Four years ago this week Caleb took an oath to serve our country as a United States Air Force Officer. Since we were married just a week and a half before that, I’ve been along since the beginning of his active duty career.
Four years is the first crossroads for many officers, including Caleb. His initial commitment was completed so this month he could have left the military for civilian life. Instead he (we) chose to stay so he could earn the promotion to Captain. It was an easy decision for Caleb to stay in since we’ve been planning to stay in the military long term, but in January when we found out he was assigned to AFIT, we understood that accepting that assignment meant that he was also accepting a longer commitment. We feel like our military journey is just beginning so we didn’t mind dedicating a few more years.
Here’s a little bit about our military journey: In the past four years we’ve lived in three states. Caleb completed tech school, deployed for six months, and promoted twice. I served as Key Spouse for one squadron and am working to get involved in at WPAFB. And we know we’ll be moving again in 17 months when he’s finished here at AFIT.
We’ve had highs and lows with the military. There are lots of days when I think we could stay in “for life” (20+ years) and when I’m smitten with the possibility of all the places we could live. Then there are times when I just want to have a “normal” life, when I bemoan the fact that we don’t own a house or that we can’t live closer to my family.
Today I thought I’d share four things that I’ve learned in four years of military life.
1. Think Seasonally
Civilians often talk about the seasons of life (e.g. your kids are only young for a season). But in the military you know that there are many more kinds of seasons. There’s the season of deployment, the season of TDY’s, and seasons of training or special duty.
When Caleb was a tech school there were days when he was gone 12 hours a day. We were newly married. We had one car, which he took to base. I had exactly one friend in that town. I was home alone with dangerously severe morning sickness. And lots of days he was in a SCIF which meant that I had no way to contact him. It was a really, really awful and lonely season. But it was just that: a season.
If you’re in a season that really stinks, remember that this deployment, this assignment, this duty isn’t going to last forever.
2. Make Yourself A Priority
As a new MilSpouse I was excited about military life. But I was also keenly aware of the things I was giving up at that time. Because of several personal reasons it didn’t make sense for me to start grad school or look for a job in those beginning years so we made the decision together that I would stay home with our son. But that didn’t mean that it was always easy for me. Blogging (and eventually freelancing) has given me an outlet to develop new skills, challenge myself and carve out time for my own interests. It’s something that can travel with me to each new home we make.
Writing might not be your outlet. But find something that makes you happy. Whether it’s working outside the home, running, painting or weight-lifting, make it a priority. There might be times when it goes on the back-burner if you’re in a difficult season and that’s okay too. Just make sure that you get back to doing something that you love (and something that travels with you) to make you feel steady and sure in the topsy-turvy world of the military.
3. Find Your People
It’s really hard to do military life alone. And it’s also really hard to do with the wrong people.
Look for YOUR people at each base. At times I’ve fallen into the completely unfair trap of narrowing down military spouses in a caricature. I cynically think that they are all the same and that I don’t fit in with them. Not only is that silly, it’s absolutely wrong. The more MilSpouses I meet, the more I realize how much variety there is in this group.
If you can’t easily find your people, consider starting a group that might attract them. When we moved here to WPAFB I wanted to meet other MilSpouses who liked to think and discuss things so I started a TED Talk group where we get together once a month to watch and discuss a TED Talk. At first I was a little nervous that no one would be interested, but I had a great response to that idea. Think of what kind of people you want to meet and then figure out how to find them!
4. Rank Doesn’t Matter (But It Kinda Does)
As a spouse, issues of rank rarely affect me. I will neither befriend you nor snub you based on your spouse’s rank. I’m friends with who I want to be friends with and that’s it.
But rank does matter when it comes to my husband. Per the rules of the military, he can’t spend much time outside of work with people either above or below him in his chain of command. This fraternization rule is there to keep commanders from acting based on favoritism.
All that this means in our family is that if I’m friends with someone in Caleb’s squadron, we probably won’t be able to do things together as families. As spouses we’re free to get together as often as we’d like though.
Whether you’ve been a MilSpouse for 10 months or 10 years, I would LOVE to hear what you’ve learned! Share in the comments below or connect with me on Facebook and comment there!