My family lives by a large Air Force base. Because of this, many of our neighbors and friends are service men and women. This type of living lends itself to a lot of really good things including a unique perspective of military life. Our family is very patriotic, and our high regard for the military is amplified by the soldiers and the families that surround us. I have always been intrigued by the military lifestyle, but I knew so little about it when I moved here. I don’t know all of the terminology, but I can hold my own in most service-based conversations. I now know what “stateside” means. I know that a “MRE” is a meal ready to eat, and I actually know what a “Bradley” is. Out of all of the terminology that I have learned while being surrounded by these families, “sacrifice” and “honor” are two words that have taken on new meaning. When we think of military sacrifice, many of us think of the deployed soldiers, but we rarely discuss the contribution of military spouses. My friend Beth is a proud Marine Corps wife. Our sons play football and baseball together, so I get the chance to learn about the life that she and her family have created. My friend Becky is in an Air Force family, and she moved to our neighborhood five years ago. Both of their stories are compelling, and the pride they have for their country is contagious. But make no mistake, there is an art to successfully running a family with a soldier, and both of these women have given me valuable insight.
When you Relocate, How do you Prepare Your Children for a New State?
One of the things that has amazed me the most about these women, is how wonderfully they transition their entire family to a new part of the country. I asked Beth and Becky how they prepared their families for this. Beth told me that the Marine Corps usually gives them about six months notice about a reassignment. When they find out about the new orders, they call a family meeting. Right now, Beth’s family is on a Joint Tour. In this case, they considered weather, activities, and proximity to family. However, it is not typical that they get to actually be stationed by family. Becky agreed and added that when they find out where they are being stationed, they really talk a place up to get the kids excited. For example, when they moved to Nebraska, she was able to say they’d be closer to family and there would be snow for Christmas. Both parents recommended treating each move like an adventure.
How to you Acquaint Yourself with the New Area?
Whether in conversation with families at the dog park, a sports practice, or a gathering with friends, I’m always amazed at the ease in which it appears military families find their way around in new places. I have only ever lived in one area/state, so people that move between multiple states and countries have always impressed me. It took me five years of living in my current town to really appreciate what it had to offer. I see moms move their kids straight into sports teams and schools like they are veteran members of the community . Beth told me that the Marine family is a pretty tight knit group. Someone always knows someone who can become a contact for a new move. They also take advantage of social media. There is a Commander Wives’ Facebook Page and she utilizes the internet for information.
Becky added that Air Force bases have a welcome person that helps set up families for their new area. They also get pamphlets regarding local attractions. Having her kids in a base-friendly school was beneficial, and helped them meet people who were also new to the area.
What Types of Programs are Available to Families?
Beth said that the Marine Corps makes taking care of families a priority, especially during a deployment. “Military One Source is a huge player in the Marine Corps, everything from confidential help, deployment, reintegration, parenthood, life counselors, wounded warrior, new resources for new military families, etc. are available.”
One area of support that stood out to me in Beth’s interview would be the kid’s deployment workshops. They are offered by the base and start by helping children of soldiers cope with their parent being absent. Also, at Beth’s kids’ schools on the Marine Corps base in Camp Lejeune, NC, if a child’s parent was deployed, he or she was able to be in the Red, White and Blue Club. They did fun activities, such as writing a letter, coloring a picture to Mom or Dad during their deployment, and talking openly about feelings and concerns. Beth says she prefers DoDEA Government schools when her husband is deployed because there is so much support, and their classmates are experiencing similar things. She said, “The teachers are very aware of whose parents are deployed within the classroom and that makes a big difference.”
Becky said that in the Air Force, on the base they have resume classes, a family readiness center, job fairs, a base chapel, and a youth recreational facility where children can get into athletics. Both women I spoke with agreed that they felt that they were supported while getting acquainted with new areas. This family atmosphere could be a major factor in why both women feel so proud to be in military families. Beth said, “I truly love being a military spouse of 16 years. I have met some of the best friends and very strong military wives. We have been through many deployments; had babies together when our husbands were gone; shared many dinners and glasses of wine. It is a true sisterhood, a camaraderie like no other, everyone looks out for one another. I am an extremely patriotic person, and our whole family is too!” Becky said that the bonds created in the Air Force are second to none. They know that the service their spouses are providing to our country is so important, and that brings everyone on the base together.
How do you Prepare for a Deployment?
When I think about military deployment as a spouse, all kinds of fears erupt, but when I think about it as a mother, I can’t even imagine the responsibility placed on the shoulders of spouses. Both of my friends see it as their duty to their country, and they’ve been through so many deployments.
Beth’s husband has been deployed six times with the Marine Corps. Most of the tours are 6-8 months in length. One time Beth’s family received a 12 hour notice before a 5 month deployment, but that isn’t typical. Both women emphasized the importance of communication with the kids. Beth said, “We talk openly about feelings and concerns; we also have a big countdown calendar. One of the kids would erase the day and put a new number up, sometimes we used jelly beans or M&M’s in a jar or a paper chain” to keep track of when their soldier would return.
Becky’s husband has been deployed with the Air Force six times as well. Before each deployment she explains as much as possible regarding where dad is going and how long he will be gone. “We tell them that dad will be able to call at least once a week, and we can do a video chat. We draw pictures for dad to take with and spend as much time together before leaving. We encourage them by telling the children that the time will go by fast. Keeping busy helps us keep our minds from only thinking about the trip.”
What Would you Like the Others to Know about this Type of Life?
There can be misconceptions that circle the military way of life, and I asked both women what they’d like others to know. I do feel like families of soldiers never ask for attention, or pity, or sympathy. Quite frankly, they never ask for anything. Beth said she wanted others to know that it is such a sacrifice when a spouse or a parent is in a combat situation. There are a lot of fears because spouses do not always make it back from a deployment. She encourages others to verbalize their appreciation. “Thank every soldier and their spouse for serving; it really makes me smile when people say this to me, or when I say it to someone in the military. The military is protecting our homeland.” Becky added that “when my husband is deployed, we stay behind and keep things running at home; we play both parents and we don’t get a break. We have to stay strong so our spouses stay safe and can focus on the task at hand.” There is a stoicism surrounding each family that I have met. They know their sacrifice directly affects our country. The selflessness that the spouses and children display is overwhelming, and it helps me to keep perspective. At the core of these amazing families is pride, honor, and a duty to protect our country. The gravity of their sacrifice is not lost on me.
As we inch closer to Memorial Day, Kelly and I thought it was important to pay tribute to our soldiers, but we also want to give a blog post salute to the people that surround us each day who are the soldiers of the home. Those that never ask for anything other than a safe return from their loved one serving in the military. The women I interviewed are heroes to me. They love their men, they love their kids, and they love their country. They make me proud to be an American, and I wanted to say thank you by getting their stories out to the world. Do you know a soldier or a soldier’s spouse needing a thank you? Please put them in the comments or share this post so that they know how much they are appreciated. God bless the USA.