What I didn’t know when I married the military

Our first duty station was Hawaii, and I gained so much from our time there. I was ambitious, young and impressionable. I was starting my career, pursuing this thing called love; I couldn’t have been in a better place for this chapter, where the community leads with Aloha – a powerful outlook that set me up for a more fulfilling, humble and connected life.

1781908_10204164956470616_7093791240604133947_nWe lived off base and found family among the locals. But, since military life is not deeply embedded in the culture there, I never felt a deep connection to it. This part of me was just kind of kept quiet and separate, even after we officially exchanged vows earning my  “military dependent” status.

Truthfully, I hated that title because I worked so hard to form my own identity that I didn’t want the label of being dependent in any way. I almost rebelled against this otherwise proud role, and I purposely stayed off base as much as I could. Don’t get me wrong, I supported my husband relentlessly through the highs and lows of deployments and put together care packages and love letters like you would imagine of newlyweds, but I didn’t think of myself as needing support or community in turn. I was arrogant, and I married into the military with a wall up because I thought that would somehow make me stronger.

So when we got new orders to Maryland and abruptly found ourselves in a classic military town, I felt like a fish out of water. The neighborhoods are filled with families somehow associated with the military, whether it be active duty, retired, or government. Suddenly I found myself trying to learn acronyms and rankings, paying attention to squadron events, Navy balls. I went from hearing ukuleles and salty trade winds to the ground-shaking roars of Navy jets circling over our home. For the first time, being a military spouse became a prominent part of me that I was learning to define and embrace, especially that community piece that I so naively thought I wouldn’t need. Having kids has a way of changing that “going it alone”mentality.

Here, I’ve witnessed lifelong friendships form only to be pulled oceans apart. I’ve seen mothers give birth while their homes are being packed up for new orders – some give birth while their spouses are gone entirely. I’ve met moms and dads manage the wrath that is solo parenting while not knowing when the next time is that they can talk to each other, and, of greatest impact, I’ve met gold star families who remind me of the heart-wrenching realities of the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s an eye-opener; I was naive to think that being a military spouse was something to somehow minimize, and that in doing so, would be easier to manage. I am no longer just a girl who fell in love with a man in uniform, along for the ride. I am tasked with the real mission of raising a family under these circumstances, and I am admittedly, whole-heartedly dependent as I prepare to navigate so many unknowns.

Where deployments once felt lonely because I missed sharing daily life with my husband, that feeling will multiply with little kids. His absence will not only be felt by me, but our children. I’ll need help. I’ll need a village, and just when I find a village, I’ll have to say goodbye and find another one even when I have no energy to do so.

Before, this idea of constantly moving felt free-spirited, but now I see the other side of it. Staying put and planting your roots may not be the most adventurous way to live, but there’s a reason so many people do it. Having a forever home is a powerful thing, and it gives us stability and opportunities to flourish where we are. It’s not that I won’t put on my big girl pants and seek growth with each move, more than it is honoring the fact that it’s not going to be as simple as I once thought – and most importantly, it won’t always be happy. 

It feels good to admit that. Up until now, hardships shared with others are so often met with some form of “but your life is so cool!” Yes, it’s cool that my husband gets to fly in a plane, but the worry I sometimes have about his safety is draining. Yes, it’s cool that we get to move every three years and see more of this country, but it’s also pretty heavy having to say goodbye so much. Yes, it’s cool that my husband gets to deploy overseas where he can see glimpses of other cultures, but it’s pretty heartbreaking when he misses the milestones, holidays and birthdays on the homefront.

Yes, there are cool, fun, beautiful, exciting aspects to this life, but there are also a lot of challenges heavy enough to bring us to our knees. When I first married into this, I thought we would be immune to it. The truth is, I’m not.  It doesn’t matter how strong, independent, patient, flexible of a person you are. Nothing can fully prepare you for a life of this many highs and lows and on-the-go’s.

And yet, I’m so glad that our second duty station together ended up being a military town. It’s where I’ve had the honor of witnessing military families further ahead than us. It’s where I’m learning that it’s OK to admit the less-than-glamorous aspects of this life, and to give it validity. It’s making me so damn proud to be a military spouse because now I see the full picture. What happens behind those Welcome Home signs takes so much more courage, resilience and love than I know how to give just yet.

But I know I’ll get there, because I am not the first to walk this path, and I won’t be the last. I know that this role is not something to hide or handle behind closed doors, and that I need to start owning it as the monstrous part of my life that it actually is. It’s a life that does not just fall on the active duty spouse like I assumed. It’s a life that is truly carried by the whole family. So, while my vows haven’t changed to the one I love, if I could go back in time, I would add a couple promises to the Navy:

  • I vow to keep my heart and my mind open to wherever the Navy takes us, recognizing that we will spend our years having to surrender a lot of control – far more control than we will want to surrender.
  • I vow to nurture the aspects of this life that will be hard on you, and not just dwell on the aspects of this life that are hard on me, recognizing that we have to stay a united front in whatever mission gets thrown between us. 
  • I vow to wear my military spouse identity proudly and outspokenly on my sleeve, setting an example for our kids on why they should be proud of you, of us, of themselves.
  • I vow to use my independence as a source of strength on lonely days, but not as an excuse to keep our doors closed to those who want to help and share in our journey, because truthfully, we will need them. We will need a family bigger than our own.
  • I vow to work on my marriage to the military as actively as I work on my marriage with you, recognizing that I married a man who can’t always put us first. I know that we have to share our love story with our country, which has this ironic capability to bring us closer one day, and disconnect us the next. 

To you, my husband, I still do. But in case it wasn’t clear before – to you, my sailor, I do. 21761_10204164950710472_9155145934917825633_n.jpg

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