I have been in the military for the past nine years. And in just a few more weeks, my identity in the military will change. I will no longer wear the uniform, but I will still be married to a man who does. Very soon, I will have the opportunity to view the military from a very new and different perspective.
If you are dating someone in the military or planning to marry someone in the military, it’s important that you know a little of what it’s like to answer Uncle Sam’s beck and call. Regardless of who wears the uniform, Uncle Sam will always take priority in the relationship! He’s a very demanding uncle.
As a transitioning military spouse, I have reflected on the military life and the challenges and opportunities it brings. Military life is unique, challenging, awesome, stressful, demanding, rewarding, ever changing, lonely, exciting, consuming, character building, and transforming—the descriptors are endless and fall across a wide spectrum of experiences, from very awesome to sometimes very unpleasant.
I have known several men and women over the years who didn’t quite realize what they were signing up for when they said “I do” to a soldier, marine, sailor, or airman. So consider this a playbook from one military family to another potential military family!
Get to know the ins and outs of moving
Most military members move around every two to three years—in the last nine years, I have relocated seven times! This works out well for me and my husband, Eric, because we love change and thrive on new experiences in different places. We have lived in Oklahoma, Texas, Germany, twice in Alabama, spent a year in Afghanistan, and currently reside in Hawaii. But that much moving around is not everyone’s cup of tea. For those confirmed home bodies, marrying a person in the active duty military may be a considerable challenge
For folks with school-age children or teens in middle school and high school, the lack of stability can be a real strain on the family. Just the other day I met a high school girl who had to leave her old school just before the start of her senior year because her dad had to move to another duty station. She was handling the move well, but I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy for her to make that change. Rarely do military kids get to grow up in a community and attend the same schools for more than a few years.
Be sure to have a good long distance data plan
For Eric and I, the biggest challenge has been trying to maintain long-distance relationships with family. Eric and I have lived overseas for almost seven years and it’s hard to see both sets of family more than once or twice a year. At the same time, our overseas living has enriched the experiences of our extended families who have taken the opportunity to visit us in Europe and Hawaii.
Learn to love that demanding “Uncle Sam”
The military life is a 24/7 job and due to the often critical nature of that job, the mission must sometimes take priority over everything else. At times, the sacrifices are great. As a military spouse, you must learn to be very understanding when your spouse doesn’t make it home for dinner or has to pull duty over a holiday like Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving. Your spouse won’t always be home for a special anniversary, birthday, birth of a child, or special milestone. The more support you can give, the easier your spouse’s job will be. This will test the strength of your relationships and force you to find balance and find ways to increase your resilience as an individual and as a family.
Be excited about your new “family”
You will meet so many different people throughout your spouse’s career and make many friends, possibly all over the world. The military community is a tight-knit group of individuals and families who understand the difficulties of military life and love to help one another during relocations, during long deployments, and during everyday life in general. Additionally, the US Defense Department has many helpful resources to make sure that you and your family adjust and thrive.
Personally, I love the military lifestyle. I love the excitement of wondering where in the world we’ll end up next, and I look forward to raising children in an environment that will continually expose them to a community of dedicated, service-minded people and expose them to so many different regions, cultures, and experiences.
The military life is not for everyone, and to be honest, the sacrifices can, at times, be overwhelming. But, at the end of the day, it’s an opportunity to be a part of something big and exciting! Few things can replace the wonderful sense of pride and respect that goes with loving someone in uniform. I hope this “playbook” gives some insight on some of the challenges that military families and spouses face. If military life is on your horizon, embrace it with enthusiasm and determination because “Uncle Sam” understands the impact of a strong military spouse