Life as a military spouse is not often framed in the most glowing of terms.
We endure a unique set of challenges, after all. But when discussed positively, it’s almost always done as a tribute to fortitude, flexibility, or fearlessness (sometimes to all of these). We praise characteristics that adapt well to our circumstances rather than celebrating the circumstances themselves.
I have written about seeing the silver linings in a bad duty station; how to help military kids succeed in school; how to stay positive when your career stalls. These are all helpful perspectives, but they are merely tributes to endurance rather than appreciation.
It’s a funny thing then, that in the middle of this COVID-19 crisis and as communities around the world face genuine fear and distress, I am – perhaps for the first time – fully aware of what a blessing it is to be a military family.
Of course, everyone experiences this lifestyle in their own way. Everything from duty stations to personalities to family circumstances can affect how any single person will look back at this time. My family moved to a small OCONUS location last summer, and I can’t help but imagine what this situation would be like in any of our other homes. The differences would be stark, I am sure.
So while I can only speak for myself, I wish to share my immense gratitude and appreciation for military life. I want to highlight the specific ways in which living in my specific military community has been particularly helpful in the midst of a global pandemic.
Access to Medical Care
It’s always easy to find someone willing to rant about Tricare and the many ways in which it is perceived to fall short. We can’t stay positive about everything, you know. But as the magnitude of this crisis has grown, I have never been more grateful to know that should anybody in my family become sick, our first priority will be getting well again.
I will not have to worry about whether our insurance plan is sufficient or if a high deductible might be financially devastating. We will receive care without worry. It is a peace-of-mind I wholeheartedly wish every person could know. I appreciate our access to medical care so much.
Moreover, I was very fortunate to get tested for COVID-19 without any trouble. And while I don’t know about the ease-of-access to testing on other military bases, my situation was a far cry from reports in the civilian world of difficulties getting both tested and treated despite sometimes severe symptoms.
My own symptoms were mild and developed after having been quarantined for a business trip my husband took. I recognize the rationale behind my rapid testing (which thankfully, was negative) in that the military must maintain a healthy fighting force. Still, I feel both grateful and guilty, for I am no more deserving of care than anyone else.
As millions of people either lose their job or, at the very least, months of much-needed income, I find myself more aware than ever of the stability my husband’s military career provides. And while it’s not a new awareness – our financial security has never been reliant on the whims of profit-driven machinations – it is a curious thing to be especially appreciative of. Indeed, while daily life is fairly secure, each new promotion can only be celebrated after nervously awaiting the arrival of promotion lists. They depend on fitness tests and good timing and, sometimes, dumb luck.
So the job security we enjoy today is certainly a curious thing to treasure so closely, as it isn’t always as obvious. But today it is. Today, it helps me breathe a little easier and to pray a little harder for those unable to do so.
To those who have never lived it, the military structure can seem foreign and complex. After all, it’s not as simple as a single boss exerting control over employees. It functions in layers, building in strength and numbers from companies to battalions to brigades. At times it is filled with chaos and personality clashes; at others, partnership and productivity. In other words, it functions like a family.
And despite their dysfunction, families tend to come together in times of crisis. That’s precisely what’s happened here. Our leadership has made people the priority, taking into account the needs of soldiers and their families when making decisions.
They hold digital town halls on a regular basis, fielding questions from the community, in an effort to keep us all informed and involved. They adapt to the situation as it changes, making clear that all new guidances are for the good of the community. They’ve been open, receptive, and available. And we greatly appreciate it.
Moreover, a unique benefit of military structure is that our entire miniature universe is controlled by a single source. That means everything from the commissary to the gyms to the hangars are operating under the same guiding principles. It may seem like a small thing, but knowing that every person in the immediate vicinity is following the same rules is much more reassuring than simply hoping the neighbors choose to wear masks and wash their hands before entering a communal building.
For every person you can find to bad-mouth Tricare, you’re certain to find at least two more who’ll complain about on-post living, especially in a community as small as ours. And it can be frustrating to live in a fishbowl: gossip spreads quickly and everyone knows everyone (for better or worse).
But on-post living is also tight-knit, especially in OCONUS stations where family and friends are a world away. That bond, for those willing to cultivate it, is priceless. It accounts for meal trains and babysitting and commiserating and celebrating.
In the time of COVID-19, it looks a little different but it’s there all the same. It’s in the hand-sewn facemasks left on a doorstep and in groceries delivered to the quarantined. It’s even in the meme-filled group chats to ease the isolation. There’s a sense that we’re all in this together, not disparate entities existing on the same city block. Our community culture is a feature of military life that protects us in all sorts of situations, even those we never dreamed we’d endure.
So go on and toast to this military life.
Take a moment to appreciate all that it provides us, without strings attached—no ‘in spite of’ or ‘flaws and all.’ No. Don’t even acknowledge the dark – there is enough of that as it is. Look at the many things we have to be grateful for and carry that with you. Because we are lucky, indeed, and I will never pretend otherwise.