While military life definitely has its sacrifices and hardships, there are many things I am going to miss about being a military spouse.
My husband is preparing to separate from the Army. While I’m used to closing chapters of our story, this feels like we’ve finished the whole book. I have no idea what to expect in the sequel.
There are definitely going to be perks about civilian life. But as we start making plans, I can’t help but feel some preemptive nostalgia for the way life as a military spouse has brought me joy and growth.
As a girl who spent most of her life living in the same town and who hardly ventured outside the mountain west, being a military family gave us opportunities to travel I never would have imagined.
While we never had the opportunity to live overseas (something I’ll always mourn!), we lived in beautiful Washington state, a childhood dream of mine, and in a few locations in the southeast. These locations also gave us the opportunity to take many short trips to nearby locations. I don’t know if I ever would have visited the Smoky Mountains or the Olympic Peninsula if I hadn’t been a military spouse. I never would have played with my kids in the Outer Banks or toured the haunted houses of Savannah. I have been able to have experiences as a military spouse that I wouldn’t have had if my life had gone a different direction.
As I scrolled on Instagram recently, I noticed a fellow military spouse post about the meals she was dropping off to friends going through deployments and new mothers. She had been stationed at that post for only a few months, but there she was, reaching out and building community.
She is the rule, not the exception.
I used to think I was bad at making friends. I have always been wary of cliques and nervous about being left out; after some hard experiences, I worried that I would never make good friends as an adult. But when my husband and I began military life, I was quickly surprised at how open and friendly so many people were. Because we know our time together has an expiration date, we make the most of the time we have and get past the surface level stuff.
I’m nervous about how that will change when we move to a non-military community. Will people already be entrenched in their friendships? Will they be willing to open their arms to the nomad family trying to put down roots for the first time? I’m prepared for it to take longer for us to settle in, but I know I’ll miss the culture of having each other’s backs right away.
This seems like an oxymoron, right? Military life can feel anything but stable when there’s the chance of a deployment looming on the horizon and the knowledge that each home is temporary. But I will forever be grateful for the steady income we received during times of uncertainty. In the early part of the pandemic, many civilians in my husband’s profession were unable to work for months at a time and found themselves in financial trouble, yet we were fortunate to continue collecting a paycheck while the safest way to move forward was figured out. It’s been comforting to know that we had a backup for any problems that came our way.
Burden of Choice
Sometimes, not having the power to make big decisions can be a blessing in disguise.
Sure, I wasn’t thrilled when the powers that be wouldn’t allow us to extend beyond a year at one of my favorite duty stations or when we were sent to one of our lowest-ranked choices afterward. I would have liked the opportunity to live on the same side of the country as my family members, or, if I had to be far away, be sent somewhere glamorous and exciting, like Hawaii or Europe. But when things don’t go as well as I hope, thus far I don’t have to take the blame for it. I don’t have to say that we messed up and picked the wrong place to live.
Now, as we prepare to leave the military, my husband and I find ourselves in analysis paralysis. Which job will be best for our family? Which city has the resources my kids need for their unique challenges and interests? Should we live close to his family or mine, or should we keep a little distance between both sides? Is there a Reserve spot available for him? Should we just dig a little hole in the ground and stick our heads in it so we don’t have to think about it anymore?
Don’t get me wrong–not having control over our lives hasn’t been easy. It’s one of the reasons we’ve decided to separate after fulfilling our obligations. But the burden of now being in charge of these decisions carries its own weight.
Learning My Own Strength
When my husband first suggested joining the Army to cover his graduate school costs, I was skeptical and nervous. I didn’t like the idea of him being sent away, and I wasn’t sure I could handle it. I knew that I tended to get really worked up when I was stressed and was worried about what moving across the country would feel like. His job doesn’t typically put him in harm’s way the way many military positions do, but even that concerned me. What if something happened to him?
Still, I wouldn’t trade these years in the military for anything.
I started out as a shy, insecure woman who rarely ventured too far from home. Now, I’ve learned how to rebuild my family’s lives again and again. I’ve learned how to reach out beyond myself and make a community out of nothing. I’ve learned that uncertainty can be survived, and that even when circumstances beyond my control make me crazy or fearful about the future, I will be able to get through them.
Now it’s time for me to start a new adventure and learn what it’s like to be (mostly) civilian, as he still hopes to be National Guard or Reserves if everything works out. I’ll miss this chapter of being an active duty military spouse forever, but I hope the sequel winds up being just as good.