Whether you grew up a military brat or married into the military community, military spouses need all the advice they can get when it comes to deployments, training, PCSing, and understanding that while schedules exist, spontaneity is to be expected. We interviewed a few military spouses who have been through it all and have learned a few tricks to make their lives a little bit easier.
We elected to structure this post in more of an informal Q&A session, in the hopes to maintain the personal reflection that these women provided.
For your reference, the interviewer is Katie Dyer (KD:) and the interviewees are Amanda Collier (AC:), Amanda Olson (AO:), and Tonya Miller (TM:)
KD: So , tell us a little bit about yourselves. How did you and your husbands meet each other, and what’s life been like as a spouse and mother in the military?
AC: My name is Amanda Collier. My husband Joe and I met in French class, freshman year of high school. We always had ‘eyes’ for each other, but nothing ever came of it. We kept in touch after high school, running into each other randomly, following each other’s lives on social media. When Joe deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, I decided to reach out to send a care package or two and we started to become Pen Pals via email.
After a few months, it was almost time for Joe to come home for his mid-tour R&R. Based on our intermittent correspondence, I expected to see him once or twice to catch up in person and hang out casually. What neither of us expected was that within that two weeks, we saw each other every day and ended up falling in love. Joe returned to Afghanistan for the remaining six months of his deployment and we decided to just take it day by day. I knew I loved him, and he loved me, but he lived in New Mexico, I lived in Connecticut and had a career. The day before he flew back to the states, I quit my job for reasons that were not related to my love life. Joe landed on U.S. soil and called me to tell me he was “back in the U.S.” and I told him “I quit my job”. At that point, Joe already had it in his head that I would be moving down to New Mexico and casually asked me to move in with him while signing up for a Sam’s club membership (*rolls eyes and laughs*). We moved in together June 1st, 2011, engaged September 11th, 2011 and married September 21st, 2011. 2011 was a pretty amazing year.
When I first moved in with Joe, he was stationed at White Sands Missile Range, NM, a very small installation with only one FORSCOM Engineer Battalion at that time. We lived 25 minutes away in Las Cruces where I had a career as an event planner. Since my job was very demanding at the time, I did not get involved much and there our life was quite stable all things considered. Within the first year of marriage we were off to Captain’s Career Course at Fort Leonard Wood and since we would only be there for six months, I did not fully grasp the typical military lifestyle outside of moving a lot. It wasn’t until we arrived at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson that I had an eye-opening moment. I was so excited to finally settle in at a duty station and could not wait to get involved. I felt like a sponge for the first year, taking FRG courses, volunteering at every opportunity and meeting friends. While at JBER I fully embraced my military lifestyle, making friends that became family, volunteering and supporting our soldiers however I could. We welcomed our first child, our son Colt, while in Alaska. Despite the normal hesitations from having your first child and being so far away from family, our community and friends in Alaska embraced us and made the transition to parenthood very easy.
Since our assignment at JBER, my husband attended graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh where he earned his MBA, and then deployed for a year to Jordan with the U.S. Corps of Engineers Middle East District. Upon returning from Jordan, we moved to Fort Leavenworth where he is now a student at the Command and General Staff College.
Being away from a military community for a few years was extremely difficult. In a military community you make instant friends because most of you do not have family around and rely on our community so much. You also understand each other’s lifestyles, which are very different from what most civilians understand. Yes, my husband must go off to war and jump out of airplanes, but he does that because he loves it, not because he is forced to. He loves being a soldier, leading soldiers, and I will always support his passion because I love him.
Being a military spouse has made me stronger and given me so much confidence. I thought I was independent before I got married, but I reflect on that now and laugh. I have learned to adapt quickly to new situations, go outside my comfort zone, embrace change and new adventures, and be ok with asking for help. Life as a military spouse is something I never expected, but I am so glad that this is the life I live.
AO: My name is Amanda Olson. I have been married to my husband, who is an Army veteran for 19 years. We have 3 children and a very spoiled puppy!
TM: My name is Tanya Miller. My husband and I met in a Whataburger parking lot for a car meet in 2005. Growing up as a daughter of a Military member, I was prepared for the sacrifices Id make with leaving behind family and moving a lot but most Military installations and the squadron your Spouse is assigned to looks out for each other like a giant family. It is exciting meeting new faces and gaining life long friendships from all over the world.
KD: How long have you been a military spouse?
AC: 8 ½ years now.
AO: I was a Military spouse for 16 ½ years before my husband was medically retired.
TM: We hit 8 years on April 14th this year.
KD: What is your favorite thing about being a military spouse?
AC: Having friends all over the country and world; never knowing when you will get a phone call or text saying, “Hey, we are going to be in the area, could we stop by?”. I always love at Christmas time when I am addressing envelopes. I love counting how many different states we mail cards. My goal is to one day send at least one card to all 50 states! I also value that being a military spouse has allowed so many new experiences to broaden my understanding of the country and even the world. I grew up in the northeast, which is much different from the southwest; and the culture in the southwest is much different than the culture and lifestyle in Anchorage, Alaska. In addition to all those moves, we had the opportunity to meet international students at all the different schools my husband has attended. We were able to learn about different countries and their cultures, try their foods that they so kindly made for us; and in turn, we were able to show them American traditions like Thanksgiving, baseball and some good ole’ homecooked barbeque. It is amazing to be able to understand and experience what life is like on the other side of the world thanks to some wonderful friends that we have made during our time in the military.
Lastly, the best part of being in the military is the bond that I share with my husband and others share with their spouses. It is not a shock to hear that sometimes we take our spouse for granted. Deployments, as hard as they are, help us to remember to appreciate each other. The homecomings help us reconnect and begin the honeymoon stage all over again. This cycle makes our bond stronger and stronger. With the moves and relocating every few years to new areas you rely on your spouse the most. They are your first friend everywhere you go and the one that always gets to come with you. You do that for as many as years as some have and you get to a point that you do not know life without them.
AO: The people! We now have family all over the world! Also, learning to be versatile. You learn to overcome and adapt to all types of challenges that are thrown your way.
TM: I love meeting new faces and gaining life long friendships with people from all different backgrounds and upbringings. I also love seeing new places and scenery.
KD: What would you say has been the single most challenging thing about being a military spouse?
AC: The “Good-Byes”, or what we like to call the “See You Later”. It seems like you are always saying “See you later” or “until next time” to someone like when your is spouse going off on another
deployment, TDY trip, or an unaccompanied assignment. Or it may be your family and hometown friends that you saw for a visit that always seems to end too quickly. Or your military friends or neighbors that have been to holidays and birthday parties, watched your pets when you went out of town, were there for a cup of sugar or that one egg. The friends that you worked out with three times a week for the last year, the friends that you would call up for a coffee date on a whim. Unfortunately, we get good at those moments, but it never makes them any easier, especially when you have children and watch them say their “see you later”. With that said, you never know what lies ahead and who you will get stationed with again, making reunions that much sweeter.
AO: Missing out on family events back home, finding employment, and picking out curtains that will work in all military housing.
TM: The most Challenging thing for me would have to be the times when you have to start over after PCSing. Leaving the friends, coworkers, places that you’ve grown to know and love and moving to a different place and starting from scratch.
KD: What is your advice for spouses new to the military culture?
AC: Find your tribe! Find friends, connect with people, put yourself out there. Being in the military, you will find that you can make friends instantly. Joining groups or clubs that interest you will help find likeminded people that you will have things in common with. Once you make a friend or two, you will be amazed at the network you will have at your fingertips. Attend an FRG meeting, make sure they have your correct contact information, volunteer to help in a small way. This will help you get to know your service member’s unit, the command team, and other families that will be in the same boat when deployments or training exercises come. DO NOT WAIT until they are already gone, it will ease your mind knowing you already about a support system in place before your service member leaves.
ASK for help and offer help! Do not struggle in silence. We are all spouses, parents, sisters/brothers, daughters/sons and we all have those times in life when we need help. If it is a last-minute babysitter, a ride to the airport, a sitter for your cat or someone to pick up your pick-up order at the grocery store because you are stuck at home with a house full of sick kiddos. WHATEVER it is, we’ve been there. Being a military family, we often do not have family members right around the corner to call, or parents that can always come and help. This means we need to rely on our community and our network, which is why it is so important to put yourself out there. See how it all connects? If you are too scared to ask, just remember there might be another spouse going through something similar that is just as nervous to ask. Speak up and maybe you will help someone else as well. There is this notion that we need to make sure we have everything together when our spouse is gone; but the reality is far from that most of the time. Most of us are just trying to get through it and make the best of it because that’s all you can really do. So, make sure you take a minute to check in with those friends and fellow FRG members, even if they look so put together. You never know when someone is too scared to ask.
Lastly, be RESILENT! Training schedules are going to change, assignments will change, orders will be wrong or late and last-minute missions or taskings will come up… it is guaranteed! It is going to be disappointing when plans must change, dinners cancelled, or when important life moments are missed. The military is demanding, your spouse has no control over it and most of time is just as disappointed as you are. What makes things a little better is being resilient. Being able to look at the calendar and reschedule that birthday party or trip you are going to have to cancel. Bouncing back from orders being late and now you have 10 days to schedule your whole OCONUS move and still be excited for that next assignment. Looking at everything as an adventure and seeing the positives will help keep your soldier focused on his job, will help your children deal with the moments that Mom or Dad miss, and will help you continue to be that constant within your household. Elizabeth Edwards wrote, “She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” We are the captains of our households; we need to adjust our sails from time to time. It takes a strong person to be a service member, but it takes an equally strong spouse to stand by them and help guide their family.
AO: Get Involved, volunteer, and make friends/connections that will last a lifetime!
TM: My advice for a new military spouse would be to remember that you are never alone. Your spouse’s squadrons are very welcoming and they know and are in the same situations as you. I’d definitely recommend attending your spouses Squadron events and meeting the people that your spouse works with and their spouses because that is how I’ve made a lot of lifelong friendships.