I went to a seminar today offered for the spouses here on post who are transitioning from being the spouses of "company grade officers" to "field grade officers." If you are not in the military these are all foreign terms, I realize. But it pretty much just means when we get to our next "job" we're moving up the tier in rank and it comes with new responsibilities. And I say "we" because though it's my husband's job, and I certainly don't share his rank, as a spouse in the Army, your husband's job is the driving force for everything in your life, so it's pretty darn important to be aware of what's going on where he works.
Now, there's a little bit of a double standard with military spouses. Though we have no legal obligation to perform any tasks just because we are married to service members, there is a history and culture and a handbook on how to be a good military wife and fact is, spouses look to other spouses for guidance and support. You can sit in the corner and kick and scream that you don't want to do anything as an Army spouse, but honestly, I can't imagine going through this life without being involved, being helpful, and being as informed as possible when you can. So if I "do so choose" to be a participating spouse, there are certain protocols, etiquette and customs I am required to observe and certain knowledge I am assumed to know.
Some of the topics of the seminar were things like coping skills within our lifestyle- moving, deployments, casualties, etc., being aware of changes in politics and policies and how they affect our day to day lives, how to assist and support the senior leaders in our unit commands, how to assist in family readiness groups (FRGs) which are formal support groups for family members of Soldiers, etiquette and customs as in when to stand or sit during a ceremony or what to wear to a certain type of function, and somewhere in there we all sang a rousing chorus of "The Army Goes Rolling Along." Seriously, we did.
So when did I become this "Army wife?" This wife who knows the trumpet tunes of Reveille and Retreat? Or knows when it's a good time to insert a "Hooah" into a conversation? Or laughs at a good "Fort Polk is the worst place in the Army" joke?
I sure as heck didn't know any of this stuff growing up in my little hometown corner of New Jersey. Before I met ol' HW, I was a carefree civilian. My knowledge of the Army came from movies. I thought all soldiers were perpetually in basic training mode. I pictured them living in metal barracks, sleeping on dingy green bunks with their rifles, running to cadence in their boots and crawling camouflaged in the mud...all while their drill sergeants berated them.
I never really thought of Soldiers' families. I knew they had them but never really understood the logistics of it all.
And then I was married. And then we were moving across the country. And then we were reporting to a military base.
And I got a plastic a military ID with a bad picture. But still, I didn't feel like an Army wife. I didn't understand the lingo or the acronyms. I didn't have more than one PCS move under my belt. I had no war stories. I hadn't been through a deployment. We lived off post and I got a job in the civilian world and just went on with life as usual. Sure, HW wore his ACUs to work everyday now instead of a suit and tie, but he went in to an office in the morning and came home for dinner. We had weekends off and a fairly normal schedule.
But the little things started creeping in and shaping my knowledge...shopping at the PX and the Commissary, understanding my Tricare benefits, going to social coffees and hail and farewells. Still, I felt like an outsider. And when I looked at other spouses, I thought, I will never really know it all like they do.
But somewhere between then and now, in the space of just four years, I have become an Army spouse. I have been enveloped into a new culture, a new family, and honestly now don't feel I fit so well into the civilian world anymore. The gap between my old life and my new one gets wider and wider. I find it hard to communicate with non-military friends. We face such different sets of problems and different experiences that it's hard to find that relatable, common ground. It hits me most when I sit down in a random handful of 30 other military wives I've mostly never met before but find I have more relevant things to talk about with these "strangers" than someone I have known for years. I guess it's because my military sisters are not strangers. I may not know their names or their exact stories, but I know their struggles because they are my own.
So, I thought, when was that moment where I changed from regular wife to Army wife? Was it when we said our marriage vows? When I went to my first military social event? When I went to my first Army Family Team Building class? Was it the day my husband came home from work and told me he was deploying to Afghanistan in 3 months? Was it when I stood unsure of what to say in response to that in our little kitchen in Washington State already six months pregnant and calculating what that meant in terms of my due date?
No, it wasn't those things.
It wasn't the days of anger I had about it at first either. Angry that I had to give up my husband at the exact time we were expecting our first baby. Angry that instead of being blissfully swept up in nursery themes and birthing classes I was simultaneously preparing to send my husband to war. Angry that my husband would not be able to hold his baby, rock him, talk to him, smell him. Angry as I rode the bus to my civilian job with normal people who all got to have their husbands. Angry at the situations created in this world that made my husband have to leave me when I needed him most.
It wasn't the anger. It was the acceptance. It was the moment I stopped telling myself this was unfair. It was the realization that I wasn't the first military spouse to have a baby alone. That there were generations upon generations of strong woman who have endured this life, in more arduous and dire circumstances than my own, and who had done it with grace and dignity. When I accepted it, that he was going and I was going to be on my own with this baby, that's when the crossover happened, I suppose. I stopped crying and started telling myself to just carry on, be strong, be supportive, be resilient.
And we got through it.
That year I found out the difference between brigades and battalions, I found what an FRG does, I found out how spouses support each other, and found myself becoming a new version of myself. The person that can look at what I thought were once insane challenges and smile and say, "sure, I can do it!"
As cliche as it is, I'm darn proud to be an Army spouse. And I will go ahead and wear my charm bracelet that says so!
Now AW and DW better pick normal jobs. Because being and Army wife I can handle, but an Army mom I'm not so sure I can do!