Monthly Archives: August 2020

All Military Spouses Feel Isolated at Times

Editor’s Note: I need to congratulate Staff Sergeant on becoming a Technical Sergeant. We are so proud of you. From now on, I will call him Tech Sergeant, and his wife, my daughter, will be known as Mrs. Tech Sergeant. Congratulations to both of you on your promotion!

All spouses feel alone at times

Today’s topic deals with isolation. As a new military spouse, I’m sure you are feeling isolated. Even seasoned spouses think that from time to time. It is a normal feeling. First, you know no one. You’ve just moved to a new town (base, post, station,) and you haven’t had time to get your feet wet. You are too busy finding your way around, unpacking boxes and setting up housekeeping to find your niche. So, you find yourself sitting at home by yourself with no one to talk to.

If you are newly married to the military, you are also beginning a new life as a spouse, in a new way of life. Things are different here. The people you have met speak a foreign language with talk of TDYs and deployments, the FRG or the A&FRC. Your base may have an OSC and an ESC. Soon your eyes glaze over, and you stop engaging.

You want to go back to your hometown where people speak plain English, and you can live in your old bedroom with your parents around and go out at night with friends from high school or college, and life will be NORMAL again.

Don’t worry. Your new routine will develop quickly enough. When we first moved to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, we only had one car. We lived nine miles from base, so often, I was home by myself. After about two months of this lifestyle, Mrs. Tech Sergeant called and said she was worried about me.

“Mom,” she said. “You’ve been there for two months.  You don’t talk about things you’ve done with your friends or any friends at all. Are you okay?”

“Well, honey, I don’t get out of the house very often because we only have one car. But don’t worry. I’m going out to lunch tomorrow with some new people,” I said.

I was isolated, and it was starting to wear on me. I am an extreme extrovert, so for me, not making friends by that time was unusual.

When you are alone, it is way too easy to get into the trap of relying on social media to be your friend. It is a great tool, but for beating isolation I see two problems, for all spouses, not just new ones,

  • You stay too connected to the past. You use it to talk to all your old buddies. Which is fine, but can they understand what you are going through? Can they advise you on how to get out and make new friends? Which leads me to my second point.
  • You are less likely to go out into your new world when you can rely on your old pals for socialization.
  • It also makes you feel more isolated when you see pictures of your old gang at a party or a bar or a ballgame without you.

It is okay to use social media to stay connected to friends. I love it for seeing what high school, college, and military friends at different bases are doing. Just don’t use it instead of making new friends.

And making new friends will be easier once you know the rules. There are some rules because of the rank structure. While spouses don’t have any rules about fraternizing with people from other ranks, military members do. So, you may find making friends is more comfortable within your new social stratum, i.e., junior enlisted spouses tend to have more in common with other junior enlisted spouses. The senior officer corps are more likely to hang out with other senior officer corps spouses, etc. Again, let me stress this is NOT a rule for spouses. I have friends at all ranks that I hung out with during the Good Chaplain’s career. But age groups and similar experiences tend to be drawn to each other.

Your social circle may look different than you are used too.

Don’t be intimidated when you join a social circle with the commander’s spouse or spouses of those higher ranking than your spouse. I promise they don’t bite. They were once in your shoes, and, if nothing else, they are an excellent source to turn to when you have questions.

Please don’t stay isolated. Get out and find your group. Use social media to post interests and that you are even looking for friends. And enjoy the military life. It’s not a bad way to go.

Until next time,

Vicki

Military Spouses Quickly Learn Their Strengths

Remember a few blogs ago; I told you how everything goes wrong in the first three weeks of a deployment. That is true. But I don’t think I stressed how capable you are to handle these crises. And you will feel stronger for handling them.

Knowing who you can call on and calling them is a good way to shore up your strength. You don’t personally need to know how to use every tool in your spouse’s toolkit. You need to know who to call to show you how to use them.

The Good Chaplain’s first deployment, which was only a few weeks, coincided with bill paying time. He usually paid the bills, but I had done it several times in our married life, so no big deal. However, for some reason, I couldn’t get the checkbook to balance. I am a determined woman, and I determined it would balance to the last penny even if I took the entire deployment. But, my impatience got the better of me, and I found myself in tears on my neighbor’s front porch, asking her for help. Craziness.

You will learn how assertive you are, even when your spouse is not deployed, by dealing with housing maintenance workers, medical personnel, and your child’s education. These are areas of your military life you will deal with because your spouse is focused on the mission.

Your inner Mama Bear comes out more than once throughout this time of life. You will find yourself frequently advocating for your child. Especially when medical technician looks at you as if you grew a third eye when you bring your child in because they are running a fever and not acting like themselves, only to be fever free and chipper once you get to the clinic.

I advocated on behalf of Mrs. Staff Sergeant with the base school district over standardized testing. I am not a fan of standardized testing in schools because I don’t feel they accurately measure a child’s capability.

Mrs. Staff Sergeant is a smart person, but a terrible test taker. She did awful on the math portion of her standardized test in first grade, so the school decided she would be in remedial math in second grade. I argued the point with the school principal because she did fine on her math homework. As it turned out, none of the children in her class did well on the standardized test because it was the teacher’s first year, and she was nervous. Her nervousness spilled over onto the children, and they all did poorly. After talking this all over with the principal, who agreed with me, she said Mrs. Staff Sergeant would be in remedial math. I refused. We compromised with letting her start with regular math, and if she needed more help, we would get a tutor. If I hadn’t advocated for my daughter, she might have ended up falling behind her classmates.

Independence is a strength you learn over time. It grows over the years. Often you will find yourself attending events on your own because of deployments or other work requirements. It’s not fun, but by The Good Chaplain’s last deployment, I looked forward to going to the movies by myself or representing him at base functions.

That wasn’t always true, though. At our first assignment, the Good Chaplain was on the committee for a dining out ceremony. A dining-out ceremony is when military people and their significant others get together for a nice meal and an evening of letting loose. It involves a script of strict rules that can get you sent to the grog bowl if you violate those rules. A grog bowl is a large bowl filled with the most disgusting things known to mankind. If you get sent to the grog bowl you have to drink a cup and turn it upside down on your head to show you finished it.

We’d only been on station for a few months. We arrived early for the ball because he had some committee things to check on. He didn’t show up at my side again for 45 minutes. There I was, standing in the middle of the ballroom, knowing not a single soul. I was almost in tears. I hadn’t yet discovered what an extrovert I am. The next year, I dropped the car keys in my purse and threatened to leave if he left me alone like that again. But by that time, it didn’t matter because I had my posse by then.

When you first join this crazy thing we call a military family, you will feel lost, clueless, and maybe even stupid about certain things. But don’t worry. I promise you will find your strengths and be able to handle whatever comes your way. Or at least know who to call.

Until next time,

Vicki

Fear of the Unknown is Real for Military Spouses

Whether you marry someone already in the military or they join after you have been married a while, it can be daunting. Fear of the unknown is real, even for seasoned spouses moving to a new base or post.

My twin girls.

The Good Chaplain came on active duty after we’d been married 10 years and had two children. If someone said to me, “Well, you knew what you were getting into when you married him.” (That frequently happens, by the way.) I always answered I did not. When we married in 1982, the Good Chaplain was not a minister, let alone a military man. He was a salesman. Ministry and Air Force were not even on our radar.

Briefly, when our twin daughters were six weeks old, he felt the call to ministry. He attended seminary, where he met an Air Force chaplain recruiter and felt called to that as well. That’s how it came about. It turned out to be the right move for our family, but I still feared the future.

The fear of the unknown came to me in three areas.

Fear of moving to a new place

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Obviously, in the military, we move — a lot. While I looked forward to what the new place offered, I feared whether I would fit in or like the place. I’m talking about the base and the community. As soon as we found out where we were going, I would study the area to see what it was known for.

Our first move was Warner Robins Air Force Base. First, at this point, I knew nothing about the military, so my learning curve was high. But, also, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. What did I know about the Deep South? My knowledge was limited to it being hot and had lots of bugs.

With every move, I acclimated myself to the base first. Once I found the medical facilities, the commissary and Exchange, and the chapel, I broadened my horizons to explore other areas of the station. Then, I would move onto the community and what it had to offer. Joining groups like a lunch bunch or antiquing group help find places to go off the base.

Fear of meeting new people

New people

Whenever you are uprooted and move to a new place, even just across town, you leave friends and loved ones behind. You need to make new friends. And that can be downright scary. I felt lucky to be married to a chaplain because I felt like I had the congregation to rely on until I got my bearings. Hopefully, your spouses’ workplace is equally helpful and welcoming as the chapel is.

I found neighbors are always the right place to start. On most bases, neighbors will stop in to welcome you. If you have children, meeting neighbors is a snap as the children meet each other.

When we lived off base in Oklahoma, we took it upon ourselves to go around and introduce ourselves to the neighbors. We brought them cookies. Often, people off base don’t get to know military families in their midst because they know we won’t be around longterm.

Other ways to meet and make new friends is to join a club or a group on the base such as the spouses’ club, a Bible study at the chapel, or other things that interest you. But do make an effort, because you never know when you will run into your bestie for life.

Fear of a new lifestyle

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When we moved to Georgia, my picture of southern women was straight out of “Gone With the Wind.” You know — genteel, unassuming, polite, and immaculately dressed at all times. I’m not like that. I’m gregarious, outgoing, respectful, and dress up infrequently.

Or moving to Alaska. As much as I want to think of myself as adventurous, I’m not a huge nature lover. I’m more of a sit indoors in the warmth or air conditioning kind of person. I don’t like bugs. And my idea of camping is our 27-foot travel trailer complete with a stove, refrigerator, microwave, bathroom and shower, and a queen-size bed. We used to joke that we were roughing it if we didn’t bring the television. This particular unit has two built-in TVs.

Not to say I didn’t hike, or fish, or cross-country ski, or other outdoor activities in various places. It’s just that I like my creature comforts.

The military itself is a different lifestyle with its ins and outs of protocol, expectations, and the reality that the mission comes first. My best advice to deal with the fear is to embrace it and make the most of where you are when you are there. And have fun.

Until next time,

Vicki

Deployments: The Bane of Military Spouses

Deployments are hard. I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you. Suddenly, no matter how long you have prepared for it, you are both Mom and Dad, husband, and wife. His chores become your chores, not as a replacement, but as an add-on to things you already do. If you work outside the home, you are now working two full-time jobs, often with no relief in sight. Deployments made me appreciate how much the Good Chaplain did around the house and for our family.

And, remember, once your spouse leaves, everything that can go wrong, will. Often in the first few weeks. Mrs. Staff Sergeant is experiencing that right now. Staff Sergeant deployed a few weeks ago. But because of COVID-19, he is secluded in the states for two weeks. Of course, the deployment doesn’t start until boots hit the ground in-country. Also, he might be quarantined for another two weeks once he arrives at the deployed site. He could quickly be gone an extra month or two. Uffdah!

In the few weeks, since Staff Sergeant left, one cat is pregnant. The other cat got bit by something and got an infected paw. Mrs. Staff Sergeant came down with COVID-19 symptoms and is confined at home with Tony B. and Gaby Baby. She tested negative twice, so we don’t know what’s going on with her. And, oh, by the way, a tropical storm hit her area — tornado warnings included. I don’t think she is having fun yet.

She also hasn’t been able to establish a routine, which is essential to survive the long months of single parenthood. When the girls were younger, to take their minds off Daddy leaving, Mrs. Staff Sergeant, Illinois Girl, and I had a “chick flick” night the first Friday into the deployment. We would put on our pajamas and curl up for a good movie and sleepover in the living room. Since they were young, the film was probably something Disney, not quite a chick flick. But it gave them something to look forward to when Dad left. Most of the time, we quickly set up a routine and carried on with our lives. Side note: the Good Chaplain was gone so much during the first three years, the girls called him “the guest.”

We’ve gone through eight deployments and numerous temporary duty assignments in our 31 years of service. My worst was at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, when he left right after Thanksgiving for four months. We’d never parted during the holidays before. We were thousands of miles from home, and it was dark and cold. If I didn’t have the girls to take care of, I don’t think I would have gotten out of bed for four months. I was a basket case, and this wasn’t even our first deployment. I don’t know what was wrong with me.

The bright side of that deployment was we got to talk on the phone every day for 15 minutes. That was new. In the past, we could talk for a spotty 15 minutes once a week. I split the 15 minutes with the girls most days. But Friday nights were date night when I got to talk to him the whole time. Even the operator commented on it being date night.

My favorite deployment was our most prolonged separation. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? The Good Chaplain deployed to Eastern Africa for seven months. Not only was the mission exciting, but he got to see all sorts of great things. This deployment was the first time I was alone. Both girls married the year before and lived in other places.

What made that deployment so good is I was free to do what I wanted when I wanted. I had only myself to look after. I thought I might be lonely, but I maintained my volunteering and social activities, so I was plenty busy. But when I decided to visit Illinois Girl, I could. I drove the 13 hours a couple of times. When my mother got sick while I was in Illinois, I drove the three hours to her house and stayed for a week. I had nothing else pressing to do at home. If I wanted to go to the movies, I could go and see what I wanted to see without taking someone else’s schedule or opinion into mind.

Sure I missed the Good Chaplain, but by then, Skype existed, and he had a single room, so we talked frequently and emailed all the time. One Saturday, when he was particularly bored, he Skyped me three times. I finally told him I loved him, but I had other things I needed to do than spend the whole day in front of the computer talking to him.

So, while deployments are hard and take an adjustment, they are manageable if you keep yourself busy and make some fun memories with the kids.

Until next time,

Vicki