Although the military has rules against fraternization between officers and enlisted, spouses do not. So why does it seem to be a division in the spouse world as well? Does it matter whether your military spouse is enlisted or an officer? Full disclosure: The Good Chaplain was an officer and retired as a Colonel. Staff Sergeant is enlisted. Perhaps I should have Mrs. Staff Sergeant write this post since she lived in both worlds.
To be honest, most of the time, I never knew if someone was married to an officer or an enlisted person. I have had good friends on both sides of the aisle. While stationed at Eielson in the late 1990s, one of my closest friends was a Chief Master Sergeant’s wife. Hanging out together was not a problem for us, but when I was throwing a birthday party for the Good Chaplain and invited my friend and her husband, it became an issue. The Chief could not come to the party because he was enlisted. I felt horrible because I honestly never thought of my friend as an enlisted spouse. Luckily, she’d been a spouse long enough to understand.
I know a perception exists that officer spouses are all snobby and full of themselves, and enlisted spouses are young, inexperienced, and naïve. Neither is true. I’ve gotten along with spouses of all ranks. Sometimes it’s just that in early ranks, enlisted members tend to be younger with younger families than officers. The wise enlisted spouse gets to know an officer spouse who can show her the ropes. But make sure the mentor spouse is a seasoned spouse, not one new to the military herself. I’ve been the surrogate grandmother for many an enlisted family.
By volunteering, I got to know spouses of all ranks. It is an excellent way to break stereotypes and get to know others. I’ve learned from the spouses I’ve met, including how to look at issues from a different perspective. At Eielson our second time, enlisted spouses frequently volunteered at the Thrift Shop, which was run by the Officers’ Spouse Club. Through work at the chapel, I served along with spouses of all ranks, colors, ethnicities, and denominations.
Of course, there are some differences between the officers and the enlisted corps. Pay, responsibilities, housing, and medical treatment, to name a few. Fortunately, the military is starting to recognize some of these inequities and fix them. When we lived at Minot AFB, North Dakota, all the housing was being replaced, which was a good thing. I might have mentioned that the Minot house was the only one I ever cried about. It was tiny and old. On many bases, officer housing gets replaced first, but at Minot, the enlisted housing was renovated before officer housing.
Many officer and enlisted spouse clubs are uniting into one spouse group. And it should be that way. After all, we are all in the same boat. All spouses – whether married to an officer or an enlisted member – have the same purpose, to support their spouse, raise their children, and make their community a better place.
Until next time,