Many young service members suffer a bit of a shock when they join the military. Even those who spent time in ROTC will find times when they feel like they have gotten in over their heads. The thing about being a service member though, is that when you join you are put into a group of recruits all going through the same thing, and no matter which branch you are in you get a few weeks of basic training to learn the ropes. Military spouses have no training peer group and no formal training. We have to figure things out as we go, and despite the great support networks around us, we are often figuring these things out on our own. It would be nice to be given a military spouse handbook before we get married so we could learn the language, know what will be expected of us, and get a jump on honing the skills that are really necessary for our new roles. Unfortunately, the closest thing most future spouses have are over-the-top movies about military love, like An Officer and a Gentleman. It’s great to watch, but not so great for learning about how life really is. Here are some more realistic surprising parts of military life to forewarn those just getting started, and to give the seasoned spouses a bit of a walk down memory lane.
- You will meet a lot of oddballs. The military is a heavily conservative organization. This does not mean that all of the service members are conservative, and a surprisingly large amount of the spouses are not at all conservative. This isn’t a question of politics, but lifestyle. You will find some very liberal young people in and around the military. So, don’t be surprised to find yourself surrounded by artists, tattoos, piercings, and people who know how to party. There will be times when you have to be on your best behavior, but other times you should feel free to let loose and be your charming self. This is especially true when your oddities add to the community, like your ability to teach hula hoop dance to kids.
- You will become a functioning part of the military. As a spouse you are not employed by the U.S. government, but your role in setting up a domicile for your service member becomes more of a full time job than it does for civilian spouses. Although it feels overwhelming at first you will eventually learn the language, be able to navigate the base, and have a whole list of people to call in different circumstances. You may provide ironed uniforms, hot meals, and a bit of all-important relaxation. Your rank becomes wife and mom, and although you don’t get paid, your work is priceless.
- You will be alone more than you expect. Sure, you wait for deployment. You know that is coming, but there are many other times when you will be alone. From when your significant other is on duty overnight to when they have to go away for a week for training, you might feel like you are single again. Even when your spouse is home it might not feel like they are all the way with you. Their mind may be on aspects of work that are difficult to share with you, or that they simply aren’t allowed to share. It may be hard at times, but because of it you will grow in ways you never imagined and become surprisingly self-sufficient.
- You won’t be able to plan, only to prepare. You know the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared?” The same goes for military spouses. In the military schedules can change. Things can be pushed back a week, or forward a month, and those days your spouse requested off for vacation might not come through. Anniversaries may not be celebrated on their proper dates, and the birth of children might be missed. You will learn to deal with it and you will find yourself adept at carving out pockets of time to get away with your significant other, even if it means dropping everything at the last minute.
- You will become addicted. The longer your spouse is in the military the more you will learn how things work and the better you will be able to navigate the military system. Eventually you will find it is a rewarding lifestyle and you won’t be able to give it up easily, despite how difficult and frustrating it can be at times.
Military life is filled with surprises, and each family faces different challenges. Going in with a can-do attitude and a willingness to be flexible is the best way to prepare yourself. In the end, most find it worthwhile, not only to be with the one they love, but also to be helping their country.