Tag 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 www.elizabethclairewood.com 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

Military Life, Work, Motherhood, and Grad School? Yes! You Can Do It All!

If you asked me to describe my graduate school journey and “life” a few weeks ago, I would say I was doing what anyone else would do: I work. I have two small children. My husband was active duty when I started grad school, and had three sets of deployment orders, then ended up going through a medical board and was granted honorable separation from the military. Did I mention I had our daughter during grad school, too?


I’ve held the titles of working professional, military spouse, mom, single parent, expecting mom, and graduate student. And for short periods of time during my three year pursuit to a Masters degree, I held all of those titles concurrently.

Parenting, work, and grad school is hard.

How did I do it?

First, rally the troops. By this I mean, let your work-life, family, and friends network know you are attending grad school (or whatever you’re pursuing). There will be days where you’ll need extra support and understanding after pulling an all-nighter with a fussy infant and finalizing a research report. You may appreciate the latte a co-worker picks up, or a freezer meal you stashed in your refrigerator for a gotta-feed-the-kids-but-I-can’t-keep-my-eyes-open-to-cook night.

Keep an eye out for child care. If you are working and going to school, you’ll need child care. In fact, you’ll probably need more than one child care option for your working hours and your school hours. I had multiple child care arrangements; I swapped play dates with friends when I had to have quiet, dedicated time to write and research without the distraction of kids; I utilized on-base resources, neighbors, local child care providers, my parents, and a series of teenage babysitters. Your college may even have child care resources available. Call a Military OneSource consultant, ask for child care resources through your college, and ask your nearest installation to help you access local child care resources. You may even quality for a fee assistance program.

Befriend an academic advisor. Set yourself up for success by exploring all of the resources your college provides. Even if you are attending school online, you should have a point of contact to help you navigate online and in-person resources, such as access to your library, career services, tutoring support, networking opportunities, and more. Instead of jumping into an academic program, explore the support services the college provides before you need them.

For example, I had a good relationship with my advisor and in my first semester realized full time graduate school with full time work and parenting wasn’t going to work for me. I was able to reduce my course load to a part-time schedule during times when my life was very busy. The flexibility to change my course load really helped me during those unpredictable life changes. It is important to understand the length of time you have to complete a degree program, the withdraw dates, and the downfalls for changing your academic plan or program completion pace. While I was able to keep up my course work and stay enrolled in school while I had our second child, I do know other classmates who decided to take a semester leave of absence. Life will happen while you are in school – plan for the unpredictable by befriending an academic advisor.

Be kind to yourself. As a military spouse, you are capable of juggling many competing priorities, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Be kind to yourself. There may be some activities you have to give up while pursuing your academic program. I had to reduce my volunteer hours and social activities. I often missed weekend events because I was working on school work. I had to learn to say “no” and prioritize what must get done, and what could wait.

Keep your eye on the prize. Imagine what it feels like to complete your degree program. How will your new degree enhance your skills set or propel you into a new career? When life gets busy you may have to remind yourself why you are going to school. It’s not an easy task to balance being a military spouse, mom, working professional, AND student – but I know you can do it!

Have you had multiple things to juggle in your military life to finish school? Share your story with us in the comments!

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information 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

What is STEM and Why Should Military Spouses Know About It?

I’m probably far from what one might imagine a military spouse to be. Despite being born a U.S. citizen, I was raised in Canada and ended up serving in the Canadian Army years after my parents divorced and re-settled on either side of the border. Having often served alongside U.S. military forces, when I eventually made my permanent home in the U.S. and was able to transition leadership experience and education to a promising career with the Department of Defense as a contractor.


I thought I was rather well-equipped to handle the ups and downs of military life until I married a fire fighter in 2013, who also happened to be a member of the Army National Guard, and whose unit was a one-way 5-hour drive from our home in another state.

Within weeks of our wedding, we received news that my husband would be deploying, and in just two months, he was off to occupational and work-up training in two other states. This subsequently meant he was away most of the period leading up to the actual deployment. Despite an amazing husband and my two decades of working in a military environment, I would be the one to have to adapt to her partner’s erratic schedule, instead of the other way around. Having left the Washington, D.C. area to settle in my husband’s hometown, where no one knew my name, I knew there would be some challenges.

Nothing helped me navigate those challenges more than my other loves: science and entrepreneurship. I began writing and publishing articles online about the relationship between science, technology, and society while developing the concept for my business, when I received news that I was accepted into the Biomedical Engineering PhD program at a research university near our home.

stem-field-military-spousesHaving already graduated from programs in the social and military sciences, I was fortunate to have been able to complete a flexible Master of Science degree in Biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University while still working full-time and traveling back-and-forth to see my then-fiancé. Even as a budding scientist, I discovered I could serve as a bridge between scientists, engineers, policy makers, and operators.

While a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) may not be for everyone, it offers many benefits that serve to meet the unique demands of any military household.

First, from a pragmatic perspective, a STEM foundation offers highly portable job and career opportunities. The foundational knowledge and experience one acquires in any of these areas can be applied across many different economic sectors, from health care to industrial design and mechanics to teaching, regardless of where you live. Practically speaking, it teaches you how to approach problem-solving, and can even enable you to perform basic household repairs – for instance, minor electrical or mechanical problems – rather than take on the expense of hiring a professional.

Most importantly, STEM offers military spouses the potential for independence and personal satisfaction. The skills one acquires in STEM are always in demand, putting the military spouse in the driver’s seat when it comes to their careers. These key services and skills allow military spouses to develop flexible careers with schedules that suit his or her needs.

For me, since making the decision to undertake full-time STEM research (like my colleague, whose husband is in the Navy), I get up every day excited to get to the lab. Knowing I have the chance to directly tackle a global biomedical challenge from start to finish, and to work with such an intelligent and diverse group of people, is hugely rewarding. Now that my husband is an Army Flight Medic, along with the EMT knowledge and experience he has as a Rescue Technician, we have even more to keep us connected during the times we are apart, and that’s the icing on the cake.

Have you ever considered a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics? Share your story with us!

Posted by Hollie Ryan, M.S., M.A., military spouse and NMFA scholarship recipient