What do military members and military spouses have in common? Both work hard for their country. What is the difference? Only one receives the credit. Why does the servicemember get the accolades when the spouse works as hard, and often harder?
I’ll Be Back Soon
I was deployed four times over my career. Countless temporary duty (TDY) assignments kept me away from my home and family over the years, as well. For me, a trip may only be five days, or it may be six months. In the beginning, while working AMC, I had only a very general idea of how long a TDY would last because I jobbed it on the FRED: The C-5 Galaxy, the F-ing Ridiculous Economic Disaster, was apt to break anywhere, any time, for anything.
While I was on some ramp somewhere, turning wrenches and launching jets, my wife was at home with the kids. Sounds lopsided, right? Here I am, working my ass off in some strange backwater, freezing cold or flaming hot, while my wife chills at home, reaping the benefits. Yeah, right…
How Does She Do This Every Day?
My wife picked up a job as a movie extra while we were stationed in England. She traveled to London to shoot scenes, and got sent to Spain for six weeks to work on a Matt Damon movie. Kickass, right? Man, I called her multiple times a day to help me with shit I didn’t know. “What time do the kids have practice? Where is it? What is J allergic to, again?” I didn’t know when the kids’ appointments were, or who their teachers were. Playdate? What the hell is that? I couldn’t make it a week without being ready to pull my hair out. And my kids were nine and 15!
Dinner. Easily the easiest thing to deal with. Make sure not to poison the kids. Simple. Have you ever had to figure out what to make for dinner every day? Do you even know what your kids will eat? Do you know when to buy what from the commissary? I can go to the store, pick up two bags worth of groceries, and spend $100. I still wouldn’t have more than one meal in those bags. My wife can spend $75 and come back with a trunkful, then proceed to make meals for the week, PLUS lunches and snacks for the kids.
Did You Know?
Did you know the Friday before Mother’s Day is Military Spouse Appreciation Day? It has been since 1984 when President Reagan signed the proclamation. The date was not standardized until 1999 when Congress officially made it part of Military Appreciation Month, but Reagan put it in motion. Does Chili’s offer a complimentary appetizer to military spouses that day? You know the answer.
Thank Her for HER Service
Problem is, when someone says “Thank you for your service,” they are invariably talking to me. My blue ID card gets me a lot of positive responses, whereas my wife’s brown card gets questions like “Were you in the military? Oh, just a spouse?” Just a spouse? Am I just a guy who fixes planes? No, I am so much more than that. And so is she.
When I would go away, I had the same basic job as at home, just somewhere else and for (usually) longer hours. It sucked and could be hot, nasty, and dangerous, but it was the same basic job. I also had someone who cooked for me. I had access to free washers and driers, a ride back and forth to work, and no electric company sending me nastygrams about unpaid bills.
Mom’s a BEAST!
My wife, on the other hand, had the same basic job, plus about 20 more. She had always been the mom, but now she’s the mom, dad, cook, chauffeur, doctor, coach, teacher, tucker-in of children, bill-payer, repairman, you name it. She already does a lot of those things, but always with some backup in the form of me. When the toilet breaks, I can usually fix it myself. When I’m gone, maintenance has to do it. That means she has to be available when maintenance comes to the house. So, she has to decide whether to wait for a maintenance guy, or if the kids get to their practices, games, or classes, or she goes to the store for groceries, and attends her own classes.
When the check engine light comes on in the car, I can scan a code and find a fix. When I’m not there, the car has to go to a shop and be looked at. Can’t leave the kids at home alone and the child development center (CDC) has a two-year waiting list so no joy there. Gotta pile them into the car and hope it will be a quick fix.
Not That Song Again
Hollywood churns out movies and songs about the plight of the servicemember (usually a Soldier, but what do they know), honoring sacrifice and selflessness. Miles of footage that show the horrors of war and give a glimpse at why so many men and women wake up screaming in the night. How many times did my wife wake up screaming in the night? Or cry herself to sleep? Or curse and rail at the system that celebrates my sacrifice but not hers nor our kids?
Every time I missed a birthday, anniversary, or holiday, my family missed out as well. A kid’s parents should be there for birthdays, Christmases, and first days of school. My kids’ sacrifice was not having me in their lives when they were growing up. They dealt with peers who mocked them because their dad was gone all the time. They dealt with teachers who didn’t understand the military life, and with friends whose parents worked down the street and lived in the same house from birth to graduation. Plaintive cries of “Why are we moving again?” changed to sighs of “Where are we going this time?”
Notebooks were filled with names and addresses of “best friends” who were moving away, or staying while we moved. Some of those friends remained friends, while the majority are names that may or may not even resonate anymore. Pictures dot our walls with people whose names I have already forgotten, but who were important to my family in some way at one time. They were my wife’s and kids’ friends we had to move away from because there was an opening at Base X that I was being sent to fill. I know my kids cried themselves to sleep many nights over the sacrifices they were forced to make.
She’s Just a WHAT?!?
Did you know my wife has zero power to deal with anything military-related in my absence? She can’t access pay information, move into or out of base housing. She can’t even GET HER ID RENEWED without my express permission, usually in the form of a power of attorney, even though her ID card has all my information on it, and we are inextricably linked in the DoD databases, and she is at our home station MORE THAN I AM! She uses more services than I do, but must have my express permission to do so. I can’t count how many times I have been told “We cannot talk to her because she is JUST A SPOUSE.”
Bullshit! Spend one day with her and you find the only reason I can turn wrenches on jets is because of the support she gives. Healthy, well-adjusted kids? Thank you, baby! Clean uniforms? Thank you, baby! Good food? Thank you, baby! Bills paid on time? Thank you, baby! Not having to worry when I’m gone because she kicks ass all day every day? THANK YOU, BABY!!
Thank You, Baby!
I was able to have the Air Force career I had because of my wife. Many guys I knew and worked with had similar wives. They suck it up (a lot more than I did!) and move on with life because there’s not a lot of choice. I was married before we joined the Air Force, and am still married today. I said “we” because WE made a conscious decision. We made a conscious decision to marry, then to join the Air Force, then to reenlist in the Air Force. We made decisions about whether or not to deploy. We made decisions about where to live and work and send our kids to school. We even made decisions on when to retire from the Air Force.
The point is, WE made those decisions. Very little in married life is done in a vacuum, and a military spouse should be as involved in decisions as is the Airman, Soldier, Marine, or Sailor. We make these decisions together, and we fulfill our duties to the best of our abilities. The difference is, I have a cool plaque, some pretty ribbons, and a host of holidays and retail discounts to tell me how well I did my duty. My wife has some Airman in Finance to tell her she’s “just a spouse.” She did her duty, and still does every day. We need to do our duty to our military spouses.