Thanksgiving was always a different holiday for us when we were in the Air Force. Most times we chose not to go home, but celebrating as the four of us seemed boring. So we started taking in strays — those single airmen or young couples who would otherwise be alone for the holiday. Then it branched out to the chapel staff as well. At one point we crammed 25 people into our dining room. And I loved it all. It helped us when we were away from family and it helped make others’ holiday special too.
I know many of you are probably celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time away from your families. And unfortunately, in this time of COVID-19, you can’t really invite others in. I pray you are able to make the holiday as special as you can in the midst of this crazy year. And remember, we all have lots to be thankful for, even when we can’t celebrate with our loved ones.
The Good Chaplain and I, we would like to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. I hope the message below brightens your day. Enjoy.
See you next week.
What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions when you can’t be with family? Share in the comments below.
“I totally understand what single mothers go through now,” I said to the Good Chaplain while he was off on deployment. I remember thinking I did not get married and have children only to be a single parent. My only saving grace was I could call him with any problems. I’m not sure all single mothers have that option.
Unfortunately, this is something that happens when you marry the military. You are married, but in many ways, you are still single. Whether it is long hours, temporary duty, or deployments, you are on your own A LOT.
Basically, you are going to raise the children on your own. When we lived in Georgia, the Good Chaplain was gone so much in our third year that the girls called him the guest. “Mommy, we should let the guest get his food first.” “Why is the guest sleeping in your bed Mommy?” We’d laugh, but it still stings the Good Chaplain whenever we mention it. He did not like being away from us, and your spouse doesn’t either. Trust me.
A friend once told me to treat your spouse like a visitor for the first few days after deployment, just so they can observe how things changed in the household. While her husband was gone, one of the children learned to cross the street by themselves. But Hubby did not know that, and he spanked the child for crossing the street to go play with friends. She had to tell him it was okay; the children were allowed to cross the street now.
As the sole parent at home, enforcing rules and regulations will fall on your shoulders. The Good Chaplain would ground the girls from playing or watching television after school until I pointed out to him that he was punishing me as well because I had to enforce it.
The other drawback is you end up going to many official functions alone, especially as your spouse moves up in rank and expectations increase. You will become the ambassador, representing your spouse. Most of the time, this is okay, but sometimes it is awkward. You have to suck it up and do it anyway, as the Good Chaplain would say.
Or, you can get an escort. When the Good Chaplain deployed to Africa, one of his chaplains, a single man, asked the Good Chaplain if it was okay for him to escort me on occasion. We didn’t want to start any gossip. If it was an official event, it helped to have a partner. If it is a social event, you can choose whether to go or whether you want an escort or not.
You will learn to raise your kids alone or go to events solo, but you probably won’t like it. As I told the Good Chaplain, “I did not sign up for this to be alone.” It’s the nature of the game, and you will get used to it. But first, ask yourself if you are strong enough to be married but single.
Next time I will answer the question, “Am I willing to not make plans far in advance or cancel them because of your husband’s schedule?“
What issues have you had with being “single” while married? Answer in the comments below.
Am I willing to make the necessary sacrifices it takes to be a military spouse? Do I really want to uproot my children every few years? Can I come in second behind the military for my husband? What about a career?
These are all good questions supplied by some seasoned spouses when I asked what they wished they’d known before becoming a military spouse. Whether you are marrying a military man or your spouse is planning to join, these questions need to be explored. Only you can decide what you are willing to sacrifice by being a military spouse.
The Good Chaplain and I were married for four years when the military came into the picture. We were married 10 years when he came on active duty. But I still needed to answer that question. Was I willing to make sacrifices, such as giving up my full-time job for his career? Luckily, my career was portable, and I could find work if I wanted it.
But what about kids? Every time we move for the military, we are uprooting our children, and they have to start all over again. My girls went to five different schools before graduating from high school. And they got to spend three years at the same high school. Sometimes military families move between junior and senior years. Not fair for most kids.
For the most part, kids are resilient and make friends faster than adults do. But they also have issues with loneliness, homesickness, and missing the friends they already have. If you have children, include them in the decision-making process.
Another issue to consider is all the moving around. Generally, the Air Force gave us advanced warning of a move, but sometimes it was short notice. When we moved from Alabama to Alaska, we had a month. In that month, the Good Chaplain went on a temporary duty assignment, we traded in our travel trailer for a new one, we sold my minivan, and the Good Chaplain performed a wedding in Illinois. It’s amazing how much you can get done in a short time if you have to. But you need to determine if this is something you are willing to do.
Of course, making new friends is on this list as well. It is hard to forge friendships at one base, only to start again at another station. And if you are introverted, it is even harder. So you have to decide if you are willing to make an effort to build new relationships knowing it may only be for a few years.
I once knew a colonel’s wife, who told me she didn’t make friends anymore because it hurt too much when they moved. Even early in my husband’s military career, I thought that was the saddest thing I’d ever heard. You never know when that BFF is right around the corner.
There is so much to think about when contemplating whether to marry a military man or if your spouse is considering joining the military. These are not easy questions, and each person/couple needs to determine what is right for them.
Next week, I will try to answer the question of going solo while being married.
Do you have an opinion about this piece? Or more questions? Reply in the comments below.
The Good Chaplain and I took a trip down memory lane this week when we visited the now-closed Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, IL. It was hard to see many of the buildings boarded it up. It also brought back memories of base life.
Chanute was decommissioned in 1993, but before that, it was one of 32 Air Service training camps in the U.S. during World War I. After the First World War, the base was used as a storage depot for plane engines and other surplus items. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Chanute became a training facility for ground crews, and later as a training base to include intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). In 1971, all military flight operations were closed at Chanute, and it became a non-flying training base until 1993 when it was closed permanently.
Not to say bases look alike, but we could pick out an astonishing number of buildings for what they were used for. Hangars are obvious, but we also picked out the golf pro shop, the chapel, the hospital, the fire station, the headquarters building, the shoppette/gas station, and, of course, base housing.
Many base areas are used by the Village of Rantoul and repurposed as housing, a motel, a fitness center, daycare centers, the golf pro shop and course, and a general aviation airport.
But several of the buildings are unused and boarded up. We felt a certain melancholy at all the unused space which could be fixed up and repurposed for the village or private use. Housing even looked the same as older housing on other bases where we lived, and I wondered why none of it was updated.
One reason for the disuse of certain buildings is that the former base is an EPA Superfund site because of all the chemicals used over the years. Also, many of the buildings have asbestos and other issues that come along with older buildings.
The closure of Chanute hit the economy of Rantoul and the surrounding area very hard. The base employed 2,665 civilians at the time of closure. The loss of military and civilians caused revenue to decrease, while the village’s number of roads doubled. The street and police department budgets also doubled. The village also was responsible for the repair and maintenance of gas and steam systems at the base and the many buildings in need of repair or demolition.
Chanute contributed 25 percent of the total economy of the village of Rantoul. But with the base closure, other businesses left as well, such as restaurants, retail, construction, and auto.
In a 2014 survey of residents, people reported that Rantoul’s biggest challenges included negative community image, a large number of rental units and low-income housing, dilapidated buildings, lack of downtown events, and limited downtown shopping hours, a slow economy, and Chanute maintenance and redevelopment.
While I did not go downtown in Rantoul, our drive around the former base gave me the impression of an impoverished community that needs a lot of work. The fact that old base housing was still being used instead of being renovated or torn down was evidence enough without the other empty, boarded-up buildings. And I know Rantoul is not the only community to still have negative economic effects of a base closure.
As I said earlier, I felt melancholy at the base’s emptiness and conditions, one I know was once vital to the military and the community to thrive. I pray for all communities facing the same situation because of military downsizing.
Until next time,
Have you visited a base or live near one that has closed? What was the effect on the community? Post your answers in the comments below.
Now that you’ve decided whether you want to pursue a job or a career, your next decision is whether to work on base or off base. Opportunities abound for on-base jobs. And many have spouse preference when it comes to hiring.
The Military Spouse Preference program makes it easier for spouses of military members to get federal jobs. It can also help reduce the interruption of a career because of a PCS. Mrs. Tech Sergeant has worked in the Child Development Center field since she graduated from college. When she and Tech Sergeant moved from Alaska to England, she was able to get a job in the CDC in England. As a Government Schedule (GS) worker, she had a year to find a job in the same GS rank she currently held. That was okay because she was pregnant with Tony B at the time they moved. After Tony B was born, she took a job in the system in the base Youth Center. Then, when an equivalent position opened up in the CDC she moved over to that position. The MSP does not guarantee a job when you move, but it does put you on top of the list when a position does open. For more information on spouse preference go to www.sandboxx.us
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) or the Navy Exchange is another place to look for employment on your local base, especially if you want a job in retail. AAFES offers all kinds of jobs from hourly workers all the way through management and corporate positions. They use the Associate Transfer Program to help you find a job at your next duty station if you meet the requirements of PSCing with your sponsor, worked for the Exchange for at least six months, and get a satisfactory or higher rating on your performance review. I’ve known several military spouses who have moved up in this system to become managers. Also, since Exchanges are throughout the world, jobs are available overseas as well. Talk about portability.
The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) employs more than 18,000 civilians in 14 countries. DeCA jobs include baggers (who work for tips), cashiers, stockers (often hired by an outside company to stock shelves), and a variety of other jobs. Again, another source to gain experience in retail if that is what you are looking for. Jobs are listed on USAJOBS.
And don’t forget the Non-appropriated Fund (NAF) jobs on base. NAF jobs are different from civil service or government schedule jobs because they are paid out of funds raised through services on base. For example, money taken in from the clubs on base, Outdoor Recreation, etc. go to pay the salaries of NAF employees. NAF jobs include clerical, administrative support, managerial, laborers, crafts, and trades. Applications for these jobs are accepted on a regular basis through the NAF office on base, so put your application in and then wait.
The Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (CPAC) recruits workers from “every profession imaginable” for jobs in support of the mission of the military. Most, if not all, bases have a CPAC. It acts as the human resources department. For example, when Mrs. Tech Sergeant needs to fill a position, she contacts CPAC and they send her qualified people. She then hires the person she wants for the job. It is a good idea to contact your local CPAC to see what they can do for you.
To search and apply for most of these jobs, you go through USAJOBS. It can take a very long time to hear back from USAJobs, so if you know you are going to a particular location, you might want to search the website in advance of your move. In the meantime, federal jobs are open to anyone from no high school diploma to doctorate degrees and everyone in between. You will fill out a profile, upload a resume, and put down what types of jobs you are interested in. I saw a job on USAJOBS for a job in my hometown in Central Illinois. It truly is the clearing house for jobs on base.
Local jobs are available for military spouses. You just need to determine what you are looking for, find the necessary resources and go for it.
When the Good Chaplain went on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, I had a decision to make. I was the city editor for a local paper. I’d been working on newspapers for the last 10 years, and it was something I loved. But, I also knew our new lifestyle would include frequent moves, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be bogged down working full-time.
Luckily, my job was portable, and I ended up becoming a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines nationwide. Sadly, we did not need my income to survive. His salary as a beginning captain was what the two of us were making combined in the civilian world.
As your spouse enters his military career or continues if you married someone already in the military, chances are you will have to make the same decision. Do you want to work outside of the house, work from home, or not work at all? And the biggest question to ask yourself is, do you want a job or a career?
That question is key to the job search. Some careers lend themselves better to the military lifestyle. Teaching and nursing are two that come to mind. But keep in mind, it can be like starting all over again when you move to a new market. I’ve known many teachers who have to start as a first-year teacher each time they move. That sucks.
Making the decision of whether to pursue a career or a job depends on several factors.
What is the area job market like? Is it saturated in your career field? What kind of professional positions are open? Is the area depressed with a high unemployment rate? Do some research before you even move to the area. I contacted the newspaper in Minot, North Dakota before we even left Alaska, and the editor called me while we were packing out, so I knew I had a job in my career field when I got there.
If you are pursuing a professional position, do you have the necessary certifications? The military just made it a little easier for some professionals to move around with new reciprocal certification rules. Under the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the service branches can reimburse spouses up to $1,000 for any re-licensing or certification costs because of a military move. Check with your branch to see what it does. Also, many states are using license portability for military spouses. This action helps make the licensing and certification go quicker. For more information on state-sponsored reciprocal agreements, click here. The site provides a map of which states are involved in the agreement and finding information on your profession.
Finding the right job is not always easy for military spouses, but using the tools I gave you last week and the information from today, it can be accomplished.
Next week I will talk about whether you want a job on base or off.
Share your experiences trying to transfer licenses or certificates in the comments below.
You want a job, or maybe a career, but it is hard to get established as a military spouse because of frequent moves. Don’t get discouraged. Plenty of jobs are out there if you know where to look.
In today’s post, because I am no expert on the military spouse job hunt, I am going to refer you to some other sites that do a good job of helping you land that dream job, or get the training necessary for that job.
Helpful Websites to Read
Military spouses should all have the Military OneSource website saved as the go-to site for everything military. On this website, you can find help with taxes, financial and legal help, of course, education and employment, as well as a wealth of other topics about military life. Make sure you check it out.
Under the tab, Spouse & Family, on Military.com, are links to military spouse jobs, among other topics. Also, on Military.com, you can select the service branch you which you want information. Click the link above to visit this site.
CareerStep has a section on career training for military, veterans, and their spouses with several programs eligible for financial assistance through My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA). CareerStep offers online training to suit the needs of the military lifestyle. A link to MyCAA is available through Military OneSource.
Check out what the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network can do for you during your job hunt. In addition to an impressive array of national corporations that hire military spouses, the network matches you to hiring managers looking for your qualifications. They also provide skills training, readiness training, and resume preparation.
Most of us have heard of Monster.com, but did you know they advise careers and job searches? The link above takes you to an article about the best companies for military spouses. While you are on the site, look at some of the other help it can give you.
By exploring which companies are most friendly to military spouses and using tools available through these and many more websites and publications, you should begin to decide what kind of work you want to do.
Next week I will discuss whether you are looking for a job or a career.
Do you have any experience with job hunting as a military spouse? Share them and any tips you have to offer in the comments below.
Raising a family in the military can be a two-edged sword. Yes, your children are still children, but they are also part of a community where they may have to grow up a little faster.
More is expected of military children than most children in the civilian world. Generally, there are always exceptions to the rule; military children are better behaved and more polite than most children. They learn early on how to listen to their elders and interact with all sorts of people.
Changing schools — often
The girls’ school at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, was run by the Department of Defense. Only one other Air Force Base elementary school in the Continental U.S. was a DOD school. Teaching at such a school was a prime job, and many of the teachers stayed their whole careers at these schools. I think the pay was higher, but parents also played a role in their child’s education.
Many bases we lived at had elementary schools, but they were run by the local school district. Even then, teachers sought out jobs on base. One teacher told me she loved teaching military children because they were nicer than kids in the other district schools.
Moving around the world
Other aspects of growing up military are not so positive. Our children moved eight times with us, so they went to several different schools. Our girls went to three different elementary schools on the same base.
Moving can be stressful for children who have to leave their friends and possibly extended family. Children are resilient and tend to make new friends faster than their parents, but it is still hard. As a parent, you can help your child through this transition by listening to what they say and don’t say. Pay attention to cues they might not be adjusting. Be encouraging but not pushy. If your child doesn’t want to play soccer, don’t force them. Offer several activities they may enjoy and let them choose.
A good way to transition to a new location is to read up on the location. Find out what the base and the local town, or even state, have to offer. Let each child pick something they want to do to explore their new surroundings. Help them get excited about trying new things that are particular to that area. And be excited about the area yourself. We looked forward to moves because of the adventures each held for us.
Those deployment blues
Deployments are also tricky. Children miss their deployed parent and they react in different ways. Some act out at home and in public, others withdraw and don’t express their sadness. Setting a routine quickly is crucial.
Whenever the Good Chaplain deployed, we had a chick-flick night, where we would put on our pajamas, watch movies, and sleep in the living room on the first Friday he was gone.
Planning special outings, like a drive-in movie or a trip to the swimming pool, help give the kids something to look forward to. Also, having a system to count down the days until the parent comes home is helpful. One friend put Hershey Kisses in a jar to represent the number of days of the deployment. Her son got one Kiss a day, and when the jar was empty, that was the day Daddy would come home. When the return date got pushed back, she simply added more kisses to the jar. I think that only works on younger kids.
Positives of being a military kid
But on a positive note, nuclear military families seem closer to each other in part because of all the moves. We turned moves into vacations and stopped in interesting places. Plus, being twins, our girls always had each other to lean on whenever they experienced something new. But it does seem generally military children are closer to their siblings and their parents.
Military children also get to live in places other kids can only dream about. They meet people from all over the world, and their friends are of all races, colors, and ethnicities. And no one bats an eye.
Kids get to do new things like dogsledding in Alaska, snorkeling in Hawaii, or traveling through three countries to get to school every day, as Tech Sergeant had to do when his family lived in Belgium. Some people never leave their home state.
Raising kids in the military opens up more opportunities to shine. It builds confidence. It builds character. It shows the children how adaptable and strong they are in new situations. If they decide to live a different lifestyle in adulthood than a military one, they can. Illinois Girl chose to plant roots. Mrs. Tech Sergeant chose to marry the military and continue to live this particular adventure.
Next up I will be talking about careers for the military spouse.
What things have worked for you in raising your military kids? Reply in the comments below.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
Tell me how you felt leaving home for the first time or having your children leave home in the comments below.
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.
What was the worst part of moving away from home for you? Comment in the section below.
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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.
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,
How have you met some of your best friends? Share in the comment section below.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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,
What was your biggest challenge moving overseas? Respond in the comments section below.
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.
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.
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.