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How to Juggle Being a Military Spouse and a Grandparent

I appreciated more what my parents must have gone through when some of their grandchildren, including mine, moved away from them. Being grandparents is amazing. But living far away from those grandkids is hard.

Our first two grandchildren, Tony B and his brother, G (he doesn’t want to be called Gaby Baby anymore.), were born in England while we were stationed in Hawaii and Mississippi, respectively. Tony B. was born the day the Good Chaplain had to report for duty in Hawaii in May 2012. We were in Illinois staying with Illinois Girl and Soccer Stud, waiting for the Good Chaplain to leave for Hawaii. I planned to fly to England in two weeks to be there in plenty of time for the birth. Tony B had other plans. He was three weeks early.

Tony B. and Nonna

A mutual friend of Mrs. Tech Sergeant and I woke us in the middle of the night to tell us Mrs. Tech Sergeant was in labor. The same friend called again in the morning saying our new grandson was here and gave us a phone number to the hospital since our daughter could not call out from the base hospital room. When I saw his cute little face in the pictures they sent, I fell immediately in love.

The Good Chaplain didn’t get to see him until the following November when he was six months old. I can’t say enough about the technology of Skype and now FaceTime. Because of that technology, we saw Tony B most Friday nights as we prepared for bed, and he was getting up and enjoying his breakfast on Saturday morning.

Two years later, when I flew to England after G was born, as I got into the car, Tony B looked at me and said, “Hi, Nonna.” I was impressed. He hadn’t seen me in person since he was six months old, but he knew who I was because of our Skype sessions.

A happy G

As he is wont to do, G messed up our plans by coming into the world two days after we moved to Mississippi in June 2014. He was two days late. I remember we were at our first church service in the officers’ club’s banquet room, followed by a lunch to welcome us. Since lunch was in our honor, we sat at the front table. Normally, my phone would not be on during worship service, but I knew Mrs. Tech Sergeant was in labor, so I placed my phone front and center on the table before me.

Baby G’s heart rate dropped with each contraction, so Mrs. Tech Sergeant had a Cesarean section. This time, the plan was for both the Good Chaplain and me to fly to England to meet our newest grandson at the end of July. But since Mrs. Tech Sergeant had a C-section, I moved up my ticket and left on July 5 to help her out. I stayed for four weeks and held that chubby little child the whole time. His daycare workers were not happy with me because he did not like to be put down after I left.

Little Bitty was teeny tiny.

Two and half years later, our granddaughter was born in December of 2016 in Illinois while we lived in Virginia. Much closer. Illinois Girl and Soccer Stud wanted time to bond with Little Bitty before family descended on them, so we came to town for the New Year. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on that little one, so it was a long two weeks before I could hold her.

When they were little and living in England, we only saw Tony B and G about once a year. But, they moved to Delaware in 2019, and I’ve seen them twice since then. They are planning on visiting us in Illinois in October, and we are planning on going to Delaware in December. After seven and a half years, I am so excited they are finally living on the same continent.

When the Good Chaplain retired in 2018, we moved back to Illinois and live just around the corner from Little Bitty, so we get to see her several times a week. And, since Illinois Girl is expecting her second girl any day now, we finally get to be around to help out when our grandchild is born.

Even from far away, I take my grandmother’s prerogative to spoil my grandchildren seriously, and they don’t want for much. This is the life we’ve always dreamed of. The Good Chaplain wanted to be the pesky grandfather, and now he is. Don’t wish for your children to grow up too fast, and enjoy each phase of their lives, but remember, as the Good Chaplain frequently says, “Grandchildren are your reward for not killing your own children.” When the time comes, enjoy it.

Until next time,

Vicki

If you are grandparents on active duty, tell me how you feel about being away from your grandchildren. If you are not grandparents yet, how do your kids feel about living away from their grandparents? Answer in the comment section below.

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What Military Spouses Should Know About Being Empty-Nesters

Last week we talked about how hard it was to leave your parents and family when you married into the military. Well, guess what? In a blink of an eye, your children will be leaving you. So, the number one thing you should know is — You will become empty-nesters. No way around it. And that applies whether you are a military spouse or not.

To prepare for this eventuality, it is important to work on your marriage before this happens. Go on date nights. Sometimes, before military days, we only could afford to pay the babysitter and drive around, talking. Do it. You are a couple first, then parents. As the Good Chaplain says, “The best gift you can give your children is a good marriage.”

A second thing to know is — if you are a military spouse when your children are grown up, you may actually leave them.

I didn’t have problems when the girls left home to go to college. Sure, I worried about them being in Illinois while I was in Alabama, but since they went to the same school, roomed together, and lived only hours from family, I wasn’t as concerned as possible.

Of course, I knew I would see them frequently — holidays, summer breaks, etc. But, in fact, I became the “Mom who never leaves.” I visited for various reasons once a month from when I dropped them off in August until February. I had legit reasons, but I also enjoyed seeing my girls and making sure they were safe. After that first year, we didn’t see each other as much, but we talked on the telephone and e-mailed frequently.

The Good Chaplain had a hard time every time the girls would leave to go back to school, either from holiday breaks or summer vacations. He’d get quiet, a little teary-eyed and mopy for a day or two, before getting back into his routine.

The hardest times for me were when we left Illinois Girl in Illinois after college graduation and left Mrs. Tech Sergeant in Alaska when we moved to Oklahoma.

Both girls worked at the Child Development Center at Eielson Air Force Base, AK, during summer breaks. The CDC offered them jobs after graduation, and Mrs. Tech Sergeant accepted that offer. She moved to Alaska. Illinois Girl, having already met Soccer Stud, decided to stay in Illinois. I sobbed when we pulled away from her apartment.

By this time, the Good Chaplain and I had gotten down a routine as empty-nesters that did not include children. We went to the Officers’ Club every Friday night to meet up with a group of friends. We went out to eat when and where we wanted. We went to the movies when we wanted.

Don’t let your kids become like George!

And then, Mrs. Tech Sergeant moved back in. Which brings me to my third point — sometimes they come home again. I felt strange the first time my daughter came to the club with us and ordered a drink. I had to think about what she might want for dinner or if she would want to go out with us. Once, when we were going to the movies, she asked what we were going to see. She said she didn’t want to see that movie. I said, “Good because you aren’t invited.”

A year later, Mrs. Tech Sergeant met Tech Sergeant in Alaska. She moved into an apartment with a friend. She liked her job and her future husband, so she stayed in Alaska. Neither the Good Chaplain nor I were in good shape when we left her. And it didn’t help that a few days later, while we were somewhere in Canada, Mrs. Tech Sergeant contracted the H1N1 virus, and I was not around to help her.

The bottom line is becoming empty-nesters can be tough, but it is also an enriching time to rekindle your relationship with your spouse.

Next time I’ll tell you what it’s like being a grandparent halfway around the world.

Until then,

Vicki

Tell me how you felt leaving home for the first time or having your children leave home in the comments below.

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How Military Spouses Cope Away From Family

January 26, 1986, is a day I will always remember. It was the day after the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl. It was also the day the space shuttle Challenger blew up, killing all aboard. But I remember it as the day my in-laws had to rescue us because the Good Chaplain and I both came down with a nasty stomach bug. We couldn’t even get out of bed to feed our three-month-old twin daughters.

The Good Chaplain was not yet in the Air Force Reserves or on active duty. Thankfully, both sets of our parents lived about 20 minutes away and could help. I don’t know what I would have done if we already lived at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.

Yes, I do. I would have called on neighbors and friends to help out. This scenario plays itself out all the time in the military world. I received several calls to please watch the children because the parents were sick. And it will happen. You will find yourself as either the caregiver or the person needing care.

As you prepare for life in the military, knowing it means moving away from family, you frequently ask yourself how you are going to cope in a variety of situations without your mom nearby. It’s scary, especially if it is your first move away from home.

As I did when we went on active duty, if you have children, you mourn the loss of weekends away while grandparents watch the kids. You also mourn the loss of family Sunday dinners, birthday parties, and holiday celebrations. It’s hard because you are leaving all the familiar comforts and going into the unknown once again. We actually moved two hours away from family before coming on active duty, so I experienced a few of those feelings before the big move out of state.

Be prepared for traveling during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to celebrate with each side of your family. We never had less than three Christmas celebrations once we got married, and sometimes more. Once we moved away, it was worse because not only were we traveling and lugging all the presents with us, but we had to drive all over the Chicago suburbs from one house to another. Yep, I’m whining about the hardships of being with loved ones over the holidays.

Also, be prepared to visit family for the majority of vacations. Rarely will you go somewhere exotic for a vacation. I remember one summer when we were traveling to the Chicago suburbs, one of the girls said, “We always say we are going to Chicago, can we actually go into Chicago?” Good point. We gave them a day in the city to do whatever they wanted to do. The family was invited but could not make any decisions on what we would see or do. Our nuclear family also discovered a place called Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia, and we made sure we spent some time there every year as our own little getaway.

And family visited us frequently as well. We knew who really wanted to see us and who simply used us to stop en route to other places. For instance, when we lived in Georgia and Alabama, we were the stop on the way to Florida. But when we lived in Minot, North Dakota, we knew they were coming to see us.

Family is important to our life in the military. I think I grew closer to my mom once we moved away. I was more intentional about calling her because I knew I wouldn’t see her for a long while. Plans needed to be made, and schedules coordinated. And money was also a factor since we were traveling further. But you manage to make it all work.

Next time I will shed light on the parents’ perspective on all this.

Until then,

Vicki

What was the worst part of moving away from home for you? Comment in the section below.

And don’t forget to sign-up for my e-mail list and subscribe to this blog.

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Making New Friends Needn’t be Hard for Military Spouses

Editor’s note: So I don’t have to keep using the word “spouse” , and since most of my readers are female, I am going to use the word “wife” interchangeably with spouse. No offense is meant to the many male military spouses out there.

You’ve left all your friends behind, either because you just married into the military, or because you’ve just moved to a new duty station. Either way, you are going into new and unknown territory. You are going to need new friends.

Making new friends doesn’t have to be hard or scary. I realize not everyone is an extrovert like I am. They don’t talk to anyone they meet or comment on their observations. My daughters often were mortified when I would speak to someone in the line at the commissary, whether I knew them or not.

Maybe, it has something to do with teaching them not to talk to strangers and then doing that exact thing myself. However, a smile or a friendly hello goes a long way in brightening someone’s day. The Good Chaplain, pre-military days, was a salesman. Sometimes his job took him to the not-nice neighborhoods of Chicago. He found if he said hi to people, it took them off guard. They look up, so if they were planning on mugging you, you’ve seen their face. They either have to kill you so you can’t identify them or leave you alone. Luckily, he was left alone. Plus, he was friendly.

For those of you who are not uber-extroverts, if you want friends, you will have to put yourself out there. Trust me when I say that people will not come knocking on your door, seeking you out. Oh, sure, the next-door neighbor may bring you a plate of cookies and offer to help in any way. And they mean that, but they get busy with their own lives and so you need to make the first step to ask for help, or say hi, or return the plate with more cookies on it.

But how do you make friends? Well, if you are a parent, that is the easiest way. Meet the parents of your children’s friends. Because you know your children are already out on the playground, making friends of their own.

What are your interests? Reading — join a book club. Sewing — take a quilting class. Dancing, cooking, antiquing — find the group that fits your interests.

Whenever we moved, I looked for two groups, the women’s group at the chapel and the spouses’ club. These groups offered smaller clubs to get involved in that suited my interests, such as Bible study, book club, and my favorite, Lunch Bunch. They can also introduce you to new things. I had no idea what Bunko was until I joined a spouse club.

If you work outside the home, most of your new friends may come from the job. They may or may not understand your military lifestyle, but that’s okay. You still have work in common.

The saddest comment I heard was from a colonel’s wife at our first assignment. She said she doesn’t bother to make friends anymore because it hurts too much when they leave.

See this link for more on friends leaving. https://soldierswifecrazylife.com/2015/06/05/the-5-stages-of-watching-your-best-friend-move-away/

My friends don’t be like that. Even if you are only friends for the short time you are together, it is worth it. Every person you meet has the potential to become your BFF. And even if they don’t, they can bring enjoyment to your life for the time you are together.

Make a move. Put yourself out there and reap the benefits of friendship, even if only for a season.

Until next time,

Vicki

How have you met some of your best friends? Share in the comment section below.

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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

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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

Moving-Happiness-Home-Sketch-NSM

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

bigstock-Old-New-Life-Future-Past-Goals-129023081

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

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Look Through the Windshield, Not the Rearview Mirror

Apparently, moving is on my mind. The Good Chaplain retired two years ago, and I must admit I miss the Air Force. Also, we should be moving right about now, so no wonder I am thinking about it. Not that, after 18 moves, I want to move again.

Anyway, I heard this quote the other day.

And the reason the windshield is so large and the rearview mirror is so small is because what’s happened in your past is not near as important as what’s in your future.

Joel Osteen

So many of us, when we move, tend to dwell on the past, the last base we were at. Who hasn’t heard or said, “Well, at my last base we…” The previous post is always your favorite, isn’t it?

Rose colored glasses

And we tend to look at our last base through rose-colored glasses. Everything was perfect there. We don’t think about the person who was a real terror to us. Or the hard times we had adjusting to the new climate, surroundings, cultures, or whatever. We forget that when we got to the last base, we felt just as lost as we do at the new station.

While it is good to look at where you came from, it is much more important to look at the opportunities at your new base. I always looked forward to whatever new challenges the following base had in store for me. But, then, I am a positive person.

Not that we shouldn’t look back to learn from our mistakes and recognize the growth we’ve made in the past few years. We just shouldn’t dwell on it. As I look back at the 31 years of being a military spouse, I find something positive about each place I’ve been.

  • Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia — Spiritual growth
  • Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska — Trying new things
  • Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota — How to survive in a small house
  • Vandenberg Air Force Base, California — Creating a community
  • Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama — Amazing history
  • Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska — Finding great friends
  • Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma — Volunteering is fun
  • Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii — Great neighborhood
  • Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi — Hosting Thanksgiving
  • Joint Base Langley-Ft. Eustis, Virginia — Working with the Army

Those are just a few positive things I found at each base. Growth and soul-searching came from each place we lived in. And although I said I loved each station, and I did, I honestly can and will say Eielson will always be my favorite.

When it’s time to move for you, remember your last base with fondness, but please look forward to the new adventures your new base holds for you as well.

Until next time,

Vicki

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The Pros and Cons of an Overseas Move for the Military Spouse

Sometimes, military families get lucky and are assigned overseas – Europe or Asia. We weren’t that lucky, although Alaska and Hawaii count as overseas assignments. Moving abroad has pros and cons.

Arrangements for the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) usually take longer because you are moving across an ocean in most cases. First, you might be limited in what you can pack since housing sizes vary. Then, most moves require two shipments – hold baggage, which are the items you might need right away to set up house, and the second shipment of furniture. I know several people who received the second shipment first or both at the same time, so hold baggage doesn’t necessarily matter. Also, make sure to have several adapters since the electrical currents are not the same in Europe or Asia. Otherwise, you will have a house full of unusable electronics.

Moving abroad has many benefits for a family. Learning new cultural customs and meeting people from different lands is exciting. Imagine your children going to school in a small Italian town and immersing in the culture. And the history they will learn that is much older than the history of the United States. Our son-in-law, Staff Sergeant, lived in Europe during his formative years. He traveled an hour each way and crossed three borders to get to the International School he attended. And his son, Tony B., went to kindergarten and first grade at the same elementary school in England. How cool is that?

Of course, a big con to an overseas assignment is the distance from family. Tony B. was born in England the day the Good Chaplain reported to our base in Hawaii. I flew from Illinois to England, and four weeks later, I flew from England to Hawaii. Yikes! And the Good Chaplain didn’t get to meet his first grandchild until six months later.

Also, what we consider modern and state-of-the-art in the U.S. isn’t always the same in other countries. For instance, in England, Mrs. Staff Sergeant needed to get used to smaller appliances, and her oven temperature measured in Celcius instead of Fahrenheit. Due to the size and operation of the washer and dryer, it took about five hours to do a load of laundry. With a household of active males, laundry was always running at her house.

The book, “A Practical Handbook for the Air Force Chaplain Spouse,” much of which applies to all military spouses, lists three adjustments to moving overseas.

  • Changes in climates and environments
  • Living in houses of all sizes, styles, and descriptions
  • Living in a variety of communities – small towns, big cities – where we are foreigners

Language is a significant barrier to moving to a foreign country. Even in Hawaii and Alaska, we needed to learn some local idioms and dialects to get along. I found through travel that locals appreciate it if you at least try to speak the basics of the language. I believe that after living in a community, you can’t help but pick up the native language.

Many of my friends who lived overseas lived in the community rather than on base. Some bases don’t have housing available, but choosing to live in a small town, helps get the feel of the culture and customs of an area. You most likely will feel awkward and out of place for a time until you adjust to your new surroundings and make friends with your civilian neighbors, but the experience of doing so can be incredible.

Creating personal relationships with your civilian neighbors, learning the language, shopping in the local community, and getting involved in local activities will go a long way to fitting in abroad.

Until next time,

Vicki

What was your biggest challenge moving overseas? Respond in the comments section below.

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Moving Time: Some Things for Military Spouses to Consider

It’s that time of year again when military families all over the world are moving, what we call a PCS or permanent change of station. Many moves were delayed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it appears that they are picking up steam now. After 18 moves in 35 years of marriage, I’m glad I am not one of those people packing up and moving on.

As much as I disliked the physical act of moving, a new place and seeing what God had in mind, always excited me. I wondered about our new house, our new neighbors and our new base and town. I was up for the adventure.

Only once was I upset about our house. When we moved to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, I cried. Our house was 900 square feet. My furniture would not fit in the living/dining room combo. And after unpacking boxes in the one set of kitchen cabinets, when I turned the corner into the dining room and found more cartons labeled kitchen, I lost it. I just sat down and cried.

But that was the worst house. I had the opposite problem in Mississippi, where the house was so large that I had to buy more furniture. It all works out in the end.

We started the Good Chaplain’s career moving every three years, but it soon morphed into every two years as he gained rank and responsibility. Most times, we lived on base, except for Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Sometimes we got the choice of two or three houses, but other times we were assigned a house. Except for Minot, the houses were at least adequate.

Before moving time arrives, military members and their families are asked to fill out a ”dream sheet.” This is the place to list the sites you dream about moving to. Or, as I say, the paper the powers-that-be look at and laugh about before they assign you to the base they were going to send you anyway.

Ironically, Minot is the only base we put down as the first choice that we got. The rest of the time, we selected Europe and got Alaska. Or the Good Chaplain would write we would go where God and the Air Force sent us.

Deciding what base to request depends on several factors, including the impact on your family. First, a job in the military member’s career field needs to be available. If you have school-age children, you need to take into consideration the nearby school districts. And that decision leads to whether you are going to live on base or not. It’s a lot to think about. Then, once your choices are made, the military has to agree with you.

The last decision to make is whether or not to have the military assign a moving company to pack up and move your household goods. You can choose to move everything yourself, move some of your stuff yourself, or let the movers move everything. No matter how I begged the Good Chaplain just to let the movers take everything, we ended up hauling some things ourselves. I didn’t want the stress of packing and moving myself, and he wanted to protect our valuables from any damage from the movers. Sometimes it felt like we moved the majority of the house.

Always look at all your options as it comes time to move and decide what is best for your family. Once you have orders, be sure to check out the website of the base you are moving to. You can gather quite a bit of information that way, including about the base housing, schools, and the nearby community. Also, ask friends and neighbors about that base for the real scoop on the base.

Until next time,

Vicki

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The Changing Expectations of the Military Spouse

Life in the military is always changing, but somehow staying the same as well. I was going through some items the other day and came across “A Practical Handbook for the Air Force Chaplain Spouse.” The United States Air Force Chaplain School and several chaplains’ spouses published this little book in 1982. It came about to answer frequently asked questions chaplain spouses had during the orientation course. Wait! What? I never got to go to an orientation course at the Chaplain School. I feel cheated. I had to learn everything by experience, as many military spouses did.

Role Expectations

Expectations of the the chaplain’s spouse haven’t changed much over the years. For instance, the primary role is still to support the chaplain and his/her career. What that support looks like has changed in the past several years.

One young wife asked me what I expected of her, since the Good Chaplain was the new senior chaplain of the base. She had a two-year-old, so I told her I expected her to support her husband and take care of her child. I was shocked to learn later that she did not attend the base chapel, even when her husband was preaching. To me, attending chapel and chapel functions counted as supporting my spouse. But I found out that many chapel spouses did not attend the chapel, but went to churches off-base because they offered programs for the children. The population of chapels was trending more toward retirees. But the argument that it did not have programming for children didn’t sit well with me. If they would bring their children to the chapel, the powers that be could justify having children’s programming. It was a “which came first…” situation.

It also seemed to say to other people on base that the chapel wasn’t even good enough for the chaplains’ families so why should others attend it as well?

So I see the role of the chaplain spouse as attending chapel and getting involved in some sort of chapel program, such as Bible study.

Some wives in the book were concerned about how their actions could influence their husband’s careers. This concern was real at one time. Even in 1992, when the Good Chaplain came on active duty, it was understood that the military member was responsible for the actions of his family.

The book answered this question by saying,

A positive attitude and support is invaluable and can enhance your spouse’s performance. Adversely, total lack of interest or support may also affect your spouse’s performance or attitude. –Page 35, A Practical Handbook

Page 35, A Practical Handbook for the Air Force Chaplain Spouse

No one can tell a spouse that they have to belong to any base group or attend any base functions. But I found involvement on base was helpful to myself and the Good Chaplain. Joining in is a great way to make friends. Often I shared things, without breaking confidences, which the Good Chaplain needed to know to help out a military member. Together, we covered most of the base and made a good team in building relationships.

Next time, I will reveal more goodies I found in this practical handbook.

Till then,

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

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

Officer or Enlisted: Does it Matter to Military Spouses?

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,

Vicki

Hitting the Books: Educational Options for Military Spouses

Based on military spouse websites, a college education is an interest and concern of many military spouses. Getting one can improve marketability in the workplace and set you up for better-paying jobs.

But it is not always easy to go to college when you are married to the military. Many times you are not in a place long enough to complete a four-year degree. And the cost can be a factor too, although not as much with the Post-911 GI Bill. Your spouse can transfer all or some of the bill to you to further your education.

The best place to start if you are even thinking about college is to go to your installation’s education center. According to the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities page on Military One Source (myseco.militaryonesource.mil), the education center offers resources on college programs, financing, and career exploration and counseling.

They can help you with the many decisions that need to be made including:

  • What career you want to pursue?
  • Do you want to attend online or in-person?
  • Do you want to go to a four-year college or a community college?
  • Which schools are accredited?
  • Which schools will follow you as you move or transfer your credits?

The center can also help you find financial aid resources such as scholarships, loans, and grants. The General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant, is a wonderful grant available to dependents of military members. We used if for our twin daughters when they went away to college. The best thing about this grant is you can get it multiple years.

Also make sure to check out the commissary and your spouse club, both of which offer scholarships. Other resources are available by searching for military spouse scholarships online. Do your research. It may be a pain to look at all the available sources and fill out all the applications, but as the Good Chaplain told our daughters, “If you work 10 hours on a scholarship application and you get $1,000, that’s $100 an hour. You can’t get a job for that pay.”

Whether you are seeking an associate’s, bachelor’s, or graduate degree, as a military spouse you have options.

Until next time,

Vicki

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