Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why is being a Military Spouce so hard?

While I generally beg to differ that being an Army Wife is the "toughest job in the Army" I will agree that being a military wife is just plain hard.  Now a days you're even starting to see Military Husbands, though they're usually prior service.  Still being a military spouse regardless of the branch is difficult.  There have often been many jokes inside the military community about the spouses, and the power they tend to throw around on post.  Some of it can actually be pretty funny, and having a Private's wife try to order around a Captain (which I've actually witnessed) is the kind of thing you laugh about later. 

Still, the fact remains despite the inside jokes about the FRG, or the Barracks Bunnies, FOB Wives, or Pension Hoppers (if you're married to A Service Member for 10 years you get half their pension.  Some women have done this more than once) the fact remains that the pressures on a military spouse are unbelievable, under normal peacetime conditions.  After a decade at war we have seen that the pressures of war are even worse than we could have imagined. 

To explain to the layman why the life of a military spouse is so hard, is difficult.  You really need to be in the lifestyle, before you can understand it.  First off the spouse has literally no choice as to where she is going to live.  I was lucky enough to be stationed in Hawaii, a dream post for almost every spouse, but it is an island and there are only so many places to go.  Some of the spouses I knew got "Rock Fever" in that they just couldn't stand the inability to travel.  Add in the prohibitive cost of literally everything, and it left a lot of spouses with nothing to do but sit in the housing areas.  There are other, less choice assignments.  Fort Riley Kansas' nearest major city is Kansas City over an hour and a half away, and while Manhattan KS is a pretty fun place, have you ever seen a college town over summer?  I won't even go into the weather, or how places like Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord which seems to be in a perpetual state of gray.  The point is though, you don't get to choose.  After a certain point you go where the Army needs you. 

That actually leads to another problem.  How often do you think most civilians move?  After you start your career you may travel, go on vacation, or even look at a nice retirement area, but you'll tend to stay in the area you "settle in".  For the Military family you can move every three years, and in some cases more often than that.  I had three Duty Stations in 6 years.  One, Fort Hood, I was only at for a little over a year.  Can you imagine packing up a house on a whim every couple of years?  Believe me when I say it really stinks. 

Another major problem is that it can be both utterly lonely, and utterly boring.  When I was on Rear D[etachment] I saw a lot of wives, that needed help with small things and I was more than willing to help them with anything, but I could see they were more than thankful just to have someone to talk to that wasn't a child.  Even when their husbands are there, they are on call 24/7 and might have to dash out on a moments notice.  In some cases they may work very long hours and come home exhausted.  This leads inexorably to boredom.  Even if you weren't station in the middle of nowhere, the want and need for intellectual stimulation can drive a person crazy.  Having to manage a household full of kids, and to not have your spouse there for anything more than true emergencies is frustrating. This is perhaps the number one reason that spouses tend to. . .stray so much. 

To make matters even worse the only real career path open to most is: home maker.  To be clear you can get a job at say Walmart, or the PX, in fact there are "jobs" a plenty.  But to have an actual career with progression that is traceable is very difficult if you're always moving.  You tend to end up working for the DoD or some other subsidiary, and while a "job" even if its part time is a good thing to help bring in a little extra each month, it is still not enough to satisfy the desire most of us hold to have an actual career.  When we get promoted for a job well done most of us feel a sense of accomplishment.  If we have to deal with string after string of entry level jobs we tend to get discouraged. 

There is, however one pressure unique to the military spouse.  Deployments.  The Navy is used to Deployments a bit more than the other services, but most people don't really expect anything dangerous to happen in the Navy.  To be clear what the Navy does is incredibly dangerous.  One had only to look over the side of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, to realize that a fall would be a very bad thing, and there are no hand rails.  No imagine doing this in the middle of the night, with 80 million dollar jets putting out a couple thousand pounds of thrust, and you can begin to imagine that it is dangerous.  The Army and Marine Corps kind of danger is much more graphic, and is sadly almost gleefully put all over the news.  Burning Hum-vees, troops screaming in pain after being hit, ragged infantry crossing a street under fire.  All these dangers will gnaw on the mind of a spouse to the point every knock on the door is a cause for alarm, and sleep is just as difficult to achieve as their spouses have half way around the world. 

The pressures on the Military Spouse are enormous and all jokes aside, they really do an incredible thing, being there for their husbands or wives.  The military is not for everyone and neither is marrying into the military.  Despite the fact that they might never attain rank, or be seen up front with the Soldier Sailor Airmen or Marine, they do something far more important that the public may not understand.  They giver that Service Member a reason to fight.  As Robert A Heinlein said  "the noblest fate a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and war's desolation".  It is important to remember that any action that will effect a Service Member will also effect his family too. 

1 comment:

Cedeham said...

I'm a Navy disabled veteran AND a Navy wife.Yes, being a military spouse is extremely hard. Thank you for your entry, and for conveying rather well the difficulties we face.

A small point, Navy personnel do serve on the ground, not just the sea. My Hubby has served (aside from countless ship deployments) a back-to-back in the Middle East. . . sand; and who was targeted by terrorists, etc.

Thank you, still, for sharing. I emailed Hubby one of your articles from Business Insider-- he has chronic PTSD (dx'd 2 times) and his right hand shakes "for no reason," the frequency increasing when he feels more stressed. Your sharing has helped me (as a veteran and a military wife), and I hope Hubby will find comfort from your writing as well.

All my best to you, Soldier. Thank you for serving and protecting us.