He was stationed in my hometown while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He was the strong, silent and shy type; I was the loud, energetic and outgoing one. We met at a church activity and I eventually got up the nerve to ask him out. (Yes, you read that correctly. I asked HIM out!) Our first date required formal attire and he wore his dress uniform. The rest is history.
I fell in love with a military man and 4 years later we got hitched. By then, he was out of the military and a few years later we’d both graduated from college, bought our first home together and decided to start a family. We’d made friends in our neighborhood, had good jobs and were planning for the future. Then one rainy day, seemingly out of the blue, my husband said, “I think I should go back into the military.” Imagine my reaction. I just stood there in my kitchen, hands covered in meatloaf, my mind spinning 100 miles per hour. The rest of the weekend we discussed the pros and cons (“free” babies was a pro, while moving very regularly was considered a con) and I went into research mode. How was I going to navigate military life? Moving? ALL the acronyms? (Did you know they basically speak in code? – Tricare? OPSEC? CONUS?) What about when we had kids? Should we rent or buy? Within a year of that initial conversation, my husband was commissioned into the Navy and we were expecting our first child. Our life completely changed.
Now, several years, 2 (almost 3) babies and 2 deployments later, I can safely say that I’m fairly confident with the inner workings of some of military life. There are still many surprises and the phrase “hurry up and wait” is highly applicable, but I’ve come to learn there are some excellent resources if you’re just starting out on your ‘military adventure’. So here are some helpful tips gleaned from my own personal journey that will help you settle in and navigate the military spouse life.
1. Check the attitude at the door
A wonderful spouse at our first duty station noticed I was having a hard time with the transition. I’d just had my first baby, was far away from family and friends and wasn’t sure how to accept my husband’s new job when I barely saw him. She looked me right in the eye and said, “The Navy is not a job, it is a lifestyle. The sooner you accept and embrace this, the happier you will be.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. So take a step back and try to look on the bright side so you can start to see the positives of this lifestyle – military discounts, the ability to travel, or even the idea that if you’re not happy with your current situation it will all probably change in 2-3 years. Life in general, but especially military life, is all about perspective. So make the best of it and enjoy the adventure.
2. Join the groups
One of the first things I’d suggest doing is getting involved with the groups in your area. On all bases, no matter your branch, there are lots of classes and groups especially for military spouses. Family Readiness Groups (FRGs) are especially helpful due to their immediate resources that can point you in the right direction, whether it’s in regards to employment opportunities, child care, financial resources, activities on base, etc. Also, in this world of social media we live in, there are lots Facebook groups available with members who have ‘military spouse’ experience ranging from 1-25+ years. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a Facebook group related to Ziploc bags and PCSing (the military term for Permanent Change of Station, aka “moving”). Not only do I now use those amazing little bags to pack small items I don’t want to end up at the bottom of boxes, but I also store my “delicates” in them as well. Because who wants strange movers touching their underwear?
3. Save for a rainy day
Whether you’re a career-driven individual like I am (I received my degree in Speech-Language Pathology) or you’ve chosen to stay home and raise your family, it’s important to have the mindset of saving for the future. In general, the military takes good care of its people. However, there are things you should do to make sure your family will be financially secure no matter the circumstances. These include having a Power of Attorney (especially with deployments), SGLI, joint accounts, college savings plans (when applicable), etc. Additionally, a seasoned military spouse advised me that our family should have our own plan for saving outside of any resource offered by the military. So we have our own IRA accounts through USAA that we can access as needed. For day-to day-saving, we deposit money directly from my husband’s paycheck into our savings accounts, use amazing resources for budgeting such as YNAB, and meal plan with Plan-to-Eat. All of the different steps you take can add up to lots of savings and peace of mind.
4. Make yourself an asset
I’ve been lucky to have a mobile career and have often worked from home while living the life of a military spouse. However, I’ve also had the opportunity to work in several professional settings, all while moving every 2 years and having children. Many spouses feel they are unable to work outside of the home simply because of the military lifestyle. But I’ve found that many spouses and their skills are actually MORE desirable to the workforce than we give ourselves credit for. Not only do we usually have diverse experiences, such as living in different parts of the country or around the world, but we are seen as dependable and resilient. I was hired for a Speech-Language Pathology position while we were stationed in Virginia. Not only did they know I was military, but I was expecting my second child. The director of the department looked me dead in the eyes and said, “If you can handle being a military spouse, I truly believe you can handle anything.” There are lots of different options for employment for ALL careers, tastes and desires, everything from sales to babysitting. Some good places to look if you want to find employment or even change careers include MyCAA, Military One Source, and your local base’s employment center.
5. Stay true to yourself
I love my kids, so much so that I’m due to have my third right after my oldest turns 3 years old. I dedicate most of my time and energy to cooking, cleaning, planning, budgeting and making sure my husband and kids are happy and healthy. However, I’ve always believed that it’s impossible to fill someone else’s “cup” if your own cup is empty. I know I must take care of myself, first and foremost, in order to support the spiritual, mental and emotional health of my family. This includes asking for help when needed, getting part-time work outside of the home, exercising (and actually going to the gym instead of working out in my living room while the baby sleeps), taking part in church and other religious activities and cultivating hobbies. Have you wanted to go back to school? Lose weight? Get back into painting? The military life can provide you with many opportunities to accomplish your goals and make friends with similar interests along the way.
So whether you’re in the trenches of your first deployment, just got to your first duty station or your husband recently surprised you (like mine did) with the news of a military life in the near future, I hope you’ll keep an open mind and heart and dive right in! Know that this lifestyle is an opportunity for growth, but requires work, sacrifice and a sense of humor. Using the tips outlined above, we’ve been able to achieve some of our financial goals, gained essential job skills and have met some amazing people. Now, go find the groups, do your research, brush up that resume and enjoy the ride!