Category Archives: Military spouses

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 Prentice, Content Development Manager

Running Towards an Enhanced Career: Lace Up and GO!

You are at the starting line, with the finish probably no where in sight. A gun goes off. And then you run.

For me, this applies literally–to actual running–and metaphorically to continuing my education. Currently, I’m attempting both. Both journeys are endless pursuits of self-fulfillment and self-improvement.

I started running about five years ago. We had just moved to sunny southern California, and my husband promptly deployed. I knew just a handful of people, had a job that I disliked, and was spending too much time moping about.

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So I ran. I started with up and back loops in my neighborhood. I took the dog for company, and we chatted about how my day went, what was for dinner, and what type of treat he wanted when we got back.

Those first weeks were painful. I was doing Couch25K before that was a ‘real thing,’ and I was frustrated. I remembered, from high school track, what it felt like to go fast, and I remembered my sub-three minute 800 meters. I remembered flying around the track. Now, I was barely wogging (if walking and jogging had a baby) along, even with frequent trudging breaks.

Right now, I am going back to school for an additional certificate in education. I am scared out of my mind. I’ve been out of school for over five years, and this whole program is online. I’m not sure how to pay for this, or how much work it will be, or if it will be worth it in the end.

But I’m trying it. If it is a disaster, at least I tried.

That’s how I viewed running when I started out: even if I am the slowest person on the road, I’m still faster than the person who never left the couch.

So I kept going. I laced up my shoes and pushed myself farther and faster every single day. One day, I was running again, not just jogging or trudging, but flying.

Education isn’t new to me; I’m a teacher. So you could say I’m pretty comfortable around a classroom. However, my program is in teaching English as a Second Language. English is my first, and only, language. Fine, I can throw a few “holas” around, and could probably find the bathroom if lost in France. Beyond that, I’m hopeless. How am I going to be able to teach children who are coming in without any English language skills?

Also, we just moved. Once again, I have no connections to the education world in sunny SoCal. My course requires that I teach sample lessons. I need to find a classroom. I need to do so many things to make this successful.

As the worries about ‘what-if,’ and ‘what-then’ overtake my mind, I think back to the very first race I ever ran post-high school,:an off-road 5K up in the hills of Camp Pendleton with my running buddy. I was so nervous at the starting line, my stomach was knotted up. I was pretty sure I might actually throw up, or pee my pants. Then my friend looked at me, smiled, and the gun went off. There we were, two former track runners conquering this intensely hard trail run together, side by side the whole entire way. The amazing part was that we both placed in our respective age groups. She got second in her group, and I pulled off a first place finish in mine. At that moment, I was hooked. I loved running, and everything about it.

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I’ve run many races since then. I have only placed in one other race–second place in that same trail’s 5K the following year. But each and every time I cross the finish, I am victorious. My journey to that place, in that moment, has been a triumph of my will over my body, the weather, the road, and my negativity.

My favorite races have been the hardest. The Marine Corps Marathon 2012 was the hardest race I ever ran. Completing a marathon less than six months following a PCS move from SoCal to DC, training through humidity and heat, and healing an injured knee, was just plain hard. But nothing would stop me from lining up that morning; not even Superstorm Sandy, and not even the nausea that hits before every race. I hit the wall hard at mile 20, but trucked along, pretty sure that I would need to stop, but willing myself forward. When that Marine handed me my medal, I had tears of absolute joy rolling down my cheeks.

Right now, as I look over my program–the expense of it all, the time required–I’m pretty sure I might throw up. How on earth can I balance military life, being new to my region, raising a toddler, and taking these courses?? But then I remember how satisfying it is to cross that finish line. How rewarding it is to overcome all of the obstacles placed in front of you by the military, by motherhood, by finances, by sheer self-doubt.

So, I’ll lace up my shoes, pay that hefty bill, and move forward. I will overcome everything in my path. I am a runner. I am a mother. I am a determined, courageous, highly-educated military spouse who WILL advance my career. Because when I reach the finish line of life, I don’t ever want to say I didn’t get off the couch in any part of this journey.

Have you ever conquered something awesome in your military life? What made you push through and do it?

meg-flanaganPosted by Meg Flanagan, a special and elementary education teacher who holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. In addition to classroom experience, she has also worked in private tutoring and home schools. Meg is passionate about education advocacy for all children, but especially for children with special needs and children of military and state department personnel. You can find Meg online at MilKids Education Consulting, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

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 Prentice, Content Development Manager

I’m Scared for What’s Next: A Military Spouse’s Thoughts on the Paris Attacks

There are some things in life that, no matter how hard you try, just don’t make sense. No amount of contemplation, insight, or prayer can bring sense to the evil of this world. September 11, 2001 shaped the way I grew up, and the way I view things around me. It took away my ability to see good and heroic things happening, and replaced it with fear and uncertainty.

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As a military spouse, fear can become a daily emotion. When tragedy strikes, our worlds seem to close in on us as we run the gamut of possible outcomes for our loved one; will they deploy, and where? When will training start? What holidays will he miss? How dangerous will it be?

President Obama recently said that he would keep troops in Afghanistan through 2017. This decision, sadly, didn’t seem to take any of us by surprise despite earlier pledges to withdraw them. My gut is twisted thinking of the other military families who won’t have their loved ones home for the holidays. My heart aches for the families who received news that their service members are being sent to relieve those left in Afghanistan or to protect our nation in other remote parts of the globe.

It’s been 14 years of war, and the state of the world isn’t getting any better. I’m not ready for an endless war, where places we thought were safe can become the frontlines of new types of battle. Places like Paris–beautiful, beloved Paris–a place where dozens of my friends have visited, even lived. Why would any evil target Paris?

As I was processing the death tolls, the injuries, and the eventual claim of who was responsible, I was overcome with emotion. I’m scared for what’s next.

There are military families in France and other countries in Europe; I’m scared for them. Stateside military families are wondering, no doubt, if their service member might deploy as a result of these attacks. I’m scared for them, too. I’m scared for the service members who are still enlisting in our all-volunteer military—they’ll be the next wave of support to join our nation’s longest war.

I don’t know what to expect except fear and uncertainty.

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Paris could have been anywhere—a military base, New York City, a theme park, an NFL football game. And I could have been there. My family could have fallen victim. And that scares me. Evil is out there, lurking, planning, targeting. And we’re only doing the best we can to protect ourselves.

Paris’ Night of Horror was unbelievably senseless and evil, and there’s no way to process why other humans would commit such an act of terror. As a military spouse, my heart hurts for the families of the victims. And I’m scared for what’s next for my own family.

There aren’t many historic events in my lifetime that give me hope that good still exists. But seeing the sacrifice our men and women in uniform, and their families, make to protect our nation gives me that hope. Tragedy isn’t avoidable, but I know that someone’s loved one—including my own—vowed to protect us from it as best they could.

I’m scared for what’s next because I know our service members are at stake. I know some military families will have to bear the burden of another deployment, another holiday alone, even another tragedy. And some of those families are my friends.

I’m asking you to rally behind the military families you know. Just as we all are finding ways to stand by the people of Paris, don’t forget to stand by our service members in harm’s way. Support the cause and display your pride in all ways. The war isn’t over. Military families need to know their country has their back.

Seeing our country stand behind the military and their families is the good that drives out the fear and uncertainty bred by tragedy.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

3 Tips for Military Spouse Writers Who Want to Publish a Book

I’d like to tell you my path to publication was easy, but that would be a lie. It took five states, five assignments, one retirement, another move, and 17 (that’s not a typo–17!) years to publish my first novel. But when it happened — it happened fast.

I started writing a novel after seeing an ad for a short story contest in the Dayton, Ohio newspaper when we were station at Wright-Patterson in 1997. I tried writing a short story, but subplots and interesting characters kept bubbling up onto the page, and I realized the story was so much more.

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So here’s my best advice about publishing:

Study the craft of writing.
I went to my first writers conference while we were stationed at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. As part of the conference, I read the first five pages to the group. As I read I thought, “This is the worst drivel ever written and it’s all backstory.” Fortunately, it was a very kind group–they pointed out what was good, and I got back to work. Since then I’ve attended writers retreats and conferences, taken classes at a community college, listened to every author speak that I could find, joined a critique group, and read lots of books about writing.

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Get out there.
When we moved to Northern Virginia, I saw an ad for a mystery convention called Malice Domestic. While it’s considered a mystery fan conference, there were plenty of writers, agents, and editors roaming around. One year I met a well-known agent as I was checking in. She told me to mail her my manuscript and while she, ultimately, turned it down, it was an opportunity. In 2005, we found out we were going to be stationed at Hanscom AFB outside of Boston. That year at Malice, I happened to sit at a table with a woman, Julie Hennrikus, from Boston. She told me I should join the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and attend a conference called Crime Bake. That chance meeting eventually led to my being published–more on that in a bit. There are organizations for Sci-Fi writers, children’s writers, almost any type of writing you are interested in.

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Get used to rejection.
In the early days of my writing journey, I snail-mailed my manuscript and got rejections back the same way–lots of them! I have a file folder with around 65 rejection letters. Some are just a copied form letter, some at least have a signature on them, then are some with a personal note. The ones with a personal note gave me a little hint as to why they said “no” and kept me going.

So back to meeting Julie. I did join the Sisters in Crime chapter and attended Crime Bake. I met more and more published and hoping-to-be-published writers. Three years ago at Crime Bake, another friend, Barbara Ross, introduced me to her agent, John Talbot. I pitched my series to him but he wasn’t interested (by that time I’d written three books). A few weeks later, I received an email from Barbara. An editor in New York had an idea for a cozy mystery series with a garage sale theme. The editor contacted John Talbot. John then asked Barbara if she knew anyone she thought might be able to write the series. Barbara knew I loved garage sales and asked me.

ALL MURDERS FINAL mech.indd

A week later, I’d written a proposal for the series. All the characters, the setting, and the plot flowed out of me. I turned it in to John. He tweaked a few things and sent it off. After much handwringing and pacing, I signed a three book deal with Kensington Publishing (and they’ve just asked for two more). The Sarah Winston Garage Sale series is set in the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts, and on a fictional air force base I named Fitch Air Force Base. The first in the series, Tagged for Death, came out last December and was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel at Malice Domestic. All of those years of preparation paid off when an unexpected opportunity came along.

So hone your skills, meet people in the writing world, and don’t give up! If you have questions you can contact me through my website, SherryHarrisAuthor.com.

Are you a military spouse writer? Let’s connect!

sherry-harrisPosted by Sherry Harris, military spouse. Sherry started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

https://www.pinterest.com/militaryfampins/mastering-the-military-ball/

 

What is your best piece of military ball advice?