Friday, September 30, 2011

Five Questions-- Hard Choices

My friend Jennifer is facing some tough choices now that her husband is home from deployment and his newest set of orders has them in a tailspin.   I know so many people who have orders, but who want to stay where they are for the stability of their families...and I know others, of similar ranks and job skills, who want to move.  Some day, Branch and the Army might even get it right.

I hope.

1. What is something you know now about military life that you wish someone had told you?

That neither you or your soldier have any control over their career and no matter if you do all the right things there is no guarantee that they will be appreciated and promoted in a timely, fair manner.

2. What is the most important thing you'd like to tell new spouses? 

To get involved immediately, take AFTB (Army Family Team Building). Research all the programs and resources available to you from the beginning and make use of them the fullest extent you can.

3. What do you love the most?

The old camaraderie between spouses; not sure it really exists anymore but we used to all take care of each other.

4. What do you find the hardest?

War, the separation it causes and the problems it causes the soldier and their families when returning.

5. Tell me a story that sums up military life for you. 

Being newly married 800 miles from home and showing up at our first duty station. We signed for a house 3 days later and my soldier had to go to work so he dropped me off to an empty house with no phone and no tv reception to unpack the few things we had in our car and get situated and get going on this roller coaster that is Army Life.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Five Stages-- Bargaining

This is the fourth in a series of blogs based on Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. These, however, are the Five Stages of a Deployment, or extended TDY, or any time our Soldier is “away”.

The time frame for these may vary depending on the spouse and on the individual couple. For example, when we first got married and I had moved halfway across the country, our first CQ involved all five stages because it happened the first day in our new home. Now, I don’t really do many of these until about the third week, or they pass so quickly it’s a mere bad mood.


I am purposefully not doing the stages in the usual order, because even Kubler-Ross says these stages aren’t necessarily complete or chronological. Each person is unique.


I think most military spouses bargain with God during any “away”--  We pretend to ourselves that if we keep the yard nice, keep the kids “okay”, keep busy and involved enough, then our Soldier will come home safe.  He (or she) will come home whole.
It’s a farcical bargain, of course.  Far too many Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines never make it home at all.  Even the simplest training exercise can sometimes result in tragedy.  Deployments, during which it feels like our military member has a great big target on their back, are more fraught with danger and risk.   Whether they come home whole and hearty is not something we have control over.

Which, of course, is the scariest part of any “away”.  We have no control, ultimately.  It comes down to faith in their training, in their awareness of the risk, and their desire to come back to us.

When faith wavers, and we aren’t sure who to turn to, we begin to bargain with ourselves.  We’ll take that class, we’ll make the home improvement, we’ll keep our kids busy just like if our Soldier were home.  Then, of course, he’ll come back to us.  He’ll be proud of us, and he’ll know that we, too, have made sacrifices for our country.

I can’t speak for all military spouses, of course.  I can only speak for myself, really.   When I am mowing, though, or taking care of the cars, or really doing anything around the house that would normally be in “his lane”, the biggest frustration for me comes when I can’t do it as well or as nicely as he does.  I want to do it well, so he has something nice to come home to, and he doesn’t get saddled with fixing whatever it is that I’ve done.

I will admit to another kind of bargaining, as well.  I’m a touch superstitious.  When I used to be on call with my former employer, I wouldn’t say that the phone had been quiet—until my duty period was over.  I don’t talk about a check I’m anticipating until I receive it.  I don’t watch the news while my Soldier is gone, and I really don’t like talking about what he might be doing or experiencing unless there is something that can be done to help him. 

I realize, even as I’m trying to do things “just right” and trying to ignore the news, that my husband’s time is not up to me or up to what I do or don’t do.  I believe in a God who has an ordained plan. I also know that the surest way to have my Soldier happy to be home and proud of me, is to do my part to keep our marriage as strong as possible.  That focus on our marriage will help, I know, when he comes home.  Whether he comes home strong and whole, or hurting in some way, the marriage will need to be strong to withstand the reintegration period that is such an adjustment for all military Families.

That won’t stop me from making one more small bargain.  I won’t post this blog until he’s home this time.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday's Ten

Today's Ten:

1.  It is so nice to meet someone new and have a grownup dinner with real food and a terrific atmosphere.  :)   I love new friendships.

2.  Tea is made, my sink clutter no longer takes over the whole bathroom vanity, and the sheets are changed.  TDY is nearly over, thank God!

3.  I feel terrible for whining about a TDY when there are deployments going on.  Then I remind myself "Gone is gone," try not to whine around anyone whose husband is deployed (and usually fail, unfortunately), and find a new pair of big girl panties.

4.  I totally scored at Office Max today.  The labels I needed were $43 for the big package , but the other style of label was only $19.  That seemed crazy to me.  I asked for some help, and the store staff member said he would mark the price down to $26, which would have been the normal price of the other style.  With my 50% off coupon, that would have been a HUGE bargain anyway.  Well, he gave me the 50% off before the coupon scanned, so I ended up spending a little over $9.   Total.  :)

5.  I also went to try to find a nice pair of black pumps.  If I had wanted to, I could have been well outfitted for a career as an exotic dancer, but found no pumps in my size.  Ugh.

6.  I did find an absolutely fabulous dress in my size.   :)

7.  After trying on 7 others.  I could do some damage in Ross, sometimes.  Usually I don't find anything, but on days when I do, I end up doing very well.

8.  I am really proud of my little G.  She had a horrendous/awful mess in her room and knew that I wouldn't drive her to buy fish for her fish tank until it was cleaned up.  She spent 2 hours cleaning it today and it looks FABULOUS.

9.   I won't even look in her closet.  Under her bed is clean, so I am thinking the closet is too big a risk.

10.  My stomach is full of good food, the house smells wonderful (scentsy, lol), and tomorrow promises to be terrific.  What else could a girl ask for?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Five Question Friday-- Surprising Sources of Comfort

Melissa is a new friend to me, and was kind enough to answer my request for a "Five Question" response.  I can only imagine what it would have been like to have to say goodbye to a parent under those circumstances-- yet her attitude is positive and upbeat overall.  I think a lot of spouses could learn from her example.

Thanks Melissa.  

1. What are five things you know now about military life that you wish someone had told you?

A. Be careful what you say and to whom because if it is not nice it can come back to bite you in the butt.

b. You may have married your husband but you are married to the military as well. The down side is you have no say in when he comes and goes and what goes on with his job.

c. The FRG is not always a bad thing, there are some really good ones out there, but you have to want to be a part of it and help to make it good.

d. The friends you make now will be your second family and support you, treasure them and thank them often.

e. Use the free programs on base, go to all the classes that are offered, the more you know the better your life will be in the military.

2. What is the most important thing you'd like to tell new spouses?

The most important thing I wish someone would have told me is keep your friends close and enemies closer. I can't tell you how many people I have met over the years that are only out for themselves, will smile to you in the face, but ready to stab you in the back the first chance they get. I know this sounds harsh but I married my husband while I was still in college and living with my parents, I was naive and gullible. This cost me a lot and I feel the need to warn those who may be the same. Not everyone is out to get you and I have met some truly wonderful ladies while my husband was in the army, but I have also met some not so nice people and learned the hard way about this.

3. What do you love the most?

I love all my friends I have made while in the army. I have some truly special ladies to thank for helping me get through some of the hardest parts of this life. Without them I don't think I would have survived as well. I also love the fact I am more out spoken and more independent now.

4. What do you find the hardest?

The hardest part is always having to say goodbye.

Whether it was to my husband, my friends or my family I always had to say goodbye to someone and it sucked. I have cried countless tears for deployments, for my friends PCSing or us PCSing or going home on leave only to have the 2 weeks fly by so quickly that you cry just for another week at home.

I just lost my mom this past year and it was one of the hardest things I had to live though. I always moved back home or with my in-laws during deployments due to medical issues and just needing that extra help with our kids (plus the extra pay was nice too). I knew even before my husband told me he was deploying this last time I was going to move home with my parents because they had the room and I was so homesick and something told me that I needed to go home.

Well at first I thought that something was me having to have surgery(total hysterectomy at the age of 27) but 3 weeks after surgery, I found my mom unconscious, not breathing in her recliner.

I freaked out-- I was still recovering from surgery.  I couldn't move her to try to do cpr, my dad was not home to help me and my kids were sleeping and the ambulance could not get there quick enough.

That moment still haunts me now and is the hardest thing I have ever gone through.

I lost my mom that night in my arms, she passed away. I know this seems kind of off subject but I have a point.

When I broke the news about my mom dying to my friends (Army and civilian) I had more support from my military wives that were not even in the same town as me than I did with the friends who lived up the street. Still now I have friends checking on me making sure I am ok.

This is where the question what do I love the most and what is the hardest come into play. Without my friends I would have crumbled and that is why it is so hard when they go away.

5. Tell me a story that sums up military life for you

9 years ago I married into the Army. We had planned a wedding but got word of a deployment so we jumped the gun and went to the court house. Since then anything we had planned has usually been canceled due to the army. Training, deployments, field exercises-- yep they have all come into play whether it's been holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, first years of our children's lives yep he has missed them or we have had to cancel and reschedule. I have never blamed my husband for any of this nor would I but I swear it doesn't make me too happy having to reschedule something within a day or two of being told I had to(if that makes sense). I have learned to expect the unexpected and to just carry on with what we have going on. You have to adapt yourself and be willing to change to help yourself survive being a military wife.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Karma :)

My friend Erica is an absolute riot.  I love her blog and I encourage you to read it if you need a good laugh.

This particular blog posting had me giggling like mad because we, too, have had some table-turning episodes.

Every military spouse knows to expect certain things to happen when the guys leave.  We'll get sick, kids will get sick, something (expensive or difficult) will break, a pet will have an illness or some horrid new habit that we're unable to break.  Murphy does love the military spouse.

Erica calls her "Murphina," for the record, since according to her "no guy has ever given me this much trouble".  I'm probably paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

So pardon us for loving it when our guys try to be "us" for a little bit.  And have a rough go of it.

Before we moved to Texas, it was decided that G would stay home with the girls that week and I would come here and visit with a friend while I looked at some houses our Realtor was showing us through email listings.  It sounded like a nice restful time for both of us.  Big G was healthy, doing well in school.  Little G's cough had finally died down and she seemed "all better".   Even the fish had been cured of its "ick".  (I swear, that's the name of the illness.)

All seemed fine.

During that week, Little G coughed so hard in the cafeteria line that she threw up.  She needed lung x-rays and blood samples.   She had walking pneumonia and mono.

The fish?   It was absolutely fine.  Until it wasn't...G just came down and the fish was doing the backstroke.

Meanwhile, when G was trying to regain his threads of sanity by doing a little lawn work, he managed to cut through the phone line to the house.

To this day, we laugh about it.  More than 5 years later, this memory still makes me smile.  Finally, he could really understand what happens as soon as those boots disappear from my view.  Finally, he could see.   :)  

For the record, since I knew little G was in good hands and was medicated well, I had an absolutely wonderful visit with some of my dearest friends.  And oh, how we laughed.

Tuesday's 10

1. There is a unique satisfaction in crossing things off your to-do list that is unbeatable.

2.  Especially when one of those big things is a challenge.

3.  Butterfinger bars are a great treat after a busy day.

4.  Making an Avon sale is also a pretty good treat. :)

5.  Talking with a friend on the phone is right up there, too.

6.  Therefore, today is a good day.

7.  Tomorrow will be, too.

8.   I have been watching too much daytime TV...

9.   But on the plus side, I've started a vitamin regimen that I might actually keep it.

10. Life is good.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Choice and Appreciation

Is it any wonder that so many military marriages end in divorce, especially following a deployment or other extended time “away”? 

This might not seem like a logical (or even hopeful) opening for a blog titled “appreciation”, but I’ll explain. 

And to my Soldier, if you read my blog, trust me—I’m keeping you. :)

Whenever my Soldier is away, I do all of my own stuff and all of his stuff, too.  I also get to sprawl across the bed, and take up as much counter space as I want to.  I find myself capable of opening my own bottles (usually), mowing the yard, finding care for the cars and doing small maintenance jobs around the house.  I act as both mother and father to our children.

I think this strength is partially to blame for some of the divorces that come along.  Wives figure out that they are capable of doing quite a lot more than they are usually asked or required to do.  So in some ways, they don’t “need” their spouse.  Without that need, what keeps the marriage going? 

Easy—we choose to keep our marriages.  We choose to keep our relationships strong.  We choose to love, laugh, sometimes argue, and make up with our spouse.  It is the person, not what they can do for us, which becomes our focus.

Don’t get me wrong—I just finished mowing the yard today.  That is my own little hardship labor during his “aways”.  When mowing, I cuss at the mower, beseech her to start again, beg the tall weedy things to actually let themselves be CUT…  I wonder sometimes what the neighbors think, if they can hear me.  During this time, I learn to appreciate my Soldier even more.   He does a fantastic job with our yard.  It is mowed, it is edged, it is trimmed so nicely.  When weeds pop up, they bow before his mower in a dance of supplication.  When I finish mowing, many of those same weeds pop right back up again. 

The thing is, though, that I don’t “need” him for those things he does around the house.  I can ask for help, I can struggle through, and I’m a pretty darn capable person.  The reason I need my Soldier is for what he brings to my life by simply being…himself.  Whether he is thousands of miles away or lying right in bed next to me, I choose him for who he is.  I choose to love, laugh, argue and make up with – him.  Sure, I could do it on my own.  Sometimes, thanks to the Army, I have to.   But life is sweeter and funnier and warmer when he is in my life.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Five Questions-- Daddy

My Dad was a Soldier, though for a short period of time before my birth, but his stories still created a framework for my childhood. When I was in fourth grade, he met and soon married my stepmother who served in the Active Air Guard. I admittedly do not know many male spouses of military members, but I'd love to get their perspective on what it's like to be married to a military member. The fact that my Dad once wore the uniform himself gives him a different view of things as well.

Thank you, Dad. (Yes, it helped.)

1. What are some things you know now about military life that you wish someone had told you?

* I had never thought how hard it would be to watch instead of participate.

* I never saw that life as a female service member could be so threatening.

* Most things remain the same, but the real life adventures go on.

2. What is the most important thing you'd like to tell new spouses?

Get ready for the most frustrating, sometimes lonely, bureaucratic lifestyle you can imagine. Then watch it be even worse at times.

3. What do/did you love the most?

That same bureaucratic lifestyle can be among the most warming.

4. What do/did you find the hardest?

The helplessness that comes of being on the sidelines and effectively a non-entity to that same bureaucracy.

5. Tell me a story that sums up military life for you.

As much as I thought I understood military life, and loved it, I had never experienced it as my wife did. I could not understand what she went through until I looked at her career differently.

My personal best story, for the altruistic camaraderie that always impressed me, was when I was responsible for saving a fellow soldiers life, by lying still. The fact that I took my only ride in a helicopter ‘mainlining’ my blood to another soldier proved that sometimes just being quiet can do a lot. He survived, and so did I. The main change would be in today’s world, the ‘typing’ of the blood would rely more on science than a line on a dog tag.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Five Stages: Depression

This is the third in a series of blogs based on Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. These, however, are the Five Stages of a Deployment, or extended TDY, or any time our Soldier is “away”.

The time frame for these may vary depending on the spouse and on the individual couple. For example, when we first got married and I had moved halfway across the country, our first CQ involved all five stages because it happened the first day in our new home. Now, I don’t really do many of these until about the third week, or they pass so quickly it’s a mere bad mood.


I am purposefully not doing the stages in the usual order, because even Kubler-Ross says these stages aren’t necessarily complete or chronological. Each person is unique.


Depression comes late at night, when the house is quiet (too quiet) and we're tired but fighting the loneliness of sleep. Depression is that single warm tear that slides down a soft cheek, as solitary as we feel.

When the day is over and we've accomplished so much, it's a terrible irony that depression shows its shattered face now-- when we should be our most proud. It feels like a smoke-grey fog, slithering under the doors and tearing at our heartstrings with sharp words and harsh feelings. Depression is ephemeral, almost invisible, yet weighs heavy on our souls.

This is when we must be our strongest. Anger, denial, bargaining-- they are all formidable foes but how does one battle this? Depression slyly whispers that we're not good enough, we can't do enough and it doesn't matter anyway. Even the pets and the children are oblivious. Friends, having seen us at our best, may not even recognize the quietness within us. As we sluggishly respond to the dark and poisonous diatribe, we may not have the energy to break down altogether, and so we look stronger than we are.

This is when we must call our friends and venture out of our comfort zone. Depression often lurks behind the safe and familiar, its twisted smile welcoming us back. This is when we must eat right, with or without an appetite, and take the steps we need to get restful sleep. We must move our bodies. Depression cannot get its claws fully into us when we are rested, well-fed, and making sure we're healthy.

Sometimes being healthy means we talk to a professional, or take medication to stabilize our chemistry.

Sometimes it means we stop writing.... And go to sleep.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday's Ten

Today's Ten--

1. I don't like fire. I really, really, really don't like fire.

2. But I'm ready, just in case. Nasty grass fire several miles and a town or two away sent up a smoke plume that got me off my duff.

3. I wish it would rain. A lot.

4. On a more positive note, I met our new neighbor today. We had met the guy and he was nice, but now I feel better that I've met both of them.

5. Our old neighbors were terrific. Now I have hope for new friendships. :)

6. I wouldn't say that I've been a couch potato today, because I've gotten a lot done. However, my 2-hour nap felt lovely.

7. I got paid for my first Avon sale today. Can't wait for her stuff to come in so I can deliver.

8. And I have a job interview tomorrow. (Woo-hoo!)

9. In Austin (not so woo-hoo).

10. And I get to visit my bff before and after the interview. Life is good.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


We've been a military family for nearly 20 years now. My G's been a Soldier for a little more than 20 years. 9/11/2001 neatly divides our experiences right down the middle-- Before, and After.

Before 9/11, my G had frequent field duty and the longest "away" was NTC or school. We thought that recruiting duty was the hardest thing to be thrown our way (and in some ways it was, even in contextual hindsight). We were used to missed birthdays and rescheduled special moments, because we were an Army family and that was how it was done.

After 9/11, field duty isn't so hard because no one is aiming at my husband. School means air conditioned classrooms. Being home is treasured in a way we didn't realize we needed to.

Before 9/11, we tossed around an alphabet soup of LES, PX, CQ. The Army was just beginning to grasp the idea that teaching new spouses about the Army life might be beneficial.

After 9/11, there is a new vocabulary. Deployment, redeployment, reunion, reintegration, stabilization, dwell time... Alert levels, anti-terrorism, colors that signify greater levels of stress and fear. Resilience, resilience, resilience. We learn to bend so we do not break. The brilliance of teaching spouses about Army life, became an absolute necessity.

I still remember the first time we drove onto Fort Riley in 1992, and there were giant stone pillars on either side of the roadway leading through Ogden onto Post. That was the only indication we were on Post at all. I grew up in a city with a tightly closed Air Force Base, so this openness blew me away. We both laughed.

Now there is a gate.

I think that the gates on our military installations are a reflection of the way we feel now, with two wars ongoing and as we enter into a time of remembrance of 9/11/01. That day was horrible, and the moments and months afterwards were filled with mourning and with renewed patriotism and resolve. We would not be beaten.

Yet... 9/11 stole something from us, much as Pearl Harbor must have stolen something from our grandparents. We've been robbed of an innocence and trust, robbed of a lighter view of the world. The country now realizes that there is no way to protect completely against craziness hell-bent on destroying us. They realize that sometimes we must fight back. Soldiers have always been for fighting, and operations tempo has always been harsh. The gates that close our military installations are internalized.

So... Before. And After. My prayer is that, as we remember the innocence lost on that September day, when the sun shone so beautifully, we also remember the resolve we created as a country. I pray that we remember the patriotism, and the ideals, and the reasons we fight like we do. Even as we remember those who were lost that day, I pray we remember those who are not lost and yet who struggle every day with the effects of After.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Five Questions: Boundary Keeper

My friend Dee Squared is another lady I've met via the joys of the internet. Whenever someone needs a prayer, or a kind word, Dee is there. She strongly advises that people keep proper emotional boundaries so that they don't get sucked into other people's drama, and she often recommends the book "Boundaries" by Cloud & Townsend. Many military spouses have benefited from this advice, whether they've read the book or not.

Thank you, Dee, for taking the time to answer. :)

1. What are five things you know now about military life that you wish someone had told you?

A - A good attitude can go a long way in any situation. Is the glass half-full, or is it half-empty?

B - You have to be really flexible sometimes - Semper Gumby! If your hubby calls you in the middle of the day unexpectedly, be prepared for, "Honey, have you ever heard of XYZ Base? There's a slot open there that I might be sent to fill." Ask me how I know.

C - Your closest friends may be people you've never met in person, but perhaps if you're REALLY lucky, you may be able to get together once or twice in this crazy life we live. LOL!

D - Never be afraid to ask questions, and don't stop until you're satisfied you know what you need to know. And don't think you know everything there is to know about military life. Things are always changing, and what might be policy 10 years ago may no longer be so now.

E - Stay out of your husband's work issues. You wouldn't want him dealing with your work issues, so afford him the same respect. This does not mean, however, that you can't be there to listen to him and offer advice. Just don't be too quick to run down to his office to fight his battles for him, no matter how tempted you may be. I've learned to ask, "Do you want advice, or do you just need to vent?"

2. What is the most important thing you'd like to tell new spouses?

Arm yourself with the knowledge about the military. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Seek out a long-time military wife and learn from her.

3. What do you love the most?

I've loved the opportunity to experience various parts of the world that I probably would never have thought of going to if I'd not been in/involved with the military.

4. What do you find the hardest?

Saying good-bye to friends (for PCS) and to my husband (for deployments).

5. Tell me a story that sums up military life for you.

When my oldest was in preschool, there was an event at her school where family/friends were invited to attend. I was making conversation and asked another student's grandmother, "So, how long are you in town for?" The answer: "We live down the street from him (the student)." LOL! I'm so used to our nomadic lifestyle that I just automatically assume grandparents live far away.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Five Stages: Denial

This is the second in a series of blogs based on Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. These, however, are the Five Stages of a Deployment, or extended TDY, or any time our Soldier is “away”.

The time frame for these may vary depending on the spouse and on the individual couple. For example, when we first got married and I had moved halfway across the country, our first CQ involved all five stages because it happened the first day in our new home. Now, I don’t really do many of these until about the third week, or they pass so quickly it’s a mere bad mood.


I am purposefully not doing the stages in the usual order, because even Kubler-Ross says these stages aren’t necessarily complete or chronological. Each person is unique.


During a deployment or other “away,” denial doesn’t mean that the spouse pretends her Soldier is still home. We might be lonely, but we haven’t quite lost touch with reality. Well, not yet.

When a spouse is in denial, she tells herself that it’s not a big deal that her Soldier is gone. She might go so far as to pretend that it’s easier when he’s away.

This is when she spreads all of her stuff across the bed, across the bathroom counter, and is most likely to make some larger changes in their home, such as redecorating or painting. One of my friends put a humongous hole in one of their walls, she was so determined that she could and would get their house the way they wanted it while she was on her own.

Superwoman, thy name is Military Spouse.

Denial can last the entire “away”, sometimes. The spouse can cook what she likes (or that he hates, such as the dreaded pork chops my own husband despises), she can watch what she likes, and she can set up new rules for the kids. (Bedtime at 7 every night!)

Denial, in this case, can actually be very healthy. It allows the spouse some time to be on her own and to discover her own sense of accomplishment. New skills (such as hole-patching) might be learned. Denial helps push away the darker feelings and stages of any “away”, and keeps the lonelies at bay.

This is when we eat a little too much chocolate or watch a few too many hours of our favorite shows. Denial is when we make plans with friends for movies, or coffees, or makeup parties. We sign up for classes to fill the time.

Denial is most likely to come at the beginning of a long “away”, after the initial shock and despair have passed. Sometimes it comes before the Soldier has even left, when we begin making all those plans to fill up empty hours. Denial can reappear at other times during the “away”, whether it’s a two-week field engagement or a 15-month-long deployment.

Denial should not be confused with acceptance, which comes later and accompanies different feelings and experiences. Denial is when we believe we can do anything and everything. Denial is when we are more inclined to overdo, overextend, and overcompensate for that huge hole in our lives.

So what is your coping strategy?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Five Questions: Army Sister

My friend Najia is the one I wrote about in "Sisters of Another Sort" She is super-independent, super passionate, and she blew me away when she offered to stand in for a spouse whose Soldier had been seriously wounded in combat. It seems like such a simple thing-- he was in Germany and needed someone by his side for a little bit. The spouse was in the US and couldn't be there to actually lay eyes on her husband. Najia was in Germany-- of course she went.

When Najia comes back to the States, I hope she will resume her career as a teacher. More kids need her dedication, passion, and intelligent look at life. I will admit that she and I don't always agree on how to approach things or even on certain subjects-- but she always makes me think. And that's something I really value in a friend.

So here are Najia's Five:

1. What are five things you know now about military life that you wish someone had told you?

* You can't beat the system. Yes, the system is stupid, broken, flawed, and at times corrupt yet you will NOT win by jousting at its ACU covered windmills. Learn to work it, learn to navigate it...but don't waste your time trying to fix it.

* All stereotypes about enlisted and officers including their spouses and children have a grain of truth to them. Don't look for the hallmarks of what "they" are like but don't be shocked when you find them, either. That being said, make friends across the great rank divide. Do NOT think you must only befriend enlisted if your spouse is an E or officier if your spouse is an O. The Army is much too small to paint yourself into that corner!

* It is easy to lose yourself in the Army. Your career very well may take a back seat simply because of the nature of the beast. My own career fell to crap due to our constant moving and it was (and still is) incredibly difficult for me. So if you have a career make it a portable one and even then, make sure you do not gauge your own self worth based on your career or income.

* Nobody cares how smart, driven, capable, or trainable your Soldier is. They simply will not promote until it fits the needs of the Army and in some cases, a Soldier's career can stall for years. It sucks and there is no way around it so you help your Soldier hold his/her head up! Be a team and a cheerleader at the same time.

* Walmart can be cheaper than the commissary. ;)

2. What is the most important thing you'd like to tell new spouses?

Listen to older, wiser, more jaded Army wives than you. It is easy to blow them off and think their experiences will not be YOUR experiences. Lord knows I did. And now? Now I am one of the older, wiser, more jaded who just shakes their head at the newbies who won't listen. That's OK though. They will learn soon enough. LOL!

3. What do you love the most?

Odd bouts of pride! There are times when all of a sudden I am head-over-heels in love with being an Army wife. I will walk down the street and see a Soldier carrying a baby while in his ACUs. I will see a wounded warrior I have never met in my life and am inexplicably flooded with love and gratitude. Bizarrely enough, when a civilian bashes the Army I leap to its defense. (Not to say my fellow Army wives and I won't tear it to shreds...but we can! We have earned it! They, in my oh-so-humble-opinion have not).

4. What do you find the hardest?

I think keeping the "what if's" at bay. Being a Solider is not an easy career. Lives are lost. In the back of our minds and in the bottom of our hearts, we ALL KNOW it could happen to our Soldiers. My son has sat in the classroom and been told that his friend's father was killed in Iraq. How do you convince a heartbroken and terrified child that HIS father is safe? How do you lie to him and explain that could/would not ever happen to his father because of x,y,z? Better yet, how do you lie to yourself?

I think it is normal to allow our minds to drift to the dark side, to imagine what it would be like to get "the call" or see a chaplin walk up to your doorstep. By imagining the horror, we somehow believe we are preparing ourselves for the worst...and perhaps we are. But you cannot live there. Life is far too short and much too precious to waste worrying about the "what if's". When I have induldged those morbid fantasies, they interfered with my ability to give love as freely and receive as fully as we each deserve. I have learned to push that acrid taste of fear back into my belly when it creeps would be wise to learn to do the same.

5. Tell me a story that sums up military life for you:

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, OK. Here we go...

We hadn’t been at Fort Campbell for more than a week before my husband started dropping hints. “I met with my captain and told her all about you, she would really like to meet you sometime.” “I bet you would do great if you had been in the Army, you should really meet my captain.” Being new to the Army world, I didn’t recognize this butter-up job for what it was…my husband was being wooed by his NCOs at the prospect of snagging his wife as a volunteer. Not just any volunteer either; his captain was receiving pressure from her higher ups to find an FRG leader. (Cue sinister music here.)

Being a brand spanking new Army wife, I had joined a number of online support groups to learn about this foreign career that I apparently signed up for when my husband took the oath to support and defend our country. I had heard all the rumors from those who had gone before me. FRGs (Family Readiness Groups) were a boiler of politics. Enlisted wives and officer wives clashed the way women clashed best…psychologically, all the while smiling. Backstabbing was the norm. I was warned the gossip rumor mill thrived in FRG meetings and my personal home life would be a matter of public record (and debate). It seemed every active duty wife had a horror story, every girlfriend had attempted to join only to be excluded, and every retiree’s wife was grateful to be out of the “support group”.

Frankly, I thought these women had issues. I mean, really? I was a professional educator. I was a woman who was used to handling 120 students a day, navigating the political arena of staff meetings, and managed to tactfully maintain my bearings when dealing with belligerent parents. As far as I was concerned, those complaining about FRGs and sharing those stories were doing the very thing they condemned: gossiping and creating drama. I recalled being pregnant and having every woman I met try to outdo the other with a bigger, more dramatic labor story. The FRG horror stories seemed awfully similar. I mentally filed their stories away as the sour grapes of bitter women. Their narrow experiences would not be mine.

Additionally, I had been told that as a wife of a specialist I would hold a rather low place on the Battalion totem pole. Enlisted were not to fraternize with Officers, likewise enlisted wives were not to hang out with officer wives. Like it or not, those women had access to your husband’s boss and office politics could be determined in the comfort of their living rooms. The stereotype was that enlisted wives were young, uneducated, and “breeders” (read: tons of children) and unappreciated by their older, higher educated “O” wife peers. The stereotype made me uncomfortable. Mostly because I knew that wasn’t me and set out immediately to dispel the myth.

The wooing continued and my husband came home with the captain’s phone number for me to call to “welcome me” to Fort Campbell. My husband had been advised by other soldiers that my being active in the FRG would only be a good thing. It would reflect positively on him and his career. Looking back, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me at the time to ask why they didn’t have their wives accept the FRG leader position and reflect positively on their careers. I was too busy imagining having BBQs and hanging out with untouchable officer set I kept hearing about. In my mind, I was one of them. High speed. Educated. Mature. I knew I would fit in beautifully. That and let’s face it, with the upcoming deployment it wouldn’t hurt to be in ‘on the know’ for breaking news and information. I was nosy like that.

A couple of phone calls later, I found myself sitting across from my husband’s captain at Starbucks. Captain Lisa O’Malley was not your stereotypical officer….at least not by what I had been told to expect. She was in her mid-twenties, had blond hair, blue eyes, a perky nose and an infectious personality. She was girly with an edge and had a wicked sense of humor. She talked about her time at West Point and how, despite her qualifications, she constantly had to prove herself to the “boys club”. I liked her immediately. She had brought along her XO’s spouse to introduce me to as well. Kate was in her early 30’s, with a tiny and petite hard body. She had a loud laugh and welcoming smile. Unfortunately, she also had a 4 year old in tow who was tearing Starbucks apart brick by brick.

“We are going to get along so great! That is very important…there needs to be good communication between the FRG leader and the Commander,” Cpt. O’Malley gushed. “We will need to get this rolling soon. We haven’t had an FRG for the past year and the families really need to be brought together before the deployment.”
I sipped my latte as Kate’s son catapulted over the sofa for the 10th time. “You are going to love everyone! We are not the typical officers’ wives. We drink, cuss, burp…” Kate laughed. I was pretty sure every woman I ever met had drank, cussed, and burped so I wasn't sure what to do with that little gem of information but I was grateful for the extended friendship.

“Kate, aren’t the wives getting together soon for coffee?” Cpt. O’Malley asked. “You should go. It would be the perfect time to meet folks and start recruiting volunteers. THESE are the women who are going to help you. They are fantastic.”

“Yes, next week actually.” Kate’s friendly smile shifted slightly at the thought. I didn’t get a chance to process the change of expression as her son shot between us, knocking over magazines on a table.

“Great! I would love to come” I answered while picking up magazines watching the hellion dart the other direction.

“Sweet! I will pass your number onto the Lt. Col’s wife, Cecelia and she can give you directions to her house” Cpt. O’Malley responded.

Soon enough the meeting was over. O’Malley had to get back to the shop, Kate had to take her demon spawn home for a nap, and I had to figure out what the hell an officers’ wives coffee entailed. I found my answer in a marvelous little book called “The New Armywives Handbook”. Later that evening, as I soaked in the tub, I scanned through the chapters.

“Ken! Listen to this” I called to my husband. ((((insert quote))) Are they serious? This is like some crap my grandmother had to navigate back in the 50’s. “My husband wandered into the bathroom and gave me a blank look. The idea of wives having a proper way to drink coffee, enter a room, or greet other wives was beyond his realm of experience. It sounded just as ludicrous to him.

“Don’t worry about it, babe. I can’t imagine they really expect that of anyone anymore.” Huh. The book was nice waste of $29.95 as far as I was concerned. I let the book flop shut as I tossed it on the floor next to the tub. And with the sound of that satisfying thud, I didn’t give Army etiquette a second though.

The day of the coffee I stood in front of my closet preparing to dress. For a brief moment, the haunting words of The Armywives Handbook flashed through my mind. “(((insert quote about clothing)))” A quick snort of disgust brought me back to reality. “Ridiculous” I muttered to myself. I settled on a pair of khaki capris and summer top. A quick glance at the clock revealed I had 30 minutes to get wherever I was going. Where was I going? Cecelia never did call with the directions to her home. It was just a mix-up of communication to be sure. I was suddenly reassured this woman was as busy as I was and dropped the ball every now and then. Not being one to get overly excited about miscommunication, I just called CPT O’Malley.

“Hey Lisa? I was wondering if I could get directions to Cecelia’s house from you? I am supposed to be there in 30 minutes but have no idea she lives.”

“Sure. Um. I don’t know where she lives either…let me give her a call and have her call you real quick.”

“Thanks girl!” I ran around my home gathering my “to go” kit. Cell phone? Check. Car keys? Check. Dogs outside in the backyard? Check. Five minutes passed, then ten. Fifteen minutes after I spoke with Lisa the phone finally rang.

“Najia? It’s Lisa. Hey, um…I feel horrible. I don’t know what to say…”
“What’s wrong, Lisa? Are you OK?”
“Yah, I’m fine. I mean…(deep breath)…Cecelia wanted me to tell you that you can’t come to the coffee. I guess she only allows Officers’ wives to attend and well, your husband is a Specialist…” Lisa’s voice trailed off. “I am just so embarrassed, I feel terrible. Najia?”
“I’m here. Sure. It is okay. I understand. I am sure I will get a chance to meet everyone later.”

After a couple more minutes of awkward chit-chat, Lisa let me go and I sat on my sofa stunned. I had just been officially slighted, banned from my first social event because of my husband’s rank. Cecelia couldn’t even be bothered to call me and explain the faux pas herself. She threw Lisa under the bus and made her to do the dirty work.

To be honest, I was beyond miffed. I was flat out offended. Did being married to a Lt. COL give anyone the right to act like a complete ass? As it turns out, it did. A week later I met Cecelia face to face at our first FRG meeting. She embraced me like a long lost sister and gushed about how pleased she was to meet me. Then with all the subtly of a staged public address, Cecelia pulled out a tiny pin in front of everyone.

“Now I normally only give this to my senior wives, but I want you to have one! It is our unit pin!” Any hope I had for a graceful apology was lost at that moment. To this day I don’t know how I managed not to hurl my cookies or hurl the pin back at her.

Cecelia became my nemesis and I fought her at every turn. Looking back, fighting her meant fighting the Army and everything I was learning to resent about it. Her husband may have been a Lt. COL but she was simply another woman to me. I hadn’t joined the Army and felt no need to bow down to her or anyone else. Some of our clashes were petty, some were epic and rooted in my taking a moral stance against how she treated people around her. Cecelia never did apologize for uninviting me to her home in the three years our husbands were stationed together. We continued to have numerous interactions, some good, some not so good, some outright hostile. To me, Cecelia was a walking caricature of Army wives past. She was doing her best to uphold her role in the Army. She believed with all her heart that her job was to lead the other wives, establish a pecking order and maintain Army traditions. The problem was as a grown, educated woman I felt no need to be led, be pecked apart or be socially segregated at events.

An interesting side note: I moved half way around the world thinking I would never have to deal with Cecelia again. As Mr. Murphy would have it, she would be stationed an hour away from us!! Now that we are no longer locked in a power struggle (different units), we get along quite well. :) You just never know with the Army!!!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Little Words

Tonight I was reminded of the scenes in "The Help", where Aibileen reminds sweet Mae Mobley that she is kind, smart, and important.

Words can make a huge difference to a child, but they also make a world of difference to us as adults. The right words, at the right moment, and a memory is made. A different future can be envisioned, perhaps, or something as simple as a mood can be brightened for hours. Lives can be changed.

Tonight in Wal-Mart, amidst the after-work payday-weekend crowd, I had one of those moments that reminded me how important and how amazing simple words can be. There was a gentleman working in the paper goods aisle, sweeping diligently. I noticed him because he seemed to be watching me, and seemed to want to say something. Just when it was getting a little uncomfortable, he softly asked, "You is Spanish?" When I told him "no" he just smiled and nodded. Again, I thought it seemed a little odd, but he kept looking at me. Finally, in broken English and obviously searching for the right words, he paid me a sweet compliment.

The specific compliment doesn't really matter. What struck me is that this man, who does not know me, will most likely never see me again, and does not even speak my language, thought it was so important to say the words that he risked being totally misunderstood.

Why don't we speak up when the words need to be said? Why don't we compliment the sweet young man who helps us at the deli counter? (Same store, same night, his name is Charles and if you go to my Walmart you'll know who I mean.) Why don't we praise our kids for their good grades, or say "thanks!" when someone lets us into traffic?

Why don't we tell people how much they mean to us?

Why do we forget? Why don't we try?

Each day, Aibileen told her young charge that she was smart, kind, and important. She did this in the hopes that Mae Mobley would remember her own truth when she got older and Abilene wasn't present any more. Abilene knew that the most important things, the ones we want our kids and loved ones and neighbors and coworkers to remember, need to be said over and over again to make up for the other times, when we hear things that don't build us up. Aibileen, though fictional, was a very, very smart woman.

Based on the number of blog hits that Google sent me, these words from the book and movie resonated with a lot of people out there. So what words do you need to say tonight? What thoughts are in your head that really need to be told?