With every wedding season comes a fresh crop of military spouses. Smiling, excited, determined and possibly studying a map to figure out where the place is they call 29 Palms…or Killeen…or even Fort “Lost-In-the-Woods.”
I’m not going to write my list of tips for new military spouses (some great ones already exist and you can find a few here, here and here). In fact, there are really only two things I think you should remember:
First, there is no road map for this journey you’re about to start.
If you interviewed 20 spouses who’d been married to a military member for 20+ years I bet you’d get 20 different stories. Sure, there would be some similarities among them (unexpected orders, move after move, inconvenient deployments, etc.), but the twists and turns likely looked a bit different for each and they likely happened at different times along their journey. I say this to tell you: give yourself a break. Often.
I don’t necessarily mean go get a massage or a pedicure, although I’ve been known to avail myself of those things from time to time. I mean, allow yourself to feel whatever way you feel on a given day.
If it’s a tough day, let it be tough for a minute.
If you’re having a great day personally or professionally, celebrate!
You’ll hear people telling you to get involved in this organization or ignore that organization, but you have to find what works for you. Try everything. Look into the spouses clubs and find out if your base has an FRG. Just see what your options are. Depending on your situation and with today’s technologies it may be tempting to steer clear of military organizations, but I really do encourage you to embrace SOME part of the military life.
When I got married, I was 30 years old; I had served in the Navy Reserves and had been with my sailor for 4 years—I even worked in the defense sector as a civilian. Honestly, with my experience and perspective, I didn’t think my husband being in the Navy would be a big deal.
Obviously, I knew we would have to go through deployments and other separations, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the dangers that could accompany those deployments, but I didn’t think his serving would have a huge effect on my day-to-day life and certainly not on my career.
For the most part, unless he was deployed, we both simply went to work and came home and I didn’t give the rest of it much thought. I didn’t get involved with command picnics or go to family day—I could barely bring myself to skim the emails from the ombudsman (key spouse).
Then it happened. I was pregnant with our son and I was laid off. Not long after that, hubby came home and told me that although we thought we were staying put, we were actually going to PCS.
All of a sudden, the military was playing a very large part in my everyday life.
I couldn’t really go look for a new job because we’d be leaving. I no longer had benefits of my own and needed to use Tricare. I very quickly became able to recite my husband’s Social Security number. Soon we moved to our new duty station and for the first time ever we moved on base.
Talk about a change of pace…I wouldn’t change it though: I learned during those times how important our military family can be.
Even though our new command was a joint one that didn’t have an active FRG and there wasn’t a lot in terms of command activities, I still immersed myself in many things military.
Through my work with In Gear Career, I also met a lot of career-minded military spouses who were attempting to return to the workforce after 5, 10 or even 20+ years of staying at home. During those home years many of them dedicated themselves fully to taking care of their own families, but also to serving other military families and military-related causes. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with dedicating time to these organizations–after all, I did just encourage you to do so.
The thing is, you can’t win with either extreme.
If you choose the path of ignoring the military, you may miss some wonderful friendships, some necessary information and the opportunity to serve other military families.
If you choose to dive in fully and pay attention only to the military you may also miss the opportunity to make some great friends, pursue your own career or develop an identity that doesn’t revolve around what your spouse does for work.
None of us can be 100% military spouse or 100% civilian.
This brings me to the second point: I believe we as military spouses have a unique opportunity in our position as both a member of the military community and a civilian. With this position we are perfectly poised to serve as a bridge between both communities.
Think about it: as a population (and sometimes even as an individual) we’ve lived everywhere. We’ve lived in small towns, we’ve lived in cities and many locations in between across this great country of ours; often we’ve also lived in other countries. This can make us relatable, it certainly makes us adaptable and if you’ve read any of my other career-focused articles, you know I think it makes us a great asset to potential employers.
So how can we use this power for good?
Learn about your new community when you move there (or before). What is important to members of that city or town? How does having the military in their area affect everyday life for the citizens?
Then learn about your new installation. How do they operate? Where can you get involved? Where do the two things collide for your family and for the families throughout the community? Many chambers of commerce in towns with military installations have a military affairs council; find out if there is a way for you to be involved. There are bound to be organizations geared toward veterans in those communities as well. Check out organizations like Team RWB, their entire mission is forming community and encouraging veterans and military families to engage with members of their surroundings.
Get involved in both the military life and your communities. This will not only serve you during the time that you live in those areas. The connections you make in those localities may serve you for years to come. This type of engagement will also serve your family when the time comes for you to transition out of active military service.
You will not be a stranger to civilian organizations and you will not be a stranger to being both civilian and military spouse.
Remember, we are in a unique position and there is no one path for everyone. Look around you, both on base and off and find what works for you. You won’t regret it.