NEWS + ADVICE
My Advice for New Military Spouses
The military lifestyle doesn’t come easily to most people. Many, many years ago, we were at our first operational base in Wichita, Kansas, when my husband left for his first deployment. As a new wife and a new mom, I found myself thousands of miles away from my family in DC and absolutely clueless about the military lifestyle. TDY, DEERS, TRICARE, MTF and DFAS may as well have been Greek – they were all so foreign to me. We were also the newbies in an operational squadron going through our first deployment when everyone else was so much more experienced.
Back then I was essentially the girl without a clue. Thank goodness for the kindness of two friends took me under their wing. I will be forever indebted to Wendy Diessner and Carol Smith.
Maybe it was the aura of desperation wafting off me at the squadron spouses’ meeting, but I think they sensed that I was a lost soul and adopted me. Every time my toddler had me pulling my hair out they’d show up with their broods in tow and we’d be off to the McDonald’s play area or the Jumpy place.
When we found out the squadron had been extended for another couple of weeks, we commiserated together. And when I was having a particularly rough night, they thought nothing about a 3 am call because they’d heard the news too and they were up anyway.
Holidays were spent together, we were never alone if we didn’t want to be and I will be eternally grateful to them for their friendship and the lessons they taught me. Over the next three years, we made it through that deployment and so many more.
Fast forward over 10 years later. Our son was in school full-time and after two back-to-back overseas assignments, we were finally back in the U.S. and I could think about starting my career. But, a lot of time had passed since I’d finished school, so I had no idea where to start. Enter another fantastic military spouse, my mentor, Dr. Janet Breslin-Smith. Janet taught me how to network my way to a dream job with a military non-profit and how to navigate DC culture. Again, when I found myself lost, it was another military spouse who came to the rescue.
Recommendations for Newbies
My husband is getting close to retirement and our PCS’s and deployments are likely behind us. Upon reflection, this is what I would tell my 22-year-old self about living well within the military lifestyle:
* Seek out mentors along the way.
* Be aware of your resources and benefits – if you don’t use them, they will go away.
* Stay aware of what’s going on around military benefits and give feedback when asked.
* Find a battle buddy. They will help guide you through this lifestyle and keep you sane.
* Take it easy on yourself. Everyone handles a deployment or a TDY differently. There is no right or wrong way. Deployments and the lifestyle are not always easy, and we all falter at some point.
* Mentor other spouses along the way.
* Get involved. Show up. Like networking for work, the time to meet the other folks in the squadron isn’t when you need something from them.
* Your family and civilian friends are great, but other military spouses are the ones who will understand exactly what you’re going through because they’re in the exact same boat.
* You are not in this alone. Other military spouses will be your best friends, resources and advocates.
Twenty years into this lifestyle and I remain in awe of my fellow military spouses.
For many people, the constant moving would discourage them from connecting with the local community. For the military spouse, the opposite is true. Adversity just makes them stronger. What some people view as obstacles, military spouses take on as challenges to be overcome. With only eighteen months to three years at most duty stations, they view it as a limited time to make friends and leave a mark on the community. Military spouses jump in wholeheartedly into the PTA, church and community. Every once in a while they may glance at the diplomas on the wall and wonder what if. Then reality comes crashing in and they realize that they are the only constant for their children while mom or dad is deployed or remote, and they remain steadfast in your conviction that they are doing the right thing.
Military spouses come from diverse backgrounds, but the one thing they have in common is unfailing support of their military husband or wife and the mission of the United States military. The husbands and wives of all our men and women in uniform worldwide deserve our thanks. We salute their strength, patriotism and support. Military spouses make the mission possible.
Sue Hoppin is a nationally recognized expert on military spouse and family issues. She is an advocate, published author and consultant with more than 20 years of experience and expertise in military community programs. In 2010, Sue founded the National Military Spouse Network, a professional development and networking membership organization supporting the professional career and entrepreneurial goals of military spouses. Follow Sue on Twitter at @SLHoppin.This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 08, 2013 7:00 am