It's now been a couple of years since my husband retired from 31 years of active military service. I was along for the ride from the beginning, as I met him mere months after he arrived at his first duty station.
We were so young when we married (19 and 22), and I had no idea what I was getting myself into — no, I really didn't. I hear so many military spouses say the same, even if they grew up in a military family. Being the spouse of a service member is such a unique experience. In the past two years, I think I've gained some hindsight and perspective in looking back at those decades of military life, and I'm thinking about what I wish I'd known, what I'd do differently, what surprised me, and what I'm glad for.
Whether you're a brand new milspouse or nearly at the end of your journey too, see if any of this resonates with you. And I'd love to hear what you've learned.
What I wish I'd known
1. Not to underestimate the effect military life would have on our family.
While by this point in the military spouse world it's been drilled into us how important it is to create our own identity, pursue our own dreams and passions, that we're not just military spouses (all good things, of course), it does no good to pretend military life won't have an impact on the spouse and family. It will have an effect, whether it's where you're living, how much you see your spouse, if your kids will change schools numerous times, or the rest of the family stays put while the military member moves. It isn't just another job, one that can be picked up and put down at will. It's a completely different way of life.
U.S. Army Sgt.1st Class Danny J. Hocker, assigned to 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment is embraced by his family during a welcome home ceremony in Vilseck, Germany, Oct. 23, 2008.
(US Army Photo by SPC Pastora Y. Hall)
2. To not look back with rose colored glasses.
Whether location, friends, a church, or community, lingering too long on the things I loved from past assignments did not serve me well in the early days at a new base. While it's important to grieve and take stock before moving on, at times, dwelling on what was carved out a hollow space within me that refused to be filled with the new. This led to prolonged times of loneliness and disillusion that I think might have been shorter if I hadn't played the comparison game.
3. To take care of myself.
I think younger spouses these days may have a better handle on this than I did, but I had to learn the hard way that the world would not stop spinning on its axis if I took a nap, planned a walk alone, or said a firm no to the latest volunteering opportunity so that I could make self-care a priority more often.
4. Friendships won’t look the same, and that’s ok.
Back to comparisons. It just stinks to say goodbye to the best friend you've ever had and be forced to start over again. Sometimes it's easier to just…not. It's exhausting to lay the groundwork for friendships and community connections, knowing it's temporary anyway. But I wish I could tell young me that making room for others, whether they resemble any friend you've ever had or would even look for, is important and can also be surprising.
5. Don’t wait for people to make the first move or make me feel welcome.
There's no sense in standing to the side and expect people to bring the welcome wagon to you,because you're the new one after all. Sometimes you have to be brave first.
6. Not worry so much about how our kids would turn out.
I spent a lot of needless worry on this one. A lot. This is not to say that military life isn't hard on kids–it is. But I had way too many sleepless nights on this. Of course, making sure my military kids had the resources they needed was important and I'm glad I gave attention to that. Heck, maybe they did turn out as functioning adults because I worried so much? We'll go with that thought.
(US Army photo)
7. To make space for my husband again at the inevitable end of military life.
I'll be honest–I wish I had done this better. While you're in the thick of military life, it's hard to believe it won't always be like this. And while I gave lip service to how glad I'd be when he'd be home again regularly, no longer deploying, and become a regular part of the household after literally years of separation, the transition to civilian life was a little bumpier than I'd expected. I'd so carefully groomed my independent side for years (I had to, to survive), that creating space for him and for us as a couple was a much bigger adjustment than I'd expected.
What surprised me
1. How glad I am for the hard times.
They changed me, my perspective, and how I relate to others. It sounds cliche, but I wouldn't have grown or appreciate life like I do now without the losses and pain that walked hand in hand with years of military life. I'm not sure I would have learned that lesson so well otherwise.Reunited
2. The utter relief that came with the end of his military service.
The knowledge that we wouldn't ever have to move again unless we choose to, that I won't be holding down the fort as my husband deploys or leaves for training, or that military life will no longer define every detail of our existence struck me the day the words "you are relieved from active duty" were spoken at my husband's retirement ceremony. I didn't realize how heavy that weight was until it was gone.
Capt. Joe Faraone reunites with his wife, Suk, Jan. 15, 2014, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
3. What I’d miss.
The instant camaraderie, the shared experiences with other military families can't be understood unless you've been there. The unique language, the dark sense of humor that comes with the "deployment curse," the understanding of what we all go through is hard to replicate. Hearing the notes of reveille played basewide to start the day, the National Anthem at the end of the duty day, and the heartbreaking sound of Taps each night — the sadness of which will forever make tears gather in my eyes–those are some 'little things' I still miss. The travel, the adventure, the not knowing what would be around the next corner? Yes, I miss that, too.
4. How strong I am. How strong we all are.
One reason I stay involved in my work with military spouses is because it's now part of me. Military families are a special breed. Military spouses have my heart, and will forever. I have witnessed families go through unspeakable things, times that would crush a normal person, and come out stronger and also willing to reach out and help others going through the same thing. Whether it's creating a non-profit to make life easier for other military families, embracing their entrepreneurial spirit and start a pop-up business at a desolate duty station, or simply rolling out of bed each morning to tote kids to school and themselves to work while their spouse serves hundreds of miles away….you inspire me every day.
My husband retired after 31 years in the Air Force. Shortly after, I stumbled across this poem and felt it was written just for him…for us.
The Last Parade
Let the bugle blow
Let the march be played
With the forming of the troops
For my last parade.
The years of war and the years of waiting
Obedience to orders, unhesitating
Years in the states, and the years overseas
All woven in a web of memories.
A lifetime of service passes in review
As many good friends and exotic places too
In the waning sunlight begin to fade
With the martial music of my last parade.
My last salute to the service and base
Now someone else will take my place
To the sharp young airmen marching away
I gladly pass the orders of the day.
Though uncertain of what my future may hold
Still, if needed-before I grow too old
I'll keep my saber sharp, my powder dry
Lest I be recalled to duty by and by.
So let the bugle blow
Fire the evening gun
Slowly lower the colors
My retirement has begun.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.