Military Mama Spotlight: What It Takes to Be a Career Military Spouse


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Military life can be hard. There are long hours, frequent moves, deployments, and lots of uncertainty. The average military career is just under 15 years for enlisted members and 11 years for officers. Less than one in five service members make it to the 20 year mark. Even fewer make it to 30 years.

Here is a chance to peek into the life of one of those veteran spouses who is on the 30-year track. From loneliness as a new mom to adjustments in her career plans to seeking volunteer opportunities, Ruth has seen and experienced it all when it comes to the military lifestyle.

Ruth has been married to her Air Force husband for 30 years, and he has been active duty for 28 ½ of them. They have five children, ages 16 to 25. Like the typical military family, they have lived in many places and far away from family and support.

Ruth grew up in a family who frequently moved while she was younger but ended up in Houston when she was in seventh grade. She attended Rice University and calls Texas home. After university, she volunteered for two years at a group home for high school students in Colorado Springs. While she had planned on pursuing a graduate degree in Near Eastern Archaeology after spending three summers working on archaeological digs in Israel, her experiences working in the group home sparked an interest in counseling.

Ruth attended graduate school in Pasadena, California, and obtained a MA in Theology and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. The most significant part of this experience was meeting her husband who was in the same program of study. As graduate school came to a close, a military residency caught their eyes. It paid much better than a typical internship but in their interview, the Air Force recruiter mentioned the maternity leave had just been increased to a “generous 6 weeks.”  Ruth told her she could keep talking to her husband but she wasn’t interested in hearing more!

They both knew they wanted a family and were a bit on the older side; Ruth couldn’t fathom only taking 6 weeks off with a newborn, but they decided her husband would do it. Here is the funny part. Ruth and her husband honestly thought he would only serve his 4 years and then get out. They planned to find a way they could both work but have the flexibility to always have one of them at home with any future children. 

Neither of them came from families that identified as military families although they had family members who have served. Ruth’s grandfather was one of the earliest Americans to be taught to fly by the French in WWI; her father served in Germany during the Korean war and her husband’s uncle, whom he never knew, lost his life in a training accident in the Air Force. Ruth’s sister-in-law also lost her first husband in an Air Force training accident before marrying Ruth’s brother who helped raise her two children.

“It is safe to say we have significant connections but were not culturally acclimated to military life,” Ruth said.

Does anybody really know what they are getting into though?

Once in, they enjoyed the people they met and the variety of life they led by moving around.  Ruth worked full-time until their son was born at their first duty station. As military life can be, her husband was unexpectedly offered a postdoctoral fellowship while she was still recovering from a C-section. So instead of taking her planned 6-month maternity leave, she took her son into work when he was 3-4 weeks old and began the process of closing her open cases and transitioning clients to new therapists. Ruth hadn’t prepared to go back to work so soon and found herself faced with new mom problems on top of being a professional.

Adding to the chaos, they, along with their 2-week-old son, were robbed at gun point. Even though she was leaving a job she loved, it felt good to leave that assignment!

Career continuity as a spouse isn’t an easy thing in the military.

Ruth and her family moved to San Antonio for one year. She took that time to bond with her new baby and planned on going back to work after their next move. San Antonio proved to be more difficult than she imagined. In her isolation, Ruth began to experience depression. While she states that she battled it with a huge amount of support from her husband, it took years for her to learn how to properly manage the symptoms.

In anticipation of a PCS, Ruth busied herself by studying for her licensure exam and preparing job applications. Prior to moving, she found out she was pregnant again. As she says, “this story goes on and on as we proceeded to have 5 children in 9 years.”

Ruth never went back to counseling for pay but shifted her focus. While in Ohio, she taught an Introduction to Psychology class in the evenings and adjusted to life with two little ones. After two years, they PCS’d to England where they had two more children. Trying to keep up her psychology skills, she volunteered at the mental health clinic at RAF Lakenheath in England for about a year until the birth of their fourth child. After three years, they returned to San Antonio, had a fifth baby, and found themselves in the thick of parenting.

Each additional child brought great fun and joy but often significant depression and anxiety for Ruth. She noted that she was too proud to want to get help until they were back in San Antonio where she could see a doctor who didn’t work with her psychologist husband.

“Over the years the pride stopped getting the better of me and as I was able to acknowledge my need for help. I sought that help. I learned my limits and let go of ideas of perfection that were ideas only, certainly not born of any reality as I am not a perfectionist in any way, shape, or form. Our assignment to Italy tested all that, and I struggled when my husband was deployed. However, the lessons I had learned about seeking help and leaning on friends as well as making myself available to my friends who also had deployed husbands led to a very satisfying assignment.  There were several of us who had multiple young children so often we talked late at night by phone—no smart phones or Facebook or other social media to help us stay connected.  Those friends were lifelines!” 

She never went back to formally using her psychology degree but found many other outlets for helping out in the community, wherever that may be. While at RAF Lakenheath, in addition to volunteering in the mental health clinic, she also found time to help the chapel establish a ministry for expecting women. “It is so hard to be pregnant and have children to care for while being away from family, especially living in another country,” Ruth said.

As her children grew, she was able to actively participate in the school council at the small parish school they attended in San Antonio. In Virginia, she was involved in their parish facilitating a women’s study group and developing and running a girls’ leadership/service group.

Her service was focused on the military community as well. Ruth was a Key Spouse while stationed at Randolph. Her most active military volunteer years were during their second and most recent assignment to RAF Lakenheath. She knew they would only be there for two years. Since they had to live on base, she decided to use the opportunity to contribute back to the military community. Ruth served as a Key Spouse mentor, volunteered with MAG (Medical Auxiliary Group) and got involved with the Catholic Women of the Chapel. This involvement led to true friendships and a bonus as she got to play “grandma” to several young ones. 

“It was so satisfying to be there to help when a friend needed to go to the hospital, to doctor appointments, and to be available to take care of a child and/or children when emergencies arose.  I can remember feeling so alone and isolated when I was having our children. My parents and in-laws were great in that they came for long visits and helped when our children were born. However, the day-in and day-out loneliness of not having nearby extended family or living in the middle of a small English or Italian village where I had very few options for adult conversation most of the day left me with a particular sensitivity for young mothers.”

Ruth is just starting to get involved at their new and last Air Force assignment in Boston. Her husband has two years to go until retirement and she already has several plans in mind for service at this base including the Catholic chapel group, base spouses group, and the base thrift store.

Her husband’s military career is coming to a close, and they are actively working on what they want to do after military life.

As you can imagine, those plans are greatly determined by the needs of the rest of her family, yet at the same time they are considering new directions for themselves. In particular, Ruth wants to learn what it takes to run a small business, everything from brushing up on computer skills to the focus of the business itself.

“Overall I want to continue to be available to my family, to be actively involved in some sort of ministry to young families, and to do meaningful work whether that is for pay or in a significant volunteer position. So often we have had to move that I have not been able to carry projects out to their full potential. It will be exciting to see what living in one place for longer than a couple of years can bring.”

But wait! Her career as a military mom isn’t ending just yet. Their son is in the Army reserves. He just returned from a 10-month deployment and has 5 more years of his commitment. Her military involvement will continue as the mother of a soldier!

Ruth’s advice to other military spouses:  “The military life has to be a life of partnership. Military life is hard enough, and we all make sacrifices, some big, some small. We didn’t plan {on} a 30-year career, but what we did do was jointly make the decisions as we went along as to what was best for us as a family before what was best for either of us as individuals.”

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Christy Curtis
Christy is the co-founder of Military Moms Blog. Originally from St. Louis, Christy moved to San Antonio, Texas, for college. She ended up meeting her Air Force husband there and has been on the move ever since. She has mostly lived in the Central Time Zone but also in Italy and England, and she currently calls the Mississippi Gulf Coast home. Christy has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, specializing in pediatrics, and although she teaches as an adjunct professor, most of her mad behavioral skills are used on her three small children. Christy loves to be active and spends her time running, swimming, and playing with her kids. She is an amateur DIY’er and will attempt any and all projects. She likes to stay up late and get up early, so you may find her running before the sun comes up, Internet shopping at midnight, and enjoying iced coffee in between!