Saturday, February 1, 2014

9 Tips for New Military Spouses

Last year my girlfriend Sarah asked her military friends to write a letter to her beloved babysitter who was marrying an Air Force officer.  Because I love to write and am naturally long winded, I wrote a list of things I believe make me a happier wife to someone in the Navy.  It turned into a bit of a love letter to all of the wonderful people and places we have been. Mostly people.

I debated posting it here.  I obviously didn't want to post it before the wedding because Amy needed the opportunity to be surprised by the sweet gift from Sarah.  But then I wondered if my words sounded to sappy or silly or just too "gung ho" and quite honestly worried people would think I am some bubble gum wife in an apron with the "Navy Wife" license plate.  I'm not.  I'm a slightly grumpy, average cook who is currently trying really hard to be a decent wife (because I can be pretty prickly these days) during my husband's current TDY.

However, as I have adjusted to this new coast solo, I am being re-introduced to my love of "the people".  It is surreal that in an area where I can barely find the grocery store, still don't have a dry cleaner, and would literally drive off a cliff without my GPS, that I see people I know almost everywhere I go.  People I have lived in Virginia with, people I have lived in Maryland with, people who I know because we have 46 mutual friends on Facebook and are finally getting to meet face to face.  It is a huge comfort.  And surreal.  In what other kind of life do you move to a completely new area and run into several familiar faces every time you leave your house?

So anyway, I'm putting myself out there.  My letter to Amy:

Dear Amy,

We don’t know one another but in the small world of military spouse-dom you might as well be my new sister.  Or at least a fun sister-in-law.  And the fact that Sarah speaks so highly of you means that you are probably a pretty cool chick.  When she asked fellow military spouses to write to you about the life you are about to partake in, I was honored.
I’ve thought about what I would tell myself 10 years ago if I had the chance.  Like you, I married my husband fresh out of the Naval Academy.  We were 22, giddy in love, and totally and completely clueless about the adventure ahead of us.  Like you, I had grown up in one area.  My preschool friends were my high school friends.  I had never been exposed to the military lifestyle.  The acronyms like PCS, CONUS, BDU, CVW, XO, etc were completely foreign and I had no idea how they would become part of my fluent vocabulary so quickly.

As much as I promised myself that “the Navy is just my husband’s job, it is not who I am”, it is not exactly how things have turned out.  Yes, I have my own identity (own degree and Master’s degree, own career, own interests and hobbies, own friends) but I also have come to embrace the fact that the military is a lifestyle and it will become your family if you let it.  The people I know who have had the best experiences in this life have been the ones who don’t fight it too much, who let it wash over them and live in the moment with their experiences being their guide.  So without further ado, a few tips for you – the new military spouse:
1.  Go out of your way to meet people.  You will hear rumors of spouse's groups being "snobby" or you will meet people who "don't hang out with military wives".  Find out for yourself.  I can't tell you how priceless the relationships I have formed over the years have been.  Military wives make friends with ease and are always looking for more.  Your "friends list" should never be full.  There will be bad apples - that's life - but don't let those bad examples define your experience. 
2.  Continue to pursue your goals. The military will see to it that you have lots of red tape and challenges thrown in your path. PCS moves, deployments, and other random obstacles will come your way. Do not despair; growing is always a little painful and the military just adds about 50 pounds to your pack.
3.  Enjoy where you are.  There is no base out there that is "horrible". None. There are always new parks, new restaurants, a beautiful road or park, or a new person. Don't feel sorry for yourself and spend several years holed up in your house wishing you were somewhere other than Alaska or Idaho. Life is short, you have a very unique opportunity to explore the world - do it! The beauty of the military is that if you don't enjoy it, your time there is temporary.  In other words - YOLO.  (I wrote this when we were stationed in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas...  not exactly prime Navy territory!  I embraced the BBQ and sunflowers!!!)
4.  Don't take yourself too seriously. Being an officer's wife does not make you special. Be kind to everyone, help who you can, advocate for others.  Some of your best friends might be enlisted spouses, or they might be the spouse of the highest ranking officer in the area.  Just be open to friendship and be kind.  Never expect special treatment because your husband wears strips and someone else's wears chevrons.

5.  Work hard, party hard. There is a unique atmosphere to the military community that will keep you young.  Have fun!  Don't skip a ball or party because someone rolled their eyes about the latest function.  Always go and see for yourself. (that link isn't the best example because my husband was deployed, HOWEVER, I think my going to a function solo illustrates how fun some of those parties can be!)

6.  Volunteer! Get involved with your community. Working can sometimes be a tough thing to do on short tours, but you can always put your talents toward good deeds.  It is good for the soul and a great way to meet fun, sweet, generous people in new areas.

7.  It's okay to have bad days.  There will come a day where you will hate the Air Force with every fiber of your being.  It will be soul-crushing frustration and you will take it out on your husband (or your child, friend, dog, voodoo doll).  This is completely NORMAL and you have every right to feel sorry for yourself sometimes.  If possible, do not take it out on your husband. He doesn't have control over most things and projecting your feelings of hostility toward him can damage your marriage.  Communicate, of course.  But don't steamroll him with profanity when you find out the AF is sending you to Montana (and see #3).

8.  Don't blink! Everything goes by incredibly fast - even deployments! I feel like I just walked under the sword arch and was welcomed into the Navy family.  But here I sit, 10 and a half years later, two kids, 3 deployments, and 6 duty stations later and I can't believe how fast it has gone.  I have become a cliché!

Homecoming almost makes deployment worth it.  Almost.  You have a choice with separations - to make the worst of them or to embrace some of the upsides.  You will have the unique opportunity to miss your husband. After several years of marriage, this can actually be refreshing. Of course, after about two or three weeks you'll be like, "okay, I miss you, come home now".  But alas, deployment isn't two or three weeks, but you will make it those 6 or 9 or 12 months.  When he returns, and you are standing on the tarmac or at the airport waiting for your husband it will be absolutely magical.



Fe Adamsonn said...

I always appreciate how spouses help each other and be an inspiration as well. Having a support from the people who truly understands you is very important for us to stay strong. I love this community of milspouse.

R.E. Woods said...

Well said!

Emmaline said...

Beautifully written. Thank you for your insight. I'll be marrying my Air Force academy sweetheart this June and there are plenty of things that are currently scaring the crap out of me, even though I'm so ready to begin this journey and excited for the adventure that lies ahead. It is so encouraging to know there will be people like you in our communities, ready to offer advice and encouragement. Thank you!

Kimber said...

Loved this post!

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Mr Gix

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Thanks again.

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Hi, I'm Jill!

Hi, I'm Jill!
Extrovert. Mom of two. Wife of a cute Naval Aviator. Lover of wine. When I'm not chasing my two kids around town you will find me writing, taking too many photos, and researching the ten future areas the Navy could potentially (but probably won't) PCS us. We are fish out of water, landlocked at 7,000 feet. For now.

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