Reality Check: Military Spouse

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Last month, I was asked by Jill of Visions of Jill Hanna if I would mind answering a few questions for her series she does on military spouses, which you can check out HERE.  I have to admit it was a little harder than I thought to answer these questions and open up, but hopefully it will resonate with a spouse or two.  I think Jill is doing a great thing out there spotlighting military spouses from all over and in different phases of the military lifestyle.

1) How did you meet your service member, and how long have you been married?
My husband and I met when I was 15 and he was 17.  I went to his senior prom with one of his best friends and hung around his circle of friends.  A couple months later, after his graduation, we started spending time together and stayed up all hours into the night chatting online.  We made it “official” that summer and the rest is history.
That was almost 15 years ago.  He joined the military (U.S. Navy) a year later and we did the long distance thing for 2 years. Finally, we had enough.  He proposed, I finished the fall semester of my sophomore year of college, and we got married while he was home on Christmas leave.  I was just 19 and he was 21. We were babies and I think a lot of people thought we were crazy.  We just celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary.
2) Where have you lived in the time you’ve been married? Which place was your favorite, and why?   
Two days after we got married, we packed up my belongings and drove from our hometown in Illinois to Jacksonville, FL where he was stationed.  We were there for about 2.5 years.  We had our first baby there.  We met some great people there and I miss the beaches and the ability to “easily” drive home or have our family drive down to see us.  I guess some could argue 18 hours is not really an easy drive. Ha.
After Jacksonville, they sent us to San Diego. We were fortunate enough to spend 8 years there.  We had two more babies and met many more lifelong friends.  It’s a gorgeous city with pretty perfect weather and so many family-friendly things to do and see.  It’s also home to some of the best craft breweries.
Last summer we made the move to Whidbey Island, Washington.  It’s been quite the change from San Diego.  The Pacific Northwest is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s still taking some adjusting to go from a large city to a small town, but there are much worse places we could have been handed orders to.
Picking a favorite place is hard because each duty station has been a part of our story, and prepared us for the next.  I guess I would have to say San Diego.  I met some of my best friends there, did a lot of growing and it’s a great (although expensive!) place to raise a family.  I’ve learned that I definitely am a fan of the city/suburb life.  I like having a variety of restaurants, Targets and malls all within a close distance.  And I definitely appreciate it a lot more, now that I have to drive an hour to get to the nearest Costco or Target.
 “Each duty station has been a part of our story, and prepared us for the next.”
3) Where have you worked and/or gone to school in the time you’ve been married? 
When we were in Jacksonville, I worked on base for Morale, Welfare and Recreation.  I worked at the Youth Center there starting out as a camp counselor for their summer program, and then got hired on and worked there up until a few months before we left.  When we got to San Diego, I was at home with our daughter and looked into options for online schooling to finish my degree. I ended up going a different route and did online training for medical transcription.
After my training, I was hired by a company in Australia and did medical transcription for a large children’s hospital there.  It was ideal because I was still able to stay at home with my daughter and make some money. And it was good money when I was actually working, but once I had our son it got too difficult. I had to block out hours at a time to sit with headphones on, trying to decipher all those Australian accents over the noise of a demanding newborn and 3 year-old.
From there, things got chaotic.  Sea duty was demanding with lots of work-ups and deployments. Eric was also working nights for the majority of the time.  Once our oldest daughter started kindergarten, I started volunteering for her school.  By the following year, I was on the PTA board and spent the majority of my day at the school doing PTA stuff and helping the staff.  I loved being involved, and the change of pace.
4) Have you faced challenges to your career or education paths due to PCSing, and if so, what were these challenges?
Yes and no.  Yes, it made it more challenging and overwhelming when trying to plan ahead, and trying to figure out how to finish up my degree.  There is always the unknown, and there’s no such thing as a reliable schedule when your significant other is in the military.  So, it definitely made it tough.  I ended up switching focus when we had our first daughter. I decided to put my plans on hold and focus on staying at home raising our kids.  We are thankful that we’ve been able to make it work. It hasn’t always been pretty or easy, but in a lifestyle where there is so much change and uncertainty, I felt more at ease doing the stay- at-home mom thing.
5) What has been your favorite thing about being a military spouse?  
I think I would say the pride and opportunity.  As a military spouse, I don’t think there’s anything better than a homecoming!  Whether it’s waiting on a pier for the ship to pull in, or waiting on the flight line for the planes/”helos” to fly in, there is nothing like it.  You have so much pride in your significant other for the sacrifices they have made. And of course, you have it in yourself for making it through those long months of loneliness and uncertainty.  I love the opportunities we’ve been given to be able to live all over the US, and the experiences that have come with it.
6) Do you find that you get along well with other military spouses, or are most of your friends non-milspouses? 
I’m very much an introvert, but I am pretty good about being able to get along with just about anyone, if needed.  I would say I have a pretty good mix of friends.  I think having a few military spouses that you get along with well is important.  They can understand and relate to your situation and I think having someone who understands what you’re going through is crucial in those less than stellar moments.
We all have those times when everything seems to be going wrong, and you have no communication with your spouse while he or she is on the other side of the world.  I don’t know how I would have survived without my fellow spouses in some of those moments.  I also have a great group of friends who aren’t “military” and I love them to pieces—I would be lost without them.
7) What is the best/worst thing about living on base?  
We have never actually lived on base, but we have lived in military housing.  When we first moved to San Diego we moved into housing.  It was the best option for us at the time.  It was nearly impossible to find something in our BAH range out in town. Also, moving across the country “sight-unseen,” we had no clue about good vs bad areas, etc.  I think when you are of a lower rank, housing usually is a great option. Luckily, San Diego had a big enough need that there were quite a few very nice housing areas.
We got super lucky: our first house was brand new and we were the first tenants.  And it was definitely nicer than anything we could afford out in town.  I think at first it also gave me a sense of security moving into a neighborhood where everyone else was military.  I think it made it a lot easier for me to meet people, and for the kids to make friends. There were lots of parks throughout the neighborhood for the kids to go to and meet other children.
I also loved that some of my very best friends ended up being next door or just a few houses down.  It was really nice to have such good friends a few doors down so we could be there for each other easily. We had each other nearby through deployments, and we could help one another out watching each other’s kids, etc.
Housing definitely had its downsides though, too.  It’s a lot of people in close quarters.  There’s also a pretty quick turnaround, so new neighbors happened quite a bit.  We had some great ones and some not so great ones.  I was ever so lucky to be subpoenaed by the state of California once, thanks to some shady neighbors we had.
Being in housing off-base, we often saw that our neighborhood became a target.  We had both our truck and garage broken into in our few years there.  I am thankful we had the option for a while, but when we finally found a house that would fit our budget and family, we were definitely ready to move on.
“You have so much pride in your significant other for the sacrifices they have made. And of course, you have it in yourself for making it through those long months of loneliness and uncertainty.”
8) What would you like to do professionally, and is this something you’ve always wanted to do, or is it something that is more conducive to military spouse life?
I’ve always been intrigued by and interested in the medical field in some way or another.  I love the thought of having a career as a nurse practitioner or something similar, but like I said, when we started our family I decided to put all of that on the back burner.  I loved working as a medical transcriptionist those few years, creating reports for doctors and listening to appointment and surgery recordings. I learned a lot.  While the medical field is still something I have an interest in, I actually ended up switching gears and have pretty much landed my dream job as of late.
I ended up becoming a distributor for a company after falling in love with their product.  Multi-level marketing is something that I think a lot of people have a negative stigma towards.  Heck, even I wasn’t a fan of it, mostly because of the way companies train and how pushy their sales people are.   I am not a salesperson and never will be, it’s just not me.  I just am super fortunate to be a part of a group where we are changing the way things are done, and I am having the best time.  I was already obsessed with the product so now that I am making a paycheck along with it, all while still getting to stay at home everyday with my kids, well it doesn’t get much better than that.  I understand why it’s so popular among military wives.  It’s something that we can take wherever we go, it’s flexible and we have complete control of our schedule.   It’s also a great way for stay-at-home moms to get out and connect.  I am incredibly grateful for it.
9) If your kids want to join the military, will you recommend it to them, or encourage them to consider other options? Why? 
I would be supportive.  I think it would be kind of crazy not to support them when we’ve raised them in this lifestyle, especially since my husband is making this a career.  I hope we can support them in whatever avenue they choose or think will be best for them.  The military has lots of great opportunities.  But I also know that when that time comes, it would be on me as a mother to see my child off, not knowing where they will end up or when they will be home next.
10) If you could give one piece of advice to a brand new military spouse, what would it be? 
Learn to expect change and be flexible.  The one given thing about the military is there will always be change and there will be a lot of unknowns.  If you are prepared for it and can learn to roll with the punches, you have a good start.  I also think it’s important to find at least one other spouse that you connect with who can be there as your support when you need it. Another spouse will know exactly what you’re going through.  I seriously don’t know what I would have done at times without my support team of wives. They became my rock during deployments and such.