What the 1% Did (and Did not) Volunteer For


Understanding_Sam“Well, he did volunteer for it, after all.”

I couldn’t believe my ears – this was my daughter’s sweet preschool teacher talking, the same lady who had seemed so sympathetic when my husband had deployed a couple of years before.  And now my husband was facing two back to back TDY assignments at different duty stations.  He was going to be gone 9 months and we couldn’t go along because during the middle of it I would be PCSing on my own to our next assignment just in time for the girls to start at their new school.

But it’s a refrain I’ve heard over and over again.  Yes, my husband is part of an all-volunteer military force.  So technically he *did* volunteer for this.

BUT…he’s been in 18 years.  He volunteered in a world before 9/11.  During a time when we couldn’t conceive of endless conflict, deployment after deployment and high “op-tempo” times in-between.

My husband consciously signed up for public service, and has willingly put himself in danger many times.

But he didn’t volunteer to be away during the birth of his second child, to be away more than he was home for the first 6 ½ years of his older daughter’s life, to be constantly relocated around the country and the globe at great emotional and financial cost and to now, with many other soldiers, face the very real possibility of being downsized.

And my kids certainly didn’t volunteer for any part of this whole military thing.  They dread leaving friends, family and even possessions behind each time we move.   They would gladly leave our “glamorous” lifestyle behind if it meant knowing for sure where they’d be going to school next year and not worrying about being able to sign up for sports/hobbies/Girl Scouts/music lessons.

My husband doesn’t want or need thanks for his service, but as a military spouse, I do appreciate when the 99% are sympathetic, even if they can’t be *empathetic* because they really haven’t walked a mile our combat boots.

So if you are another milspouse, please be the listening, empathetic ear when a fellow spouse gripes, er, vents, to you.  Even if they are venting about being stationed in Europe (yes, really!).  And if you are a civilian who happens to be reading this, please try and be understanding.  Military families love their country, and they gladly serve it.  But they don’t have to like everything about it.


  1. I have heard my fair share of the “he volunteered” chorus. It’s true, he did volunteer. He loves it, and he’s proud of it. But military life is so unpredictable that there’s no way to know when you are volunteering (or reenlisting) what the following years will look like. We were shocked when we PCSed overseas (what are the odds?!) and just as shocked when we PCSed back to our home state 8 months later (what are the odds, times two!). We couldn’t forsee that he’d be deployed when it’s brother finally got a lung transplant or that we’d be out of the country when that same brother passed away. Yes, we knew that our location and our time would be out of our hands, but it’s impossible to know exactly what that will mean or look like for each family.

    I also think that it’s okay to complain. Doctors know that they will have to work long hours when they choose their career path, but no one begrudges them for saying “I’m tired,” after working for 24 hours. Just because our spouses volunteered doesn’t mean that we can’t miss them when they are gone or be annoyed when times are hard. People who’s retort is “well, he volunteered,” are being rude, in my opinion.


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