn’t follow the arrows on the commissary floor (seriously, this stuff really existed). Most importantly, I started to make friends, and some of those friends weren’t sharing that “first rodeo” experience with me. They had a whole assignment under their belts. I assumed they had a vast bank of knowledge, and with none myself, their 3 or 4 years of experience was something I envied. I wondered if any of them were as concerned about getting to that place, you know the place where you are sure you should live to be near whatever or whomever it is, that you are convinced is your only viable choice. I discovered some of them were as anxious as I was. Then there were other “experienced” spouses. These spouses were calm, serene, the spouses that seemed to have it all together. What did they have in common? They told us newbies to expect the unexpected, not to marry ourselves to one location choice, that may not happen; not to assume there wouldn’t be unanticipated curve balls. Did I believe this? On the surface perhaps, but in my heart, not really. I still waited anxiously for that drop night. Until one morning I woke up and thought “wait a minute, if that first assignment is only 3 years, what happens after that?’ That was the day I got it. There are two options in this life, all in or always struggling to live while waiting for the day your family exits military life. We did move to that base in our home state, but before we got there I told my parents to prepare because that wouldn’t be our permanent home, and even better, I knew I didn’t want it to be. I began to sound like the spouse who was calm, the one that wasn’t terrified of the unknown. Two years later, when my husband was picked up for a new and exciting opportunity, I packed out the household and helped him load the truck for our full DITY move with gusto. I didn’t have to move halfway across the country, I got to. We arrived, I unpacked, I found the commissary that no longer had arrows on the floor and met a crop of new spouses, many of whom had that anxious look in their eyes. They wanted to know how likely it was they could move back to their home state. With my assignment of experience and a new outlook on our future, I knew what to say. I told them they should prepare for the unexpected, be ready to duck the curve balls, and never to set their heart on only one location because eventually the place would begin to be less about the location and more about being all in.