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!
Thank you. I just separated after four great years of active duty. While my husband is not in the military, so we’re really not in the environment of military life now, I needed this. Even as active duty, my rank was only one thing about me. I felt like I couldn’t be myself with play groups or in some settings because of that one thing. I’m grateful for all the wonderful friends I gained while serving–mostly women whose husbands were a higher or lower rank than me but never made a big deal of it. The best advice you gave me was to ignore those out to bring others down!!! Thank you, thank you!
Jodi…let me shed some light on what might have happened with the playgroup. I was once an enlisted wife and a member of a civilian moms group. The majority of its members were officers with a sprinking of enlisted wives.
There was gossip. Lots of it. Mostly started by o wives and directed toward the way e wivestook care of their kids. A few of the e wives unfairly had CPS called on them because the O wives in the group felt that their husbands’ ranks and leadership capabilities extended to them.Those e wives who were not bullied by the o wives quickly left the group, myself included.
So I can see why the e wife in your group was gunshy. I know that if you had been in the group, I would have wondered what games you might eventually play, simply because your sister o wives have played that game before.
I know it sucks, but the behavior I cited scares people and makes them skittish:/
Mary — What you just wrote is what is so messed up about the enlisted spouse / officer spouse divide. You took one bad experience and, instead of making it better, assumed every officer’s spouse was the same. That does nothing to improve the relationship.
I’m the author of this blog post, and that’s precisely what I’m saying. I did absolutely nothing to deserve to be treated like this. Justifying treatment, because someone who I don’t even know or associate with (yes, I do know people like this– it’s not just officer’s spouses either, it’s people in every walk of life) is flat wrong. Just because one person engages in gossip and negative behavior does not justify treating an entire population with contempt. Making this assumption about me is just as wrong as assumption I make about any other person. It’s discriminatory. I don’t condone discriminatory behavior around me, and I don’t appreciate it being condoned about me. I don’t mention my husband’s work with my friends, that is not who I am, assuming that I am like “all the other” officer’s wives just gives the stereotype life.
Me again. Sorry, but anything that has to do with disrupting my family in any way, shape or form scares me. Seeing o wives bully e wives with my own two eyes was and is enough for me to make a clear choice.
Are all o wives bad? No. Are a lot of them rude witches? Yes. There is always some truth to a stereotype, and o wives have earned their stereotype over the years. When you meet women like this in a high concentration, it makes you think twice.
Bad feelings and experiences are going to take a long time to push away. It’s funny. The Fort Hood OSC…which is notorious in Army circle for being pretty condescending toward e wives..just announced that it voted to let e wives in. It is now waiting on approval from garrison.
Why, after all these years, does the OSC want the e wives to join? Is it because these women have had a change of heart or are they out of money and/or their community supporters are finally waking up to the fact that they are elitist and rude? Who knows?
Mary-would you appreciate people making assumptions about you based on your husband’s rank? I doubt it, made clear by your post. Why would you then label ALL (or a good majority) officer wives as bitchy? I had the exact opposite situation happen. My husband was a “cross-over”. He was enlisted, and then commissioned . When we went to his first unit I was treated like dirt. I was gossiped about, and I was shunned. The gossiping came from a group of enlisted wives, And yes I know this for certain. Did I then assume that ALL enlisted spouses were rude and “bitchy”. No, I didn’t. That was a group of isolated women, who chose to be nasty. I chose to judge each person for their actions, and their behaviors, bit their husband’s rank. I find it disheartening you chose to stick with your close minded view. We are all just spouses, and we can never come together when we are judged by superficial reasons. It would be hard to say many officer spouses are the way you describe, since I’m sure you have not even met a small percentage out there.
I am an enlisted wife in the top three. I am also prior military. The idea that we like or dislike someone through chemistry, not rank, is how I live my life. Most of my friends have been officers wives with a sprinkling of enlisted, and civilians. My friends and I have things in common, that’s all, we leave “work” at work with our husbands and we do as we please. Shopping, movies, coffee, and girl-talk. When our Squadron Commander had emergency brain surgery, his wife went with him and her kids came to me. It’s what friends do and she was a best friend. I was shunned by many other enlisted wives and called a brown-noser, but I didn’t care. I was older than them, my kids were older and I simply had the same interests as these officer wives, it had nothing to do with their husbands. I’ve mucked stalls with a Colonel’s wife because we both had horses at the same stables, and I’ve thrown baby showers for enlisted wives. It’s petty to judge others by the rank of their husbands and if one doesn’t stop the cycle it will continue. I am easy-going and try to get along with everyone and if you don’t want to be my friend because of another friend I have, then that’s your problem, not ours.
I am so glad i haven’t experienced any of this negativity. Mainly because I don’t get out much but I wouldn’t put up with this crap at all! My best friends hubby is an officer, mine is enlisted. We’ve never used that as an excuse to not be friends. We’re just woman who have the same interests and personalities. I actually judged the higher ranking military member (I know, I know. I was enlisted too so I assumed they’re all buttholes.) This past weekend i was talking with a woman at the park and her hubby walks up. Turns out he was a colonel and the kid they brought wasn’t even theirs! They had taken the little girl out to play for a lower enlisted soldier who had an emergency. Isn’t that the greatest thing? Helping each other.
Thank you for writing this article. It inspired me to write my own post about this! http://partygirltocrunchymama.blogspot.com/2014/02/response-to-i-am-not-my-spouses-rank.html
Thank you for take on this post! So glad you wrote it! We’ll have to share it for you!
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