Tag Archives: new to the military

5 Tips for the Military Significant Other

You’re dating a service member.

I know, I know–the uniform really helps. But now that you’ve met your special someone, what can you expect from military life? You don’t have a military ID (and can’t get on to most bases), you aren’t the next-of-kin to get info during deployments, and you’re not getting the warmest welcome from the spouses of your significant other’s co-workers. How can you support your significant other when the military doesn’t recognize you as anyone important?

Well, for starters, you are important! Every military spouse started where you did, and for every salty spouse who doesn’t extend the warmest welcome, there are plenty more who’d love to get to know you and answer questions you might have. Your service member needs your unwavering support while they focus on their mission!

But sometimes it’s hard to get involved with military life when you’re not really “allowed…” (I’ve been there, I know how it feels). What do you do next?

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Here are some tips:

Have your service member talk to his or her command Family Readiness Officer, Ombudsman, or FRG Leader. It’s often common for significant others to be added to email lists while a unit is deployed. Your significant other can ask to have you added to those phone trees and email lists. They can sometimes have you attend pre-deployment briefings, too. You may even receive the same materials at the deployment briefing that the spouses receive. The only difference between you and a spouse is a ring and a marriage certificate; you both support the mission and the service member.

Find a support group online. One of my closest MilSpouse friends, Dani, found herself alone and unsure of what to do next when her boyfriend (now husband) was deployed to Afghanistan. She lived in a town where there wasn’t a huge military community, and she didn’t have access to any other military spouses to guide her. Looking for advice, comfort, and support, she found groups on Facebook, started blogging, and found other military spouse bloggers (like me!) to connect with. Don’t underestimate social media, but beware of the haters–they will be waiting…

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Accept that military life will never make 100% sense all the time…and it certainly won’t be fair. I hated hearing people say I was “issued” to my significant other, and I either needed to get on board and roll with the punches, or hit the road. I quickly learned that missed birthdays, 24 hour watch billets, barracks checks, and new orders weren’t exactly going to make my relationship easier. But as soon as I accepted that military life isn’t always fair, it allowed me to start appreciating the time with my service member more than I had before.

Find great information from military family support organizations! I might be tooting my own horn here, but the National Military Family Association prides itself on strengthening the ones who stand behind the uniform. And yes, that’s you, significant other. Our team of experts is here to provide you with news, information, and guidance on issues surrounding military life. Everything you might want to know–from TRICARE to Post-9/11 GI bill info to PCS moves–can be found on our website, MilitaryFamily.org.

Subscribe to this blog! You’ll get all the important information about the in’s and out’s of issues affecting military families from our website, but if you want the real-deal, nitty-gritty stories from the homefront, this blog is where you want to be. We’ve got advice on how to Survive and Thrive at specific military bases, how to win at Military Balls, and even how to fill out a US Postal Service customs form to send your love a care package. If it’s anything about your military life, it’s here!

Being a military boyfriend or girlfriend is a special time and a special honor. It’s something your civilian friends just don’t fully understand; but there are plenty of ways to connect, learn about military life, and be as supportive as any spouse. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment, or engage with us on our social media channels!

Are you a military significant other? What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Best Songs for Deployments: And the Award Goes to…

I’ve heard that music is both deeply healing and personal to some people. I’d agree with that, especially because I’m one of those people. I associate songs with memorable times in my life, and frequently use music to change my mood. My favorite songs come from the best times in my life. And I’m not embarrassed to say most of them are from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I’ll admit it: I probably peaked in high school.

I’ve had music playlists for just about everything; working out, road trips, driving to the beach, driving home from the beach, girls night out, breakups, being in love, getting hyped before a game. You name it, I’d make a playlist. Then I’d turn them into CD’s, which I still play in my car to this day. (Take that, technology!)

No surprise, the playlists continued into military life. A few years ago, I had a pretty fun little playlist to get me through my husband’s deployment. I still love most of those songs, but I’ve got a different perspective now, and a better song selection, I think. And I’ve put them into a few categories that might speak to your life as you face a deployment of your own.

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Best song to play during Week One of deployment: “Soldier,” by Gavin DeGraw
It’s ironic that Gavin DeGraw sings this song in the rain, because that’s basically what week one of deployment is like for many military spouses: lots of face rain (crying). Let this song remind you to be strong for your service member and your family. It’s okay to be sad, but know you’re going to get through it.

Keep this lyric handy: My aim is so true, I wanna show you, I’ll try forever. I’m never gonna say ‘surrender.’

Best song to sing while drinking wine with your deployment buddy: “Hold On,” by Wilson Phillips
Sometimes, we just need to take it back to the 90’s girl band awesomeness. Sing your little heart out with your deployment bestie and pat yourself on the back for being one more day closer to your spouse coming home. Just hold on for one more day (see what I did there?). And because I feel like it’s a crime not to mention these two, honorable mention goes to “Tell It To My Heart,” by Taylor Dayne, and “Say My Name,” by Destiny’s Child.

Keep this lyric handy: Yeah, I know that there is pain, but you hold on for one more day, and you break free, break from the chains.

Best song to send to your service member: “Bring It On Home,” by Little Big Town
Your loved one needs your unconditional encouragement and support during every moment of their deployment. Some days, they might be homesick. Other days, they’re mission-focused and distant. This song is the perfect way to say “I love you and support you. I’m keeping the home-fire burning.” Cue all the feels.

Keep this lyric handy: When your long day is over, and you can barely drag your feet. The weight of the world is on your shoulders, I know what you need. Bring it on home to me.

Best song to blast when you’re sick of this deployment: “Riot,” by Three Days Grace
I know we’ve all had those moments when we’d give anything to bring our spouse home RIGHT NOW. The kids are out of control, the dryer just broke, and we can’t clone ourselves. Channel that frustration and blast this in your minivan. Just don’t actually start a riot, and maybe cover your kids’ ears when you listen to this song.

Keep this lyric handy: If you feel so angry, so ripped up, so stepped on, you’re not the only one refusing to back down. You’re not the only one.

Best song when you’re missing your love: “Fall,” by Clay Walker
It’s bound to happen: your heart is aching and you just want to roll over in bed and put your arm around your bae. Nothing would make the day better than to be wrapped up in their arms, safe from the world. This song is the perfect reminder that marriage is a partnership, and even though deployment is tough, you can get through it by leaning on each other for strength.

Keep this lyric handy: Go on and fall apart, fall into these arms of mine. I’ll catch you every time you fall. Go on and lose it all, every doubt, every fear, every worry, every tear. I’m right here, baby fall.

Best song to remind you why you stand behind the uniform: “Star Spangled Banner,” sang by Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV, 1991
Some spouses may be decades into military life, others may not even be married yet, but it’s easy to forget why we support our significant others. Day-to-day schedules overwhelm us, and commissaries, base gate checks, and long waits at the pharmacies just don’t give you the warm and fuzzies of American pride. But let me tell you: when you need a gut check, Whitney Houston delivers. And this emotionally charged version of the National Anthem will renew your drive to be proud and supportive during the rest of this deployment.

What are some of your favorite songs to get you through a deployment? Share them with us!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Five Friends Every Military Spouse Needs

After 10 years of life as a military spouse, my network of friends has become huge. Everywhere we go, I am able to find a new tribe of friends who hold me up, encourage me, and keep me laughing even when life is tough. Even though the faces are different, I’ve come to realize that my tribe always seems to contain the same kinds of people.

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The Pollyanna
When I get really negative and whiny, this is the friend I need the most. She’s always able to see the positive in every situation. She can see the little things that make each duty station special–even if it’s the way the light shines in at an angle this time of the year, or how beautiful those yellow flowers are off the highway. She knows we can “do anything for a season,” and knows we have to “bloom where we are planted.” She’s the perfect person to get me to see the bright side.

The Resourceful Friend
This friend knows all the in’s and out’s of military life. She can tell you the difference between TRICARE Prime and Standard, she knows all the entitlements and benefits that come along with military life, and can decipher an LES with her eyes closed. I call her when I can’t quite figure out how to get a referral, or I want to know more about using the GI bill. She knows everything about everything, and if she doesn’t actually know, she knows where we can find out.

The Go-To Friend
I often meet this friend on the first day we get settled into a new duty station, and I am waiting in the office of Child, Youth & School Services on base, or the school, or at the hospital, trying to fill out forms. She offers to be my emergency contact, and not long later, we’re getting together for play dates and coffee. She’s the first person I call when I need someone to watch the kids so I can go to the doctor, and we routinely swap kids for date nights when our husbands are home. I can always lean on her when “home” is too far away. Before long, this friend becomes family.

The Wine Night Friend
This friend is always within walking distance…and for good reason. She comes to every event with a bottle of wine in hand, and doesn’t judge me for opening it during our summer play date in the backyard. She’s not too serious at first, but is willing to talk about the hard stuff after a glass or two. She’s often my confidant and closest friend.

The No-BS Friend
As nice as it is to have a friend who will sympathize with me, what I really need is a friend who is going to tell me to suck it up, encourage me to change out of my sweatpants, and get out of the house. This is often the friend who calls me on day three of a deployment, and helps me stop feeling sorry for myself. Some people may think she’s too rough around the edges, but she’s the perfect person to stop me from wallowing in self pity.

These five friends have been my support network in all the places we’ve lived on our military journey. I love them, appreciate them, and think they’re awesome. In a life where we have to rely on our tribe to get us through another day of deployment, a uncertain medical board process, or even a quick PCS across the world, I’m glad to have this bunch in my corner.

Do you have any of these friends in your milspouse tribe? Who else would you add?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

But I Didn’t Really Know What I “Signed up” for…

News flash: military life isn’t a Goosebumps Choose Your Own Adventure book. But it can be scary, and the choices you make might not turn out the way you think, because I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect when they marry into the military.

I wish people would stop saying “You know what you signed up for.”

Because, actually, I didn’t.

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Telling a military spouse that he or she should know what to expect out of military life is condescending and should be banned. Sure, there are some obvious challenges, but no one’s challenges are ever exactly alike, and by bunching them together and saying they’re all the same can make someone feel like their experiences really don’t matter. It makes them draw back from their peers, and disconnect from the ‘support’ network they thought they could count on.

Military spouses, we have to stop telling each other to suck it up. Each time we do, we crack the foundation in our solidarity a little bit more. We need to support each other through the ups and downs of military life. Let’s be in this together.

I didn’t know what I signed up for. I knew the title of the book, but I had no idea who the characters were, what the plot twists would be, or how it might end.

So why do we tell each other “You knew what you were getting into?”

How could we know all the twist and turns of a life we hadn’t even lived yet? Some challenges require us to stand there in a full-blown, can’t-get-through-this moment in order to come out stronger on the other side. How else do we glean the knowledge (and survival skills, am I right?!) to pass along to MilSpouses who follow us?

If we don’t leave the bread crumb trail, who will?

When we marry a service member, we have no way of knowing what plot twists will be waiting. We might not have the tools to fix cracks in our relationship. We might not know how to process the emotional stress of going through labor alone during a deployment. And we certainly won’t ever be able to understand why fate calls on our loved one to pay the ultimate sacrifice.

We can’t read the book of life backwards, people!

I really appreciate military spouses who tell me some honest, raw, emotional truth based on what they’ve lived. There were times they didn’t want to finish the book, but they kept reading. And now they know things others don’t. They have suffered and survived.

Imagine if we didn’t have those people in our lives, but rather, ones who tell us to ‘suck it up’ because we knew what we were getting into?

Did we choose our own adventure? We sure did. Are we strong enough to survive? Absolutely. But should we have to ‘suck it up’ because we ‘knew what we were getting into?’ Absolutely not. We deserve better. And we owe it to each other.

Do you think a military spouse really knows what they ‘sign up for’ when they marry a service member? Tell us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

No Hum-Bugs Allowed! Everything You Need to Know About European Christmas Markets!

We live in a highly politically correct society. Growing up, Christmas parties were the norm in grade school. Today, you can barely get away with having a “Holiday Party” or a “Winter Social.”  On the other hand, most of America is upset about a red cup at Starbucks.

To be completely honest, I don’t get too bent up about what words to use (despite being a writer!), and I’m adult enough to respect other people’s ways of life.

However, since moving to Germany, Christmas has taken on a whole new life of it’s own for me!

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Christmas Markets
If you are currently stationed in Europe, you’ve probably started hearing the buzz of the famous Christmas Markets…and for good reason!

Despite not even needing to be Christian to absolutely love and enjoy these delightful markets, the name still remains the same as it has for hundreds of years. Depending on where you are, it may vary, but it all means the same, “Christmas Markets.”

Here in Germany, locals, service members, and tourists, alike, all go nuts for the annual Weinacht or KristKindles Markt. You could be a direct descendant of Scrooge himself, yet somehow, attending any market will surely put you in a jolly mood!

Have you ever walked into a room and just felt an electricity in the air? This is what Christmas Markets are like! The smell of pine in the air, the most beautifully handcrafted items, food so delicious and, of course, Glühwein, the seasonal mulled wine, all create this magical feeling. It’s as if there is a “No Hum-Bugs Allowed” rule in the market vicinity!

Whether you are stationed in Germany, Italy, England, or elsewhere in Europe, your country is sure to have their own versions of Christmas Markets, with the same, general theme of putting anyone in a good mood and serving up delicious food and drinks–all with an enchanting Christmas theme.

Shopping
Do you dread Christmas shopping? While many markets may have similar items, each market often has some unique and amazing items for sale. This makes holiday shopping a blast! Plus, who doesn’t love drinking warm wine while window shopping and looking at beautifully crafted items!? Your friends and family back home will love receiving thoughtful gifts from the foreign country you are living in, instead of the typical gifts we often receive that don’t have a unique touch.

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Culture
The Christmas markets are also perfect opportunities to learn more about your local culture as well. Each country has their own versions of Santa, and the kids are sure to have a great time seeing the beautiful costumes and learning about the legends and traditions.

So, whether this is your first year stationed in Europe, or your fifth, like us, you’ll never get tired and bored of these magical markets. Go find a local one, or even make a trip of it and explore some of the world’s largest and oldest (Dresden, Nurnberg, Strasbourg) and most enchanting Christmas markets this year.

Some popular markets to attend are:
Germany: Dresden, Nurnberg and Koln
France: Strasbourg, Colmar and Lille
Italy: Verona, Balzano and Trento
UK: Winchester Cathedral, Caerphilly and Liverpool

Planning on going to a Market in Germany?  See what other tips and places the EconomicalExcursionists suggest while in Deutschaland!

Have you ever been to a Christmas Market in Europe? Which was your favorite?

LeAnna Brown currently doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, so to delay major life decisions, her and her husband, Andy, have decided to move to Europe and travel the world via Travel Hacking. After almost 40 countries down in four years and only a few thousand dollars spent a year on travel, they have learned to penny-pinch their way to a bare minimalist lifestyle to help them see and appreciate the world. Read more about their close-to-free travel adventures at EconomicalExcursionists.com, or join in with the EE community on the Facebook page.

30 MORE Reasons We’re Thankful for This Military Life!

We know military life can be filled with up’s and down’s, and with plenty of reasons to be sad, mad, let down, and lonely. Most military spouses, however, can find many more reasons to be grateful, joyful, excited, and thankful (and we love that about you!).

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Have you been following our #30DaysofThanks (Military Family Edition) on our Facebook page? There, we’re highlighting some of the awesome reasons why military families, like yours, are thankful for your military life. Follow us on Facebook to check out the other 30 Days of Thanks posts!

But that got us thinking: there are WAY more than 30 reasons that we’re thankful for our military journey! Here are a few other reasons:

  • Having a friend in 20 cities around the world
  • Never having to look farther than your Facebook feed for travel advice
  • Not being the only one to ask a stranger in the CDC to be your emergency contact
  • The smell of jet fuel/gunpowder
  • Not having to worry about your power bill in the winter (God bless base housing!)
  • Having a chance to start over every 2-4 years
  • Curtains in every style, for every room
  • Starbucks mugs from all over the world
  • Frequent flyer miles and hotel points from PCSing and visiting family so much
  • Cheap lunch at the chow hall (best date ever!)
  • The National Anthem before a movie begins
  • That one spouse who knows how to make all the baked goods
  • Friends who bring wine on bad days
  • Not having to explain how you are feeling because the other spouses ‘get it’
  • Irreverent military humor
  • Seeing other people stop and thank a service member (thank you, humanity)
  • When the colors play on base and seeing everyone stop/stand at attention
  • Commissary prices!
  • Running into an old military spouse friend at your new installation
  • All the kick-butt women in uniform!
  • Gold Star families
  • Getting into base housing without a wait list!
  • The ability for dependents to continue their education, thanks to the Post 9/11 GI Bill
  • Hourly child care on base (and the awesome people who work there!)
  • Friends who open their doors during the holidays when you can’t make it home to family
  • When you find out your spouse made the list to be promoted, take a command, etc.
  • Having a Christmas card list a mile long because you have moved so many times and have THAT MANY FRIENDS you still keep in contact with
  • The unique furnishings, or souvenirs, you pick up from different assignments, TDYs, etc., around the world
  • When your spouse shows up to your child’s sporting event in uniform (because they are racing home from work), and random people come up and thank him or her for their service.
  • Planning a PCS move and stopping to stay with military friends along the way to your new home.

Do any of these reasons hit home for you? What would you add to this list?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

5 Ways to Savor “The Lull” of Military Life!

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Over the past few years, military life has afforded our family many changes and calamities. We have survived a deployment, reintegration, and we moved across the country (again). We have closed up shop at one duty station and set up our lives in another new town. We have spoken countless goodbyes, unpacked all of our worldly possessions, and felt the sting of loneliness being new in unfamiliar, uncharted territory.

After one full year at our current assignment we have nested, settled, and established our lives in our professional, educational, religious, and social communities. And here we are now at what I call, The Lull.

A lull, as defined by Merriam Webster, is a “temporary calm, quiet, or stillness.” In military life, The Lull is a phase of time that can feel hard-fought and hard-won. Much of the time, life in the military demands that we live in fight-or-flight mode. For many of us, we almost forget how to live during the downtime; life without furious activity feels unfamiliar and awkward.

For the past handful of years, circumstances have conditioned my husband and me to function on little time together, a “B.L.U.F.” (Bottom Line Up Front) style of communication, and to be honest, a tendency toward a frenzied and often frazzled atmosphere in our home.

At our current assignment there are no deployments, few TDYs, and for once, my soldier has some pretty regular and predictable hours. Thankfully, there have been no late nights, no middle-of-the-night crises, no separations, no time in grueling training or study for school, and we have nothing else to unpack or organize.

I am finding myself at a loss with how to behave with all of this sacred family time. Instead of becoming hyper-vigilant about the next hard thing on the horizon, I’m choosing to focus this season on savoring The Lull. This rare period in our family’s op-tempo is a perfect time to refocus and refresh a few areas our lives.

Here are my 5 suggestions for savoring The Lull.

1. Make your marriage your mission
Just like any military mission, our marriages need a clear focus and goal. If having a dynamic relationship with your spouse has taken a hit during times of stress, now is the time to address it. During this respite, re-calibrate what matters in your relationship. Spend some intentional time together. Set aside time to really connect. Maybe that looks like a regular date night, going to a marriage conference or retreat, seeking professional counseling, or incorporating a nightly practice of sitting together and reflecting on the day’s blessings. However big or small, the investment in your relationship, as a couple, will help to establish patterns for defining your priorities.

2. Let your home be a place of rest
As a typically Type-A person, I tend to focus on making our home run on efficiency. With cleaning schedules, chore-charts for the kids, meal plans, and regular family budget-meetings, I can turn our home into a process-driven, tightly-run ship. As military spouses, there are times when that level of competence is a necessity. In certain seasons, resolute organization is the only way I stay mission ready. During The Lull, some of that compulsiveness should be traded for rest. Structure is good, but so is taking a breather. I want our home to be a haven of refreshment for my soldier, myself, and our children. We aim to savor meals around the table, have family game nights, enjoy the scenery our current duty station affords, and we especially enjoy quiet when can find it.

savor-the-lull--pinterest3. Let this be your time
During a deployment or PCS, you may not have the flexibility to focus on your own needs. Often, the needs of the military, your spouse, or family comes first. During The Lull, it is the perfect time to find your groove. Take up knitting or photography, learn a musical instrument, practice yoga, join a book club, get a part-time job, or enroll in a college course. If you find yourself in a situation where there’s a bit of a reprieve from the demands of the typical military hustle, use the time to fill up your own tank. None of us can run on fumes! As human beings, we aren’t built for long periods of physical, emotional, or mental stress. Take this time to make sure you are finding the stillness, rest, recreation, or relief you need.

4. Find community
John Donne once said, “No man is an island unto himself.” This adage is certainly true in military life. Were it not for unit wives, auxiliary ministry groups, social media, and real-life friends, I don’t know that I’d survive the madness of what our military duty asks of me. This is true during times of tension and strife, but this is also true during The Lull. It’s vital to our marriages and families to find connection with others. Invite the neighbors over for a barbecue, join a church, connect with others in your town who share hobbies or interests. It may feel natural to hunker down at home during a time of reprieve, but we all need a network of camaraderie. Go out and find your people!

5. Remember your “why’s”
Those of us in military service have dozens of varying reasons for our affiliations. To some, it’s a steady paycheck, a strict sense of patriotism and pride in our great nation, and to others it may even be a calling to protect and defend. There’s no better time than The Lull for you and your spouse to recall your motivations for serving. Call to mind why you got started, recollect your high times and victories, revive that sense of purpose, and determine your strengths for going forward, intentionally. It will be this sense of significance that will anchor and sustain you, your marriage, and your family when the going gets tough. Being principled in your convictions goes a long way in maintaining positivity and resolve.

The Lull doesn’t seem to come around often. But if, like me, you find yourself in the midst of some downtime and don’t quite know how to respond, savor it!

What do you do when you’re in The Lull? Share your thoughts with us!

claire-woodClaire Wood writes about her own struggles to make sense of military life at 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.