by Jodi Vetter, Guest Contributor
Officer’s spouse. When you hear those words, images immediately pop into your head—some good and some not so good. The two images that come into my mind when someone says officers’ spouses are Hilly Holbrooke from the movie The Help and Paula Pokrifki from An Officer And A Gentleman.
I know when I was first married the thought of going to an officers’ spouses’ group tea or meeting, would elicit a groan from me. What’s even more ironic is that I am one of those elusive creatures that causes people who are not an officer’s spouse to sneer, roll their eyes, or swallow a mouth full of vomit—I am the spouse of a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force.
I announce this somewhat proudly, and mostly while hiding behind the bushes in my front yard, waiting for the first person to declare me wearing my husband’s rank, and the pitchforks, bags of dog poo, and other lovely insults to come out. I wanted to share my personal experiences of 16 years of marriage and maybe give some sage advice to both officer’s and enlisted spouses—and as I’m writing this, I’m secretly snorting to myself—a chick with Aspergers giving social advice to a bunch of men and women.
Let me tell you a little bit about my first experience as an officer’s spouse. It was not pleasant.
My husband and I got married my junior year of college so that we could hedge our bets on a joint-spouse assignment. I was about to be commissioned into the Air Force as a communications-information systems officer, but until then, officer’s spouse pretty much summed up who I was to everyone else.
I got a frilly invitation in the mail (because no one e-mailed back in the day) to meet with the spouses of the squadron. My husband was training to be a pilot. All of the spouses crammed into the squadron briefing room and were assigned seating “in order”.
Not alphabetical order, as one might assume. Nope. RANK order.
Each spouse was seated in the order of our husband’s date of graduation and commissioning source. My husband is a “ring-knocker” (slang for an Academy grad) and all of the ring-knockers have the same commissioning day so we were put in alphabetical order because they were commissioned in alphabetical order. In that very same order, the squadron commander’s wife went down the line and addressed each of us personally in front of the group and it wasn’t really in a very friendly manner.
She told one spouse, whose husband had been prior enlisted and served in the Air Force over 6 years prior to “crossing over to the dark side” that she may want to consider birth control options during pilot training, because three children were way too many children for a Lieutenant to have.
When she got to me, she told me that I didn’t love my husband and wasn’t being a very good wife, because I had no plans to drop out of college the middle of the spring semester of my senior year to join my husband at pilot training where he would be working 12-14 hour days and when he was not at work, he’d spend the vast majority of his time studying. Needless to say, she made a less than positive impression on me about what it means to be an officer’s spouse.
After I served my time in the military I transitioned over to military spouse, more specifically an officer’s spouse, on a more full time basis. Automatically the way people related to me and responded to me changed. All of a sudden I was too good to be friends with anyone other than other officers’ spouses, too stupid to understand the way things worked in the military, and that any issues or complaints I might have were tantamount to whining or being entitled.
Perhaps one of the most eye opening experiences for me of what it means to be labeled as an “officer’s spouse” happened once I became a parent. My first child was diagnosed with autism three months after my second child was born. We were stationed in Minot, ND and it wasn’t quite a bustling hub of services. The well-meaning doctor prescribed that my son join the playgroup run by our base Family Advocacy Center to build his social interaction skills.
No big deal, right?
Well, when we arrived at the playgroup we had to sign in and you know what that means in the military world: our name, our spouse’s name, our spouse’s rank, and his unit designation. I attended three playsessions, when a new mom joined the group. She was quite young and also had a child with significant delays. A few weeks passed and all of a sudden, the nurse started calling me and telling me that we couldn’t come to the playgroup.
At first we couldn’t come when this particular mother showed up, and then we were asked to leave the playgroup all together. When I finally pressed, it turned out that the new mother who joined the playgroup didn’t want an officer’s spouse at the playgroup. It had nothing to do with me or my son or anything that we’d done. I was unceremoniously kicked out of a playgroup because my husband outranked her husband.
All this having been said, there will always be the people you just don’t get along with. There will always be someone you just can’t see eye to eye with. There will also always be military spouses out there who feel that it’s their duty to bring down everyone, except for them. Ignore them, and don’t attribute their bad attitude to an entire group of people. Trust me, I know far more atypical spouses than stereotypical ones. For the newer spouses, don’t fall into the stereotypes; the people you insult just may be the people you will eventually come to rely on.
Jodi Vetter is a veteran and military spouse. She has been married 16 years and has two wonderful children. In 2011, Jodi was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. Her son, Ryan (9), also has autism. She has made it her life’s work to advocate for adults and children on the autism spectrum. She is currently working on a memoir documenting her experiences as a veteran, military spouse, and woman with autism. She is also published in Chicken Soup For Soul: Raising Kids On The Spectrum and her poetry has been published in different magazines and college publications. In her spare time she enjoys running marathons, half marathons, and other endurance sports, stand up paddleboarding, and Crossfit. Read more of her work on her blog!