Category Archives: Military spouses

Being #MoreThanASpouse is More Than A Mantra

When we entered the world of military service, now, almost five years ago, I set aside my part-time career as an adjunct English instructor at my alma mater.


This was a job I enjoyed for almost eight years; a job for which I trained; a job for which I earned a Master’s degree; a job for which I strategically planned to coincide with motherhood; a job for which I spent many hours perfecting my craft and aiming to competitively stand out among my peers. This was a job where I made a difference in the lives of hundreds of college students on their path to a bright future, full of promise.

I felt fulfilled by and called to the profession of teaching. I enjoyed having my foot in the working world while my children were young. I felt validated earning a paycheck and contributing financially to our family’s future.

When my husband commissioned into the Army, I set aside my career with feelings of simultaneous willingness and disappointment. I was willing to do my part as a wide-eyed military spouse and yet, part of my heart was left in the classroom alongside the SMART Board, dry erase markers, and composition notebooks.

I consider myself a positive person, a supportive wife, and a woman who longs to make the world a better place. It was with this same bravado that I embraced my role as a chaplain spouse, cavalry wife, and dependent (as we spouses are so often namelessly called).

During those first three years at our inaugural duty station I poured the same amount of passion, work-ethic, and heart into my new role. I sincerely enjoyed my endeavors in unit leadership, chapel ministry, and the work of being the steady, always-available default parent and partner in our home. I wasn’t earning a paycheck, but my payment for this hard work came in the form of hugs, high-fives, ‘atta-girls,’ and certificates of completion for all manner of Army Family Team Building (AFTB), Key Caller, and Care Team trainings.

During that season, I know I was absolutely fulfilling the roles I was called to be filling. I served as president of a women’s ministry, homeschooled our three children, taught Sunday school and a Bible study, organized a LEGO camp, did some freelance writing for a local business, and I kept the home fires burning during my husband’s deployment to Afghanistan. I faithfully attended more than my share of spouse coffees and unit functions; all with a smile on my face, and all while wearing the appropriate pin and insignia over my honored and satisfied heart.

mtas-mantra-2As efficacious as those years were, there was also a complex sense of anonymity that I sensed. Sometimes among a roomful of people, I’d feel alone. One of the great disappointments of military life is that we don’t always really, truly, and deeply get to know those we are serving alongside.

As a life-long overachiever, I often wanted to make sure people around me knew that I was capable, trained, educated, smart, available, or as the National Military Family Association’s campaign suggests, #morethanaspouse. I have gifts, talents, and abilities of my own. I’m not just a wife, spouse, dependent, or sidekick to my soldier. See me! Notice me! Take advantage of my skills, my expertise, my competence and qualifications!

Unlike our beloved service members, I don’t wear my rank, experiences, or education on my sleeve or blouse. Whether you know my husband or not, you see part of who he is based on his visible Army flair. As a spouse, you may never know how awesome I am unless you get to know me and I share with you my credentials and personal narrative. That’s the world we live in as military spouses.

Most of the time, most of us are mostly okay with this arrangement. Most of us are resolved to being in the shadows and in the background. We’re mostly cool with being the wind beneath our soldier, seaman, or airman’s wings. Most of us are comfortable with setting aside our passions and dreams for the call of duty. We feel proud to support the missions of our spouse’s career, the military, and our great country!

Very recently, however, I experienced an unpredictable and long-suppressed sort of pride.

Our family is now onto our second duty station and in the midst of “savoring the lull” of a slower op-tempo. I applied for and accepted a part-time job that morphed into a full-time teaching gig. I’ve found myself holding class in the college classroom again and I’m overjoyed. Here are a few of the top reasons why:

I’m thrilled to have an employer who took a chance on me despite reading a vitae full of professional and volunteer experiences from three different states in less than four years. Tennessee, Georgia, and Texas endeavors all enumerate my resume and speak loudly and clearly to a life that won’t be settled in one place too long. (If you are a military spouse, you know this is a real crisis plaguing our employability as dependents.)

I’m ecstatic to be earning a paycheck that is commiserate with my education and experience. I’m not above taking a minimum wage job if necessary, but my pay should reflect my background, training, and work history. For the first time in a long time, I feel valued and motivated by financial success.

I’m delighted to be getting some personal, positive feedback from my students, inquiries about my successful methods and practices from my peers and colleagues, and occasional accolades from my superiors. I don’t work hard simply for the praise, but it’s nice to be complimented and recognized by others for a job well done.

And ultimately, I’m elated that for the moment, I know that I am #MoreThanASpouse. It’s not just a mantra I’m repeating in my head; it’s not just a cry of my heart. Presently, I am in a role where others see me, where I am flourishing, and where an actual paycheck validates that I am, indeed, more.

Reality tells me that this job, this duty-station, this wave of professional fulfillment isn’t permanent. I know that it is finite; it has an expiration date. I know we will be moving again before I know it. But for now, during this academic year (and possibly one more) I am Mrs. Wood.

I am an English instructor. I am a teacher. I am an encourager. I am a leader. I am an influencer. I am a coach. I am a mentor. I am a preceptor to a group of nearly 140 college students. I am #MoreThanASpouse.

What’s your #MoreThanASpouse testimony? Share it with us!

claire-woodClaire Wood writes about her own struggles to make sense of military life at and she has recently released her faith-based book for military spouses, Mission Ready Marriage. She enjoys reading, early morning outdoor walks, trying out new recipes, and hosting friends and family in her home. Claire is married to Ryan, an Army Chaplain. They and their three children are stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta, GA.

Military Balls: Save the Antics for the After Party

I love military balls. I love any formal event, really. I love the fancy dresses. I love the traditions and ceremonies. I love spending the night with my spouse (who looks pretty darn handsome in his Mess Dress). I always go home from the party madly in love with military life and my spouse.

If you are new to military life or haven’t attended a ball yet, you’re in for a treat. There are a few things you need to know before you put on your glass slippers and head out for the party.


Choose Appropriate Attire

Pay attention to the invite to the ball to make sure you understand what the dress code is. Each event will be a little different, but the majority of evening events will call for your spouse wearing their Mess Dress, and you in either a formal, floor-length gown or a tuxedo.

A great rule of thumb is to ask yourself “What Would Kate Middleton Wear?” (thanks NextGenMilSpouse) and go with that. Keep it classy- no cut-outs, no short dresses, nothing see-thru. It should match the level of formality your spouse is wearing.

Don’t be the Mean Girl (or Guy)

If you pick the perfect, classy gown, and show up to the party to discover that one crazy wife is in a mini-dress with all her goods showing, do not be catty or talk about her all night. Worry about yourself and enjoy the evening.

Be on Your Best Behavior

Military balls are considered an “official place of duty.” Your spouse is at work, and most of his chain of command and co-workers are going to be there. You absolutely want to be yourself, but you also want to make sure your behavior is in check so your spouse is not worrying about whether or not you are going to embarrass them after drinking one too many glasses of wine.

Many events will have a receiving line where you and your spouse will shake hands with everyone who is someone at the party. Your opportunity to make a good first impression doesn’t end there. You can use this event as a place to network and make new friends, just be sure you aren’t being remembered for all the wrong reasons!

Participate Respectfully in the Program

Each event will be a little different, but there should be a speaker, some sort of call and response, your branch’s song may be sung as a group, they will present and retire the colors, there may be a POW/MIA table. The program should have all the information you need to follow along, but when in doubt, keep still, keep quiet and do what the others at your table are doing. Stand when they stand, sit when they sit and enjoy the pageantry!

Follow Etiquette Rules 

Don’t stress too much about this part, but again, while at the party, keep your eye on someone you trust to know how all this “fancy-schmancy” stuff works and do as she does.

More importantly, have fun. In this situation, trying your best is all that matters. You don’t need to take it so seriously that you can’t enjoy yourself. No one is really going to remember if you said someone’s rank wrong or garbled the words to the Air Force song.

Party It Up On the Dance Floor! 

Service Members know how to cut loose! When the head table takes off their jackets and heads to the dance floor, that is your cue to have some fun as well. No bumping and grinding please, but do get out there and shake it!

Also, make sure you know the line-dance of the day. Everyone will be on the floor for the Cha Cha Slide.

Check out our Pinterest board for more articles (and more hilarious videos of service members dancing.)


What is your best piece of military ball advice?

Mastering the Art of the Empty Nest!

I thought I had this Empty-Nester thing figured out; I spent over 20 years raising children and preparing them for all life has to offer. And, last month, when I drove off to take my youngest daughter to college, I was excited for my new future. The possibilities seemed endless!


The 1200 mile road trip to drop her off was fun–she and I are two peas in a pod. We’re like the Gilmore Girls: she’s basically my best friend (I know what they say: you shouldn’t be “friends” with your children – you should be their parent). But she is special, she’s an old soul. I felt like I was losing my best friend.

The good-bye was actually easier than I anticipated. I was confident her father and I had prepared her for pretty much anything. She was ready to fly the coop.

Upon returning home, things felt weird. My husband went TDY, and for the first time since 1992, I was HOME ALONE. What should I do first?! I could do anything I wanted. My responsibilities had dramatically decreased, so I could sleep all day, lie around watching old movies, or spend the entire day at the gym. Instead, I went to the grocery store. And I didn’t bother with the commissary this time. Heck, it was only my husband and I now, and we don’t eat that much, so I could afford the name brand stores this time! I wandered around aimlessly in a daze, and walked out with a loaf of bread, a six pack of beer, and a rotisserie chicken (and I don’t even eat meat!).

Was this how my new life was going to be? Wasting time wandering around and accomplishing nothing? I felt like I needed a plan. For over two decades I’ve always had a regimented plan and schedules to follow. I’m not used to down time…I need to be productive.

I allowed myself the full weekend to be a big mess of confusion. Then I decided it was time to get myself together and figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. It was only three weeks into Empty Nest Life, but I still wasn’t sure what that is. For 25 years, I’ve been focused on everyone else. A few months after marrying my spouse, we PCS’d for the first time. I had to quit the big job I got right out of college, and put my career on the back burner so we could pursue his together. Then I had babies.

For years and years, I raised those kids and supported my husband through many PCS moves, deployments, and TDY assignments. I got whatever job fit my schedule. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to find work that allowed me to see my kids off to school, and be there when they returned home. It was never about me and always about them.

How does one go about deciding what she wants and needs, when for most of her life, she’s always been what everyone else wanted and needed?

The possibilities are, indeed, endless. I can finally pursue my group fitness instruction again. My evenings are free to teach classes, since there are no more softball games to attend, no more back-to-school nights, no more homework to help with (let’s be honest: my kids quit needing my help with that years ago). Maybe I can go back to work full-time. My day can now start and end when I want it to. Maybe I can do both?!

Maybe I need to cut myself a break and give myself a little bit of time figure it all out. For 25 years, I did what had to be done. And now it’s only been a month…

In the meantime, I will continue my projects around the house, and continue walking the dogs twice a day (they’re very confused by all of this, and although they enjoy the walks, they are a little tired from all the attention!).

Do I miss my kids? You bet I do. Am I sad to be an Empty-Nester? Nope. I’m excited. And I’m pretty sure I will master this Empty-Nester thing after all.

Are you an Empty-Nester? How did you navigate your new “free time?”

cindyPosted by Cindy Jackson, Finance Manager

In Their Words: September 11th Through MilKids’ Eyes

Fourteen years have passed since the sunny Tuesday morning that would change our nation forever. As we reflect each year on the lives lost that day, and the years following in our nation’s longest war, there are some who haven’t seen the history unfold for themselves.

Many military kids weren’t alive when September 11, 2001 happened, though many of their parents joined the military as a result of the attacks. Many have seen their parent deploy, miss birthdays, even miss the birth of other children.

Some military kids may not have lived through our nation’s darkest day, but they’re left to grow up in it’s wake.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

World Suicide Prevention Day: Change the Direction of Mental Health

September marks the start of Suicide Prevention Month, with today being World Suicide Prevention Day—a time when to reflect on the lives taken too soon, and focus on saving lives. We know suicides within the military community are growing at an alarming rate, with more than 20 veterans taking their lives each day. Studies are only beginning to track military family suicides, but we know this number is unsettling, too.



Mental health and the military community has long been an issue swept under the rug…but why? Some service members say they don’t seek help for mental health illnesses for fear of getting in trouble with their unit, being teased by fellow service members, or being discharged altogether. Family members face their own obstacles when dealing with mental health care, ranging from their own embarrassment in seeking treatment, to the lack of mental health providers equipped to understand what military life is really like.

The National Military Family Association is committed to ensuring the nation’s military families have access to programs and initiatives that strengthen and support them, like proper mental health care. One way we’re doing that is by joining forces with The Campaign to Change Direction and pledging to share, with at least 200,000 military families, the Five Signs of Suffering.

“Those who serve our nation, and their families, face unique challenges and stressors that can place them at higher risk for the development of mental health concerns. The Campaign to Change Direction gives us the opportunity to ensure those in need receive the care and support they deserve,” says Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., Founder and President of Give an Hour, the backbone organization leading the Campaign.

So what is The Change Direction initiative? On the heels of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy, Give an Hour and a collection of concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders, and leaders from the private sector came together to create a new story in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness.

“We are honored to partner with the National Military Family Association in this critical effort to educate all military families about the Five Signs of Suffering,” Van Dahlen adds.

This story will spark a movement to change the way we view mental health and help us to recognize signs of emotional suffering in ourselves and others.

five signs of suffering

The most important piece of information we can learn from the Change Direction initiative are the Five Signs of Suffering:

  1. Personality Change. This can happen suddenly, or gradually, and can sometimes look as though they’re acting outside of their values, or the person may just seem different.
  2. Agitation. They seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody. You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling his or her temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down.
  3. Withdrawal. Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities he or she used to enjoy.
  4. Poor Self-Care. They stop taking care of themselves and may engage in risky behavior.
  5. Hopelessness. Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say that the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.

What happens if you see these signs in someone you know?

Change Direction offers this advice, “You connect, you reach out, you inspire hope, and you offer help. Show compassion and caring and a willingness to find a solution when the person may not have the will or drive to help him- or herself. There are many resources in our communities. It may take more than one offer, and you may need to reach out to others who share your concern about the person who is suffering. If everyone is more open and honest about mental health, we can prevent pain and suffering, and those in need will get the help they deserve.”

The face of mental health within the military community is all too often ignored—by policy makers, military leaders, and even the service member and their family. Through NMFA’s pledge with Change Direction, we will make sure that you and your military family continue to have the support you need, and we will continue to fight for the benefits and programs your family has sacrificed for.

Join NMFA and The Campaign to Change Direction on today’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and make a pledge to create a culture where mental health is valued and achievable.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

I am More Than a Spouse…So are YOU!

I have a confession to make. The #MoreThanASpouse campaign is about me. Well, not just me. It’s about me, and my co-worker, and my best friend, and my next-door neighbor. It’s about all of us.


I’ve been a military spouse for 10 years. I am so proud of my husband and am honored to support him in his career. I am happy to follow him from one duty station to the next, because there isn’t any place I would rather be than with him. I am happy to support him as he studies for promotions, and volunteers his time, and leaves for TDYs and deployments. I am so proud of him.

His career is not mine though. It’s wonderful, and it’s something to be proud of, but it’s not me.

When we move to a new area, the most common first question I’m asked is, “What does your husband do?”

It’s rarely, “What do you do?”

Or even, “Tell me about yourself.”

It’s never really bothered me; it’s the nature of the beast. Military life means you move when they tell you, where they tell you. It means the mission comes first, and sometimes, that means there’s no one for you to rely on but yourself. It means leaving jobs, and being on call 100% of the time. It means doing what you must do rather than what you want to do.

The service member serves. The service member sacrifices. The service member follows orders. Sometimes it feels like the family only follows. But families serve, too; by keeping things quiet and stable at home, allowing the service member to do their job and focus on their mission. So many of us set aside our hopes and dreams to focus on the work at hand.

As we get older, and as the kids grow, I am realizing there is much more to me than just my role as a spouse.

I am so much more than a spouse.

There are things I want to do with my life: I want to be a leader. I want to make a difference. I want to change the world for the better. Yes, I want to support my spouse, but I want to do more. I can be more. These desires are not mutually exclusive.

pinterest-more-than-a-spouseFor the More Than a Spouse project, we sought out military spouses and asked them to tell their story. In recent years, there has been a lot of ugliness directed at military spouses. We’ve been called names, we’ve been reduced to stereotypes. Employers reject us. Communities fail to see our worth. We’ve been told, “You do nothing. You are not special. You do not serve.” (Yes, that was an actual comment we received this week on our Facebook page)

This project was not intended to claim we serve in the same way our spouses do. We know that’s not true. Our lives are deeply impacted by our spouse’s military service, but that isn’t what this video is about.

This project is intended to encourage military spouses to take a closer look at themselves. Forget what the world says. Forget what the “haters” say. What matters most is what you think, and what you want to make of yourself. What matters most is who you are, and who you want to be.

Recently, I sat down with some of the military spouses I admire most. These spouses are leaders in their communities, and wonderful mothers and fathers. They are supportive. They are doing amazing things at work, at home, and in their communities. I asked them two simple questions:

“What is special about you? What are you proud of?”

I handed them a marker and a piece of paper. They laughed nervously, shifted their weight in their seats, and sighed. They stared back at me, shaking their heads, and it broke my heart.

“I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what makes me special”

But we do. We see you.

We see you at home. We see you comforting children who just want to talk to Daddy while he’s in the field. We see you when you have the flu, but you’re up anyways, caring for your sick children because there’s no one to call for backup. We see you delivering babies alone while your husband is serving 3000 miles away. We see you attending parent-teacher conferences alone while your wife is downrange.

We see you in the community, volunteering with the booster club, or the FRG, or in the thrift store on base. We see you attending college, writing papers long into the night. We see you bringing meals to other spouses, being there when someone needs support, and helping wash the uniform just one more time as your spouse packs their go-bag.

We see the pride on your face when your spouse is promoted, and the hurt in your eyes when they hug you goodbye. We see your strength and your heartache.
We see your potential. We know you have hopes and dreams. We know it will be hard.

But we know you can do it. You’ve shown us that again and again. You can do anything you set your mind to. You are capable. You are valuable. You are important.

What makes you special? What do you want to be?

Share your “I am” pictures with us on social media using the hashtag #MoreThanASpouse, or email us at

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

#MoreThanASpouse: How 85% of People Find Their Next Job

Like many military spouses, I got a late start on my career. Early on, my husband and I agreed that it made the most sense for me to stay home with our son until he was in school. Unfortunately, by the time our son was ready to head to school, we were stationed overseas for two back-to-back assignments, further delaying the start of any meaningful career.


When we moved back to Washington, D.C. from overseas, I was so excited about the prospect of finally putting my degrees to work. Our son was going to be in school full time, my husband was going to a desk job, our extended family lived close by in case we needed help, and we were finally moving back home! I remember being so optimistic; I had a Master’s degree and spoke three languages, surely I would have my choice of interesting jobs.

I was wrong.

The DC area ranks the highest in the nation for people with advanced degrees. It is also a very multi-cultural area, and most people are multi-lingual. My ‘competitive edge’ wasn’t going to be enough to make me stand out. I kept a binder full of all the jobs I applied for and the rejection letters I received. That binder was getting impressively thick when I realized I was going nowhere fast.

Thankfully, I had a wonderful mentor who encouraged me to start networking and meeting more people. My job search had been full of a few ‘ups’ and some more debilitating ‘downs,’ up to that point, and I was at the end of my wits. I was willing to try just about anything within reason to get my foot in the door, so why not start networking? I pushed outside of my comfort zone and got serious about expanding my networks. I began to see everyone as a potential connection.

While I was auditing a class on Congress and the Military, one of the speakers really resonated with me. When the session ended, I walked up to introduce myself, thanked her for everything she and her organization did on behalf of military families, and finished with an offer to volunteer if they ever needed the extra help. When I got home, I followed up with an email note sharing a little more about my background, reiterating my offer of assistance, and attached my resume.

I was mildly surprised when an email came back encouraging me to apply for a job that she thought would be a great fit for within their organization. Fast forward a few months, I did end up going to work for that organization, but more importantly, I learned a very important lesson: over 85% of people will find their next job through the ‘hidden job market’ (jobs that are not actually posted to the general public).

In order to access these jobs, you need to expand your networks. There are no shortcuts…you need to get out there and meet people! Platforms like LinkedIn have helped equalize the playing field for military spouses, to a certain extent, allowing us to start networking before we even move to the next installation. But nothing replaces that face to face interaction. You’re going to have to get out there and meet people. Be on the lookout for conferences to hone your skills, learn about the latest resources, and meet people within your industry. Make sure you have a networking card, attend events, and be diligent about your follow up. This is what’s going to make the difference in your job search.

Entrepreneurs, the advice is just as relevant for you: when you move, you’re going to need to find your niche, your community and your new potential clients/customers.

Getting started can be a bit daunting. As an introvert, I understand this well! If you’d like some more information about Networking 101, check out our easy tutorial. If you’re ready to put your networking skills to work and eager to learn more about building portable careers, we hope you’ll join us at our 5th Annual Military Spouse Career Summit to meet like minded military spouses.

Remember: the online community is great, but nothing beats that face to face interaction. Get out there and start networking!

Believe in Yourself

Ready to network? Get your pajamas, a glass of hot tea, and your laptop ready! Join NMFA and other military spouses – including myself – for a Facebook party tomorrow from 9pm-10pm EST as we chat, network, and share our education and career goals! If you’re ready to be #MoreThanASpouse: this is a virtual networking event you don’t want to miss!

sue-hoppin-headshotPosted by Sue Hoppin, military spouse, Founder and President of the National Military Spouse Network–a professional development and networking membership organization supporting the professional career and entrepreneurial goals of military spouses