What is life in the military like? Well, I don’t know. I’m not in the military and neither is my husband. In fact, we are contractors, so when we have to work overseas, we are basically stuck in limbo somewhere between military and civilian lives.
Currently, we are living at, and are stationed in, beautiful Bavaria, Germany as contractors who support the mission and efforts of the U.S Army. We both work all day on the Army post and we work with Americans; specifically, military members and their spouses. Working overseas as a contractor, we are much more involved in military lives than even contractors in the states. We have most of the same access to amenities on post since we are overseas, so I can enjoy American delicacies like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and Reese Peanut Butter Cups, despite living abroad.
What this boils down to is our whole support system comes solely from the military community.
But being contractors, this also means we stay put, as opposed to the typical military PCS schedule. My sister is an Army spouse, and every time she had to PCS, my heart went out to her. How could she stay so strong every 3-4 years, pack up her home, leave a job behind, and move to a strange, new place only to know that in a matter of years, she would have to uproot herself and family, yet again? She struggled to find jobs because many employers only want applicants who will stay around. She struggled with having to open boxes of broken and damaged goods from incompetent movers. And while I know it is never easy to have to make new friends in new places, she always seemed to fair well for herself.
One thing I have learned about the military community is that you can make some fiercely loyal friends. Living overseas, we needed a support system, a “Germany family,” if you will. We needed people we could spend holidays with when we couldn’t afford or make the trip back to the states. We needed people that could understand the nuances of living OCONUS. We needed people to just be there for us when we needed someone to talk to.
And we found it.
We found it in countless military families and friends, but specifically in a small group of couples who became that family; we traveled together, had game nights together, were there for births of babies, and more. They were our Germany family.
Rewind four years ago, when we moved to Germany and started living the quasi- military life. I was secretively grateful I didn’t have to go through PCS season…that is, until three years later when I did.
Except it I wasn’t moving anywhere. It was time for my friends to find their new home, and PCS out of Germany. The first round of friends received their orders and were packing up. Tears were shed and a final goodbye dinner was held. For the following months, there was a gap in our group, yet we still held our monthly game nights, and those of us left still traveled and explored Germany and Europe, and continued to be each other’s support system.
Then the next ones started purging their home in preparation for their upcoming orders. And just as the first family left, we reminisced on the memories, hugged, and eventually said our goodbyes. No matter how many this-isn’t-a-goodbye kind of speeches there were. I knew in my heart, most of them really were, and yet, they never got easier.
Before long, it was just me, my husband, and our final ‘family members.’ We knew what was around the corner. As my best friend started looking online for a home to rent at their next duty station, or would mention something about where they were going, I would go into denial mode. Surely if I just didn’t recognize or believe they were leaving, they wouldn’t, right? Maybe, if we just wouldn’t talk about it, they could just stay here with us! We could continue to go through life together, embracing each new stage with the love and support that you can only get from such close friends or family.
But that’s not the way the military life works, is it?
Sure enough, we had to go through the same heart-wrenching, tear-jerking dinner that included all the same conversations:
“We will always stay friends!”
“Thank you all for all the memories, we will never forget them!”
“The Army is a small place; we’ll see you in the future!”
But as the moment set in and they took off for their new home, I knew the reality of the situation: I could still see what they were up to on Facebook, but our communication over time would slowly start to fade. I knew they would readjust to their new homes because that is what military members do. They are resilient and become conditioned for frequent up-rooting. While I know it is never easy for them and their families, I’m convinced they have some magic power.
I secretly think military members know some secret on how to move frequently and yet still establish new ‘families,’ homes, and routines wherever they go with relative ease (mostly because I know they HAVE to). I know they will all find new friends, who they would have game nights and dinners with. They would establish new bonds and start their next phase of life.
All while I would be left behind.
While they would be off at spouses clubs meeting other new members in their community, I would be left going to groups, where I suddenly knew nobody. While they are off exploring their new town, I would be left walking the same streets by myself that we once jogged together. Basically, it felt like some horrible relationship breakup where my significant other decided it was time to move on, leaving me with only material token reminders, empty inside jokes that I couldn’t share anymore, and memories of four years that helped to shape who I am today. I was left to cope with an empty heart and home.
At this point, you may be thinking, “So why don’t YOU go out and find new friends!? Stop wallowing in your own sadness and do the same as they did!” And believe me, I do. I try to find new people I can connect with, and that we can rely on. But now, every time I meet someone new, one of my first questions is, “And how much longer do you have here?” The fear of becoming close to yet another person who will move away in a few months sets in.
So, as you prepare for your next PCS move, and the worry and anxiety fills your mind about moving to your new home, remember you are a special breed of resilient, strong people. You have developed coping mechanisms that many of us, average civilians, haven’t quite adapted yet.
I know your move is not easy on you and your family, but don’t forget about your civilian friends. After you have moved on and are posting new BFF selfies, clearly settled into a new life, send your old BFF a quick note to remind them that they are still special to you, and were not just a passing phase in life. Because to us, you’re some of the best people we’ve ever met.
Have you left behind close civilian friends after a PCS? How do you keep in touch?
Posted by LeAnna Brown, an Elementary Certified teacher with a certification in Montessori Ages 6-12, with a background in Special Education. Now living in Germany, she helps military members learn how they can see the world and bring real-life education through travel to their families through her website, Economical Excursionists.