Truths of an Army Wife

RebeccaUncategorized1 Comment

Dear Brand New Army Wife,
You, yes, you, the brand new wife who’s still changing her driver’s license and cutting the tags off her “army wife,” t-shirt. Oh, what an adventure you’ve just embarked upon. Maybe you think you know what you’re in for, but chances are, you don’t. Even as the daughter of two career army officers, I didn’t know what I was “getting into,” when I married my husband. I’ve loved our journey as a whole, but would be lying if I said I adored every step.

Some steps in this lifestyle… well, they just suck. 

Sure, there are 10,000 pieces of advice, blog posts, books you can find on being an “army wife,” but nothing quite prepares you like experience, and it’s a dear school. I took his name twelve years ago, and I’m hoping some of the things I’ve learned along the way might help you.  Here’s the best “unconventional” advice I have to give.
1. Put the army wife sweatshirt down for just a minute. No, not because I don’t think you deserve to wear it, or because I think it’s lame. That’s not true. You have every right to feel proud of your husband’s honor, duty, and sacrifice. You have every right to feel proud of your decision to stand by him. But this moment, when you’re ready to slap that “army wife” label on you, take a moment to decide if that’s really “what” you are now, or if you’re still the driven, ambitious college student / teacher / lawyer / (insert career dream here) you were before you took (or didn’t take) his last name. Go ahead and wear your army wife sweatshirt, but don’t forsake your alumni sweatshirt while you’re at it. Oh, and please, for the LOVE OF GOD, put his PT shirt away.  No you may not wear it to the PX/Shoppette/running, unless you want to see him wear your army-wife running tank out to the store. Just don’t do it.

2. Take some AFTB.  Seriously. This life is full of insane acronyms like ETS, ACU, LES, TDY…. you name it. Hope online, check it out and empower yourself to know what the heck everyone is talking about.

3. Accept that we live in a subculture. No, this is not a bad thing. There are many times that your friends not married to service members won’t understand your lifestyle, army regulations, or why the heck you HAVE to wear a floor length ballgown to a function. You can’t really expect them to understand that the military lifestyle doesn’t always resemble the civilian one, you know, where you get to choose where you live. We live with rules, both in actual regulation on the length of our grass, and protocol for dress code at functions. Come on, we live in a razor-fenced community with armed guards, our own shopping mall, and we’re the safest place during a zombie apocalypse. Seriously, it’s a subculture, not better or worse than any other part of society, just different. Embrace it.

4. At this moment, take a moment and make peace with the fact that you will never be in control of your husband’s time or career, or heck where you live. There will be times he misses your birthday/anniversary/kid’s birth. Yes, he wants to be there, and no he can’t help it that he’s in the field/TDY/Deployed. When he calls you the day before he’s due home and tells you he’s been extended for some reason, take a breath and realize that this is not HIS fault. I don’t know any soldiers who are like, “heck yes, another three days at NTC! Vacation, baby!” He wants to be home as badly as you want him to. Go ahead, feel upset, get out your “but it’s not fair’s” and then suck it up and truck along. Your husband will be the most dependable man on the planet for pretty much everyone BUT you.  Yes, he loves you. Yes, you’re his number one priority (hence why he risks his life), but you don’t get control of his calendar.  Accept it now, and avoid the blow-up later.

5. Don’t buy nice furniture. Buy the mid-grade stuff that you like, but don’t obsess over. You’ve got about sixteen thousand PCS’s coming your way, and it will get broken/dented/shattered/lost. One day you will stop moving.  Then you buy the nice stuff. Until then, don’t get emotionally attached to the armoire, and do invest in good scratch cover.

6. Did I mention not to wear his PT’s like a fashion statement?  Oh, I did?  Okay, just making sure. That also goes for his ACU’s or anything else that gets issued. Just… don’t.

7. Get the “Army Wife – toughest job in the army” sticker off your car. Unless you’re actually in the army. Then proceed if you so desire.

8. Agree that you both have it the toughest. Some couples play the “I have it worse” game. We kind of play it the oppositte where I think he’s getting shot at and missing his family, therefore he has it worse. He thinks the kids have all plotted my downfall a’la Caesar style, and I have zero back up, therefore I have it worse.  Just agree that separation and deployments suck, and move on.

9. Speaking of deployments, there’s typically two kinds of first-time-deployment wives. One will tell you, “I don’t know why all those wives whine, I can handle this with no problem,” like they’re Billy Badass. The other will basically tell you that there’s no chance in hell she can live a year without her husband. Sigh.  Ladies, I can promise you two things: at some point a deployment will break you down until you can barely recognize the crying heap on the floor as yourself, and two – you’re going to survive it just fine. It will suck. You will live. I promise.

10. Don’t lose yourself. It’s easy to say, “I can’t work/go to school/be anything, we PCS too much,” or to give up your dreams because his career takes precedence. Been there, gotcha. Here’s the thing: just because you married him doesn’t mean you disappear into a heap of camouflage.  He’s in the army, you’re not. Yes, you live this lifestyle with him, and it’s vastly different from the civilian one – no one is debating that. However, don’t get caught up in his career, his goals, his dreams, because if you do – one day you’ll wake up and instead of being the person he married, you’re just an extension of him. Ladies, he married YOU, not himself. (Yes, you in the PT shirt.) He loves the woman he chose. Your dreams, your goals, your ambitions are just as valid as his. You may have to get creative (Hello, it took me 4 duty stations and 4 universities to graduate with my bachelors), but don’t lose what makes you… well, YOU, just because you support HIM.

11. Date your friends carefully. You’re going to PCS a lot. You’re going to make new friends at every duty station (unless you hermit, which I can agree is a valid choice sometimes).  Please, for the love of all that is good, DATE your friends. This lifestyle can be rough without a great support network, and well… there are some absolute crazies out there. And check out their kids too, because your kids will pick up their kids habits if you spend a lot of time together. The best piece of army wife advice I’ve ever gotten came from one of my closest friends, who constantly tells me, “you can be acquaintances, you don’t have to be friends.” Choose the people you let in wisely.

12. Ballgowns. No, I don’t care what the clerk at Forever 21 just told you.  If it’s after 5 and a formal ball, your gown should hit the floor. Why? Because it’s not about how hot you think you look, or that your husband thinks your legs are sexy. It’s about tradition, and military protocol, and nothing is worse than being “that” wife. Suck it up butter cup, and refer back to number three. Not everything makes sense, and you’re not there to show off your “assets.” You’re there to represent your husband. Oh, and dance. It’s like prom, only better… because you can legally drink, and you know who you’re going home with. Yup.

13. Be prepared to get homesick. Yes, you’ll do your best to get home whenever you can, but there are going to be times when you can’t. Yes, I miss my parents, and my sister. Yes, I miss my mountains and my friends. But, guess what, you’re an adult now, and for the length of his career/enlistment, you don’t get to choose where you live if you want to sleep next to your husband. So embrace the ache in your heart because it means you have people to miss, and get home when you can. Oh, and realize that home is now your husband and your children.

14. Your unit will be your family. Twelve years and four deployments taught me this. Your unit, your company, your platoon (well, your husband’s) will be your family. They will be your closest girlfriends, your sisters, your battle-buddies. When Jason was wounded, it was another wife in our platoon who sat with me for those uncertain hours. When her baby was born during OIF 1, it was the other wives in the platoon there with her. Just like family, you’ll be together at every function, every party, every fundraiser, every deployment. Just like family, you don’t get to choose them, and there’s always the creepy uncle in the corner eating the buffalo chicken dip with a fork. And as is the case with every family, you’re going to get sick of one another, have a falling out, or generally have a sense of disdain for a few folks.  But just like family, well, they’re what you’ve got, and when the going gets tough, they SHOW UP. And you’d better do the same for them.

15. Be prepared to wait. You will wait for orders. You will wait to PCS.  You will wait for him to come home for dinner, from TDY, from deployment…. You will wait for him to leave, because that’s all you think about before they go. You will wait for the movers, you will wait to unpack because you’re due to PCS only a year after you get to some school. You will wait for news, emails, love letters and skype dates. You will wait only to be told what you’re waiting for has been canceled/moved/delayed. You will wait for housing.  You will wait for your household goods. You will wait for retirement. But while you’re waiting, don’t forget to live. There’s an awful lot you can miss if you’re hung up on crossing-off the days and not filling them.

16. You won’t always like your house. There are going to be duty stations where you just think, “ugh.” But you know what? You’re not going to stay there forever.  Do the best you can, and refer back to number 15 until it’s time to PCS again.

17. This lifestyle has moments of unmatched beauty. Yes, it can be hard.  Yes, it can break you apart, but it will also rebuild you into something stronger, yet more flexible. I married Jason in a mid-9-11 world. Our first baby was born just days before the initial invasion of Iraq. I didn’t see half of this life coming, not the duty-stations, the wounds, the seemingly-endless deployments and chances are that you won’t either. The one constant in the military is change, and the life we’re living won’t necessarily be the one you will. I pray that you see less deployments, less war, and more time together. But if not, the moments in between, where you can hold him, see him, watch him with your children? That makes it all worth it. There is no low like the 7th month of a deployment, and there is no high like the first kiss when that deployment is finally over. This lifestyle is not for the faint of heart, and though you might feel like you are that, you’re not. When you’re at your weakest, the strength you need will appear. It will come from your friends, your army family, your spouse’s love, and your own soul. Laugh when you can, cry when you must, and always keep your head as level as possible. Oh, and love him.  Love him no matter what – through the waiting, the worries, the tears, the fights, and the moves. Because love is what makes this all so very worth it.

You’ve got this.

Welcome to the club.

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