Let’s face it– even if you are a working military spouse and have plenty of friends in your community, the military plays a huge role in your family’s life. That’s why whether you are new to the military or a seasoned spouse, rather than aimlessly bouncing around from one duty station to the next, you ought to chart a plan for your family to set yourself and your loved ones on a course for success.
Choose Duty Stations Carefully
You don’t always have control over where Uncle Sam sends you. But most branches of service let you make a “dream list” of duty stations where you might like to be sent. Or perhaps you know, based on your spouse’s military job, that there are certain places where you are more likely to get stationed. In any case, when filling out your list of possible future installations, make wise, or at least thoughtful choices.
Sure, Hawaii sounds great, but can you get a job there? Is the cost of living too high? D.C. might be good for your career, but will your BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) cover your rent if you have to live off-post? How are the local schools? Some duty stations may be gorgeous (Alaska) but remote.
Hint: Research the quality of local schools on Great Schools. Many states also give their school report cards based on testing and other performance standards. For example, here is one for the state of Virginia. You can look up local housing costs on sites like Zillow. Look up your BAH rate by ZIP code so you have an idea of what you will have to spend.
Look at the Big Picture
Yes, in a perfect world, you are stationed near your family, your spouse is never deployed and you are living in a great community with a fabulous job market and awesome schools. The reality is that not every military installation is in an ideal place. And with the military going through some serious downsizing, sometimes military families have to make tough decisions and sacrifices.
Talk it over with your spouse and make a choice as a couple. It might make good career sense for the service member to volunteer for a short deployment or a remote assignment. There are times when the military member will have to take a “hard” assignment with long hours or is far away from loved ones.
With retention boards going on in all branches and among both the officer and the NCO corps, if you want to stay in the military, career planning has to be part of the family strategy.
Just remember that there are no guarantees in life and especially in the military. I’m thinking back a few years to my husband’s year-long deployment followed by a 9-month remote TDY assignment, followed by, yes, another year-long deployment. Just because you “pay your dues” doesn’t mean you always get rewarded, unfortunately.
Know Your Timeline
It can be important to keep your family timeline in sync with your career. Overseas assignments sound alluring, but they may not be the best choice if the service member is going to be retiring from there and looking for a job stateside.
In our situation, we knew we wanted another European assignment, but we wanted our kids to be old enough to appreciate the experience, so we waited to put Germany on our “dream sheet” until our kids were in the second and fourth grade.
Talk it over with your spouse and make a choice as a couple.
If your child’s high school experience is a big priority, you may want to try and map out a particular duty station during that time frame. Several branches allow service members to request “stabilization” for dependents who are going to be seniors in high school, but requests must be made by the beginning of the junior year.
While military families are often at the mercy of the “needs of the government” with some planning, you can have some say in your spouse’s career progression, your career and your family’s well-being.
Do you feel as though you are aimlessly bouncing around from one duty station to the next one? What’s your plan for success?