by Megan Rutell, Guest Contributor
Ah, deployments. The brave solider marches into the sunset while his wife flutters her white handkerchief and blows him kisses. A thousand tiny American flags wave in the wind while a brass band plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Wait! What year is it?
Let’s face it. Modern military spouses aren’t misty-eyed gals in oxfords and the ranks aren’t filled exclusively with strapping young lads.
The men and women of today’s military represent our nation’s kaleidoscope of personalities, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, political philosophies and backgrounds.
But as I was recently reading through some of my favorite milspouse blogs, I couldn’t help noticing they represented (almost exclusively) civilian women married to men in the service. To anyone who didn’t know better, the picture hasn’t changed much.
I wasn’t bothered, exactly. After all, I’m a woman married to a man in the service. It’s still a valid experience and these lovely and skilled bloggers are representing their real lives. I applaud them daily.
My experience in a dual-military marriage was distinctly different, however, and I couldn’t help bristling at having my service marginalized beneath antiquated gender roles and clichés.
A friend and I mulled over why more milspouse bloggers don’t mention female service members or joint-spouse (a.k.a. dual-mil, mil-to-mil) families.
Dual-military couples are too rare to talk about.
I was floored. Rare?
Nearly 90,000 of our service members are in dual-military marriages, according to the 2013 DoD Demographics report. Across the services, 11.5 percent of ALL marriages are dual-mil and a whopping 46 percent of married women in the services are married to someone in a uniform.
Believe it or not, those figures seemed low to me. I left active duty in 2012 and of all the married women I served with, (a hundred, at least), I can only think of one (ONE!) who married a civilian.
Why is this so significant? For starters, dual-military marriage isn’t rare at all. It’s common to how women experience active duty. They’re not only military members, they’re also military spouses. So are their husbands (or wives; DoD marriage data hasn’t caught up with same-sex marriage legislation).
Not that anyone is excluding them on purpose. We’re not likely to hear dual-mil voices permeating the military spouse networks for one simple reason: They’re too busy.
Being a military spouse is difficult already, but when you add a second deployment schedule, 60-hour duty weeks, early morning commander’s calls, fitness tests, night shifts, exercises — well, let’s just say they’re not starting their blogs anytime soon.
Many of my closest friends and neighbors — like the badasses they are — have successfully built 2 active-duty careers while maintaining stable home lives for their children. Don’t they deserve a voice in the military spouse community?
Of course! The more the merrier. To get the ball rolling, here are 6 things every military spouse should know about their dual-mil friends and neighbors:
Dual-military couples are not unicorns.
The worst thing the milspouse community can do to dual-milspouses is to pretend they don’t exist. You may not see them at spouse luncheons, but they are military spouses and deserve acknowledgement from their support networks.
Speakers at promotions and changes-of-command often say spouses have “the toughest job in the military,” but dual-mil families face special challenges each day and rarely ask for (or receive) special attention.
Your job as a military spouse is tough. So is theirs.
Let them know you see them. A little awareness can go a long way.
They appreciate the invitation.
When my husband and I were stationed in separate squadrons at Nellis AFB, I joined his squadron’s spouse group. They always invited me to events, whether they happened during the workday, at night, whenever. I’m sure they knew my duty schedule prevented me from attending, but the offer meant a lot to me.
Don’t be surprised if your invitations are met with confusion at first. Many active-duty spouses are so accustomed to being ignored (or unwelcome) that they don’t expect inclusion.
Nevertheless, reach out to them. Your openness will help them feel like they can ask for support when it’s needed.
Babysitting? Yes, please!
If there’s anything dual-military families can agree on, it’s that babysitting is the ultimate gift. Overnight care is like winning the lottery.
Many people don’t know that active-duty couples with children must immediately file a Family Care Plan at each new duty station. They essentially assign temporary custody of their kids to non-uniformed personnel, short-term and long-term, in case both parents are deployed concurrently.
How many friends do you have when you show up at a new duty station? Anyone you could trust with your children? None? Same for them.
Naming someone on the Family Care Plan is infinitely easier if a fellow military spouse offers, even if you can only give short-term care.
Don’t wait for them to ask; make the offer.
They love their spouses and kids just as much as you do.
I deployed away from my son when he was 9 months old. It was part of my obligation as a military member and while I was heartbroken to leave such a small baby, I tried to power through. It was the single hardest time of my life and led to my separation from Air Force. I was fortunate to have that choice; not everyone does.
But people mistakenly believe dual-mil families are wired differently. They don’t mind. They’re used to it. It’s different for those people.
When deployments happen, you lace up and go. No quibbling. Don’t mistake discipline with detachment.
Leaving your spouse and your children never gets easier. Their reasons for staying on active duty are not a commentary on their commitment to their families.
There’s not much you can do to ease this burden for your dual-mil friends other than reassure them. Tell them you see how much they love their children and they’re doing a great job. A tiny gesture can unload a lot of guilt from their rucksacks.
Stop joking about their stashes of money.
I can just picture my active-duty friends, in their best Scrooge McDuck impersonations, laughing maniacally amidst their stacks of gold coins. Throw in a couple of crowns for effect!
Trust me, they get tired of hearing sideways comments about their 2 steady incomes. A lot of their pay goes to after-hours childcare, lawn-mowing, housekeeping — all the things they can’t accomplish with both adults working 60 hours a week.
The joke’s worn out. It’s 2016, people, many civilian spouses work too. Stop counting other people’s money.
They value their civilian milspouse friends.
Everyone needs off-duty friends. Your friendship is important to your active duty friends, even if you don’t see them as often as you might like.
Other than your professions, you have a lot in common with active-duty military spouses. Introduce yourself and invite them to be a part of your local milspouse community. Scratch that.
They already ARE a huge part of our beautiful, energetic, ever-changing military spouse community. If ever there was a generation willing to redefine what it means to be a military spouse, it’s ours.
We need to include them in the discussion.
We need to stop pretending we still live in a world that sends men off to war while women “hold down the home front.”
We need to take ownership of our community, look around for the absent voices and ask ourselves, “Are we all here?”
Megan spent 7 years in the Air Force, where she met her husband. She studied creative writing at the University of Denver and has a passion for young adult fiction. Her PCS essentials include her family, a notebook, her Kindle and a very large cup of coffee. You can read more of Megan’s writing on her creative blog, pageflutter.com.