10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Military Spouse

military-weddingMarrying into a big family is a challenge. Marrying into one with over 1 million other ‘family members,’ might have you feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed. Why didn’t anyone tell me about the ‘family drama’ before I took the plunge?

One of my favorite things about being a military spouse is meeting people who are dating service members. It reminds me of the time in my life where I didn’t know what TDY, Haz Pay, or PCS meant. I find inspiration in the gleaming eyes of those newly ‘dating the military’ and just for a moment, I remember why I loved dating (and marrying) a man in uniform.

But I really wish someone would have told me about the family drama.

Maybe if they had, I could have prepared myself. So, let me do you a favor; here are 10 things I wish I knew before becoming a military spouse:

  1. There’s no room for Type-A personalities. The military is the only Type-A allowed. Everyone else should just get used to a ‘go with the flow, hurry up and wait, organized chaos’ approach.
  2. The health care might be free, but it’s not always the best. I’m glad to have TRICARE, and I’m thankful for this form of compensation. But other days, I think I’m better off chewing on a piece of bark and popping some Advil.
  3. You’ll never understand why/how the military works. And for those of us who are Type-A, you’ll have to get over the idea of procedures and office policy making sense. It just doesn’t.
  4. Civilian job environments don’t translate to military ones. On those days when my husband vents about work, my natural inclination is to use a civilian workplace remedy. But it just isn’t as simple as ‘talk to his boss,’ or ‘why don’t you just let someone else do it?’
  5. The military doesn’t care about Christmas, anniversaries, or holidays. All the perks of a big happy family…with no presents.
  6. Some duty assignments are worth it all. Spending three to four years at a terrible duty station totally seems worth it when your next assignment is somewhere amazing.
  7. You’ll toy with the idea of staying in or getting out on a monthly basis. Because man, the grass seems so much greener on the other side. So scary and unpredictable, but probably greener. Right?
  8. Your spouse will give everything, and sometimes, they leave with nothing. Whether it’s proper care after being medically discharged, or separating from the military after serving 10 years, only to spend months searching for a job. Our service members deserve better.
  9. Therapy will help. Because PTSD, depression, anxiety, and anger aren’t just things service members deal with. Don’t be scared to get the help you need.
  10. Making friends can be tough, but no one will know what you’re going through like another military spouse. Embrace the chaos and keep on truckin’.

When it comes down to it, I married the person, not the job. So some days, it’s hard not to be resentful of the ‘family’ behind the job. Being a military spouse has given me more than I’ve given it, and I guess that makes the family drama a bit more bearable.

What do you wish you knew before becoming a military spouse? Is the ‘family drama’ worth it?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Life After Injury: Can We Go Back to Normal?

veteran-walking-with-daughterThe military changes people, and when that change is physical the adjustment can be especially difficult. When I first met Dave, he used to run to the gym, work out, run back and then ask me if I wanted to walk to dinner. We’d run the trails of Camp Lejeune together, swatting the swamp bugs along the way. He trained me for my first 5K, which was quite a feat since I couldn’t even run a mile when we started. Dave was definitely the fit one, while I was more like a couch potato with the appetite of a truck driver. I even managed to gain 25 pounds within our first 6 months of dating. Hawt, right?

But things changed, thanks to an injury that meant he would have his spine fused. After the surgery, we thought things would go back to normal—and the Marine Corps hoped so too. Unfortunately, the man who used to sprint around town dragging me behind him couldn’t run anymore. Doctors said he shouldn’t put “impact” on his fragile spine, or he might suffer another disc herniation . Passing a PT test wasn’t going to happen and, shortly after that, we separated from the Marine Corps.

The change came with lots of unsolicited fitness advice: “You should try swimming. That’s low impact.” Or “The elliptical is great!” and “Walking burns the same amount of calories as running if you do the same distance.” Um, thanks?

Seven years later, we are still adjusting. With the military far away in our rear view mirror, the changes are still right in front of us. Dave still can’t do the types of physical activities he enjoys most—although he does attempt them every so often. I’ve kept up with my running, for the most part, although I do often feel guilty enjoying an activity that we used to do together. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he is lucky: “Don’t worry about me – I have all my limbs, and can lead a normal life – there are people much worse-off.” Ah perspective….

That’s why our Operation Purple Healing Adventures® has always been one of my favorite things we do at our Association. Service members, with much more serious injuries than Dave’s, attend camp with their families and try to adjust to a “new normal.” A dad, whose main activity with their kids was sports, sometimes can’t even walk.

I remember watching a double amputee try to discipline his 4 year old, while the kid ran away from him. He was no match for a fully-functioning child. I couldn’t decide whether trying to help would make it worse, so I looked away and let them handle it together as a family.

Those dealing with PTSD seemed to have an even harder time. Their families had to make adjustments about where they sat and even how loudly they spoke.

I am proud that we are able to bring wounded families to our Operation Purple Healing Adventures. Over a decade of war has taken a vicious toll on them, and these families deserve everything we can give—whether it’s help with the next phase of their lives, beginning their healing process as a family, or even to just giving them a few moments of joy.

Have you ever had to adjust your activities because of an injury? How did it go?

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Does Pinterest Help or Hurt When Trying to Get Healthy?

yogaI consider the whole month of January to be “Resolution Season.” I didn’t make any real resolutions this year, but I did sign-up to run my first half-marathon with some co-workers in a few months.

Signing up for the half marathon made me think about my exercise habits. And my eating habits. I’ve always loved exercise and eating healthy foods, but work and life get in the way sometimes, and I end up falling off the wagon.

So, to stay on track, I immediately thought of Pinterest. I’ve used it here and there over the years, mostly when I feel inspired to get fit. I use it for workout ideas, recipe ideas, and my new favorite, weekly meal planning. But, does Pinterest actually help? Here are my thoughts:

Help #1: FRESH IDEAS
My favorite thing about Pinterest is there’s always something new and exciting when it comes to cooking; ideas I would have never thought of, or quick and easy ways to make things. I use the search bar to list things I already have at home to see what fun new dish I can make for dinner.

Hurt #1: FAR- FETCHED
The problem with Pinterest is all the elaborate ideas made to seem easy, but are actually ridiculous. There’s no way I could create that project, or recipe at home without breaking the bank.

SOLUTION: Find boards to follow that are realistic. I like to follow a friend of mine, who only pins things she has tried to make herself. It brings reality back to Pinterest and makes you feel better for not being able to make that fancy dessert. No #PinterestFail here.

Help #2: INSPIRATION
Sure, there are plenty of unrealistic pictures of models claiming they workout, but there are also a lot of real-life inspiration stories and workouts that you can find on Pinterest. Scrolling through those pins helps make me feel like I can reach my goals and feel better overall. There are workouts for busy moms, students, yoga in the workplace…you name it! Find the ones that are right for you.

Hurt #2: GUILT
The worst part of Pinterest is the feeling of guilt that washes over you when you don’t have time to cook that fabulous meal, or workout 15 hours a day to look like those unrealistic, Photoshopped models.

SOLUTION: Pick 1 or 2 pins you really want to achieve. Whether it’s a week-long ab challenge, or one nice meal you really want to tackle over the weekend. By avoiding the feeling that you must overdo it, Pinterest will become more of a friend rather than a foe.

Does Pinterest help you reach your health and wellness goals? If so, share your tips with me in the comments!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Giving Up Control in 2015: My “Let It Go” List

woman-standing-in-the-snowEvery year in December, I lock myself in our bedroom, with a never ending pile of presents and a glass of wine, and overindulge in Hallmark Christmas movies. I stay in that room until every present is wrapped. Don’t ask me why I insist on doing it all at once; somehow, over the years, it’s become a tradition. While wrapping, I reflect on the previous year and look ahead to the upcoming year.

Normally, I’m excited about a new calendar, but this year was different. When I envisioned the year ahead, my chest was tight, I was sweating, and I even felt short of breath. Why? What on earth was happening this next year to stress me out? The answer is simple: I’m wasting energy on guilt, worry, mistakes, and perfection.

So, in the name of our Frozen, winter-loving Elsa, I’ve created a list of five things I’m saying “Let It Go” to in 2015:

GUILT. I have an incredibly powerful guilt complex. I feel guilty for everything. Not making it to one of my kids’ holiday parties, leaving the family at home to go have dinner with a friend, the list goes on and on. Starting a Master’s program, or at least figuring out my plan to get a Master’s, is on my 2015 to-do list—but all the guilt has been holding me back. Can I handle it all? Will I be able to make enough time for my husband and kids? Will my work suffer? Then there’s the immense guilt about putting so much time and effort into something that’s only for me. ALL of this may happen, but it’s a calculated risk my family and I are willing to take. I need to let it go, enjoy the journey, and not look back.

WORRY. I worry about everything – a problem made worse by my role as military spouse. Will my husband get orders to deploy? Will we end up PCSing sooner than expected? Will his year group meet the Reduction in Force board again? These are all things I have absolutely NO control over. So, instead of worrying – you guessed it – I just need to let it go! Make the most of where we are now and tackle each day, one at a time. And if any of these scenarios do happen, I’ll be flexible because we all know change is inevitable in our military life.

MISTAKES. Confession: I am going to make mistakes. The people around me are also going to make mistakes. We’ll forgive and move on. I’m registered for a half marathon, and have my training and diet plan in place. Will I miss a run or two? Will I enjoy dessert or a dinner out? ABSOLUTELY! And everything is going to be fine! Let it go! Life doesn’t have to be perfect.

EXPECTATIONS. Say no, and accept when others say no. It’s OKAY! It’s also okay to say it without a laundry list of reasons why you had to say no. When I say no to something, I won’t worry about others’ expectations. I will accept my decision, embrace it, and (of course) let it go!

ATTITUDES. I tend to allow others’ attitudes affect my own personal happiness, but do you know what? Only I can control my emotions. I shouldn’t let others have such power over my well-being. This year, I won’t over-analyze every decision, and I won’t internalize other people’s displeasure. There’s no reason to! None! Say it with me…I need to let it go.

Will you channel your inner Elsa in 2015 and just let it go? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Lyndy-RohePosted by Lyndy Rohe, Communications Assistant

Hold Your Applause: A Military Spouse’s Take on ‘American Sniper’

American-Sniper-movie

As new parents, we take every opportunity we can to go see movies, and when American Sniper was released, we quickly bought our tickets ahead of time. On day of the show, we shoved snacks in my purse (shh!) and headed to the theater. I brought tissues, and cursed the fact that I didn’t wear waterproof mascara that day. I read the movie was intense and may be hard to watch at times, so at least I was prepared an emotional rollercoaster—and the movie delivered.

As a military spouse, it was hard to watch. But strangely enough, I didn’t end up using the tissues. When my husband was in Afghanistan in 2008, he called me from an MWR phone room, not on a satellite phone from a fire fight. I didn’t hear gun shots and people yelling on the other end of our phone calls. He wasn’t in danger in the same way Chris Kyle was, and I’m thankful for that.

Later, my husband told me about near-misses and close calls, but nothing compared to what Taya Kyle endured on the other end of that phone. ”How could Chris put Taya through a phone call like that?” I asked my husband, “Why call your wife when you’re being shot at?” He stoically responded “Most likely, he wasn’t thinking of it like that at all. It could have been the last time he talked to her.”

I also didn’t endure the hardship of being pregnant while my spouse was deployed, nor have I had to raise our 1-year-old with a father gone much of the time, or suffering from PTSD. My husband has been an awesome partner in her care. To the spouses forced to do much of it alone: you are my heroes.

American-Sniper-the-movieMy husband had a different take on the movie. He’s lost close friends in these wars. He’s attended far too many memorial services in his decade of Army service. One of his closest friends from ROTC was killed in her Humvee just weeks before she was slated to return home. And when I first met my husband in 2007, he was wearing the black KIA bracelet with her name on it …a name that would later become our daughter’s middle name.

As the movie ended, there were photos of Chris Kyle, his family, his brothers in arms, and his memorial service. My husband told me this was the hardest part of the movie for him to watch. The theater was completely silent as people filed out. We left the theater once the actual credits began to roll, still in complete silence, wrapping up our trash as quietly as possible.

That silence is what has stayed with me. I’ve seen movies where the audience applauded at the end, so I wondered how moviegoers would show respect for this story at the end of this film. Applause just didn’t feel right. A moment of silence out of respect for Chris Kyle was so much more impactful. And, if #AmericanSniper tweets are any representation, it seems that’s the way it’s been throughout much of the country.

Though the story was incredibly tragic, ultimately, it’s serving a purpose: educating our country about the dangers of PTSD. Though we were all silent as we exited the theater that day, we must not remain silent on this important issue. If you know someone you think may be suffering from PTSD, please support them in finding help. Say something and possibly save a life.

Have you seen American Sniper? How did the movie make you feel? Tell us what you thought of this amazing film in the comments below!

Melissa-JudyPosted by Melissa Judy, Social Media and Brand Manager

Survive and Thrive: Our OCONUS Adventure to Okinawa!

The-Young-Retiree-in-OkiI’ll never forget how I felt when my husband mentioned we might be moving to Okinawa, Japan for three years. “Verbal orders,” he told me. This meant the move was not set in stone, but he should know for sure any day, and we should start preparing! I felt sick to my stomach and tears burned the back of my eyes. But I couldn’t let him see me upset over something that was going to be beneficial for his career.

Then the orders fell through and I released the biggest sigh of relief!

We began talking about all of the reasons why it was awesome that we didn’t have to go. Not long after, he told me again, “Verbal orders…to a different command in Okinawa.” Talk about an ironic twist of fate. I was stressed. I was heartbroken. I was scared!

Once again, I kept the emotions hidden from him, but openly sobbed on the phone with my grandma the next day. When I married him, I made a commitment to myself, and to him, that wherever the Navy sent him, I would not only follow, but I would bloom where we were planted.

I opened up to him about my fears; there’s no sense in keeping it all in. And if you are, I would encourage you to talk to your spouse – if they’re anything like mine, they’ll know exactly how you feel, but could be putting on a strong front for you. This is a great time to encourage each other through the move!

We hit Pinterest together and I created two boards: “Travel: Okinawa” and “Travel: Asia” to get us inspired about the move. We started researching all of the amazing things we would get the chance to experience once we arrived. We started looking at the MWR and MCCS websites, and dreaming of the trips we would save our money to go on.

The-Young-Retiree-in-Oki2The minute I landed in Tokyo, I was smitten with the country and knew Okinawa was going to be an amazing adventure! When we got settled, we created a bucket list: “101 Okinawa Things in 1,001 Days.” With silly things like eat at 50 new restaurants, and stay at 6 (as yet undiscovered) resorts on the island! We’re also doing free things like collecting a jar of sea glass, and visiting various castle ruins. We even included some lofty ideas like visit Kathmandu or Bali, hike Mt. Fuji, and walk on the Great Wall of China!

We’ve crossed seven things off our list and are working on five others! I never, in a million years, thought I would be vacationing overseas, let alone living there! I carry my bucket list in my purse, and on the weekends we look at it to see what we can cross off. Whether we book a tour through ITT to go to the world’s biggest tug of war, see battle sites around the island, or if we hop in the car and pull over when we see beautiful beaches… we get out there and enjoy our new home!

If you’re looking at overseas orders (or even orders on the other side of the country), and find it a little overwhelming and paralyzing: take a deep breath, cry it out, then hop on the internet and research all of the fun, once-in-a-lifetime things you’ll be able to do. You’ll get so much more out of your time at your new home if you live positively, make an adventure list, and get busy crossing things off!

Have you ever moved out of the United States? How did you bloom where you were planted?

elizabeth-osbornPosted by Elizabeth Osborn, a Navy Spouse, living in Okinawa with her husband, enjoys a life of leisure during their time abroad by being active in several spouse groups both through the military and in the local community. She blogs about their adventures and her experiences at The Young Retiree.

Getting Out: 4 Reasons I Won’t Miss Active Duty Life

sailor-saying-goodbye-to-wifeWe’re getting out. After 22 years of service, my husband is making the transition to civilian life. I’ve been by his side for 13 of those years, and I’ll admit, I’m finding it hard to accept my new role as something other than a military spouse. There are so many things I’m going to miss about military life, which I wrote about here, but let’s be honest: there are definitely things I won’t miss once we’re on ‘the other side.’

I won’t miss things like:

Saying goodbye. In our 13 years together, my husband and I spent at least eight of those years living separately thanks to deployments, unaccompanied tours, separations due to employment, or long term training. Words cannot capture the dread that would build in my heart in the weeks approaching a deployment, the desperation of the last night before the dreaded flight, the weight of the ceremony, the emptiness of the car ride home. I am forever thankful for the service and sacrifice of those still deploying, but I am even more grateful it will never be my husband’s service, or our sacrifice, again.

“Rank” discrimination. While military spouses officially have no rank, in my opinion, many perpetrate class-based discrimination against their fellow spouses. As a senior enlisted spouse, I found myself shunned from some events since my husband was not an officer. Simultaneously, I was penalized by junior enlisted spouses for living in a household that made too much money. Let’s stop separating ourselves and support each other for what we are: people joined in a common life experience, supporting our active-duty spouses, while raising families and meeting our own life goals. Together we’re stronger, right?

Keeping up with the Joneses. My last few years as a military spouse turned me into brand-name loving fiend. Prior to relocating to our last duty station, I never owned a Coach purse, and I wouldn’t have even considered spending what we did on my most recent purchase from Louis Vuitton. But spending money on brand name goodies seems to be an ingrained part of military life: from the healthy Kate Spade selection at the Exchange, to the brand name clothes, to the status cars. It seems like everyone is trying to out-do each other, and that’s probably why a lot of military families are in debt, in my opinion. I don’t know if post military life will change my ways, but now that I’m backing away from the ‘forest,’ I can see the trees …but, that doesn’t mean I’m giving up my purses!

The sense of entitlement. Though we’ve all played a role in our spouse’s career, we’re still military dependents, and the benefits granted to are because of our service members. As an Army/Air Force civilian employee and volunteer on post, I have witnessed numerous cases of spouses behaving badly at all levels. All the services and support we have access to are benefits, not entitlements, which can be taken away. And if you don’t write your Congressman, some of them might well be a thing of the past. Military spouses who want to benefit from the sense of community on their installations should be ready to stand up and contribute to it; if you don’t like the events the FRG is holding, volunteer to help plan a function. If you don’t feel there are enough military guards manning the crosswalks in front of your child’s school, help organize a group of parents to do the job. Start being part of the solution!

Sure, it’s easy to point out the things I won’t miss about military life. But what really matters is your own experience, the bonds you formed, and the amazing places you’ve lived, all because of a lifestyle that most don’t have the chance to live. I’ll see you on ‘the other side!’

Can you relate to any of these? Will it be different in the civilian world? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Laura-Yates-headshotPosted by Laura Yates, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Army spouse