So, everyone thinks they want to retire, right? And, eventually, we all have to, but there’s a bunch of stuff TAPS and all those other “courses” just don’t prepare you for. Life changes in some pretty big ways that have absolutely nothing to do with pay and benefits.
We are required to attend the out-briefing classes: the financial preparedness (yawn) death-by-lectures, differences between all the different Tricare options (pick Prime), how your BAH stops (Wait. What?), and the drop-dead date you have to go get your new, shiny retirement ID.
Which is no joke, because I totally ignored it. Then a month later, I couldn’t get on base because that new little scanner gizmo the gate guards all now use said, *BEEP!* Intruder alert! This lady needs a retired ID. She’s being an active duty poser.”
I was rebuffed. Shocked. Pissed off just a bit. But, then I got my stupid retired ID like they told us to. (Not without rolling my eyes, though.)
Here are the main things I wish they had told me:
1. For the first year, there was a part of my husband that just wanted to go back on active duty
Maybe it was the familiarity, or the “dudes,” or the routine lunches at McAlister’s Sandwich Shop, but he honestly missed the Navy. It wasn’t until we got over the first year that who he is as a retired Navy pilot began to form and shape who he is now. It was hard to watch him navigate his life without the true north being the US Navy. (Note: that goes away eventually, by the way. Then, you’ll wonder why the hell you didn’t retire sooner.)
2. While I missed him when he was deployed, him being around all the time has its downsides
While I, honestly and for true, really, really did miss him when he was deployed, I had also gotten used to not having him around all the time. So, the first month of him being retired was a huge adjustment. I actually had to cook every morning, noon and night. And, I had to adjust to him just being there all the time. All. The. Time. “What’s for lunch?” (Me: looking around thinking ‘who is this guy wanting food in the middle of the day?’) Trust me. We were all safer removing all weapons and dulling down any sharp objects that first month or six months or year.
3. It might sound weird, but I miss the smell of the military
I miss the smell of the Navy. I know, it’s weird. But, it’s also true. Smell is the strongest sensory trigger for memory. There was something in the clothes (JP5?), or in the air, (also JP5) or something (it’s totally JP5) … whatever it was, the allure of Au De Navy was and is sorely missed. Our house just smells so civilian now.
4. At the moment your husband retires, your former shipmates will consider you struck stupid on military topics
All your knowledge and infinite wisdom somehow evaporated, or was some way captured in the picture they used for that retired ID I mentioned above. Whatever the phenomenon, it’s a real thing. Within the first 48 hours, I heard, “How would you know? Your husband is REEE-TIIIIRREEDD” at least twice.
5. He’s going to grow a beard. So, suck it up and deal
Now, me personally, I love beards. It was not some sort of hardship on me. Quite the contrary. But, give it a rest and let him do it. Don’t bitch. Just let him grow the damn beard and be grateful he isn’t a man-baby with no whiskers. He’ll have to shave it (probably) eventually, but this is his last stand. Let him have this moment.
After nearly two decades of counter-terror operations the world over, the United States military is now shifting its focus back toward great power competition with the likes of China and Russia. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the past two decades have left the U.S. military particularly well suited for the war at hand, but not very well positioned for the wars that are feasibly to come.
During this era of counter-terror operations, China has had the opportunity to seek higher degrees of technological and tactical parity, while having the benefit of not being actively engaged in expensive combat operations on the same scale. That has allowed China’s sea-faring power to grow at an exponential rate in recent years, with an active fleet of more than 770 vessels sailing under the banners of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy, their militarized Coast Guard, and a maritime miitia that takes its orders from the Chinese military as well.
Chinese Navy on parade (Chinese state television)
The addition of China’s massive ballistic missile stockpile, including hypersonic anti-ship platforms the U.S. Navy currently has no means to defend against, has further established China’s advantage in the Pacific. Even if the U.S. Navy leveraged every vessel in its 293-ship fleet, American forces would still be outnumbered by Chinese ships by more than two to one. Importantly, however, the United States likely couldn’t devote its entire fleet to any single conflict due to its global commitments to security and stability, especially regarding essential shipping lanes.
Today, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are both actively seeking ways to mitigate China’s numbers advantage, as well as the area-denial bubble created by China’s anti-ship platforms. Multiple possible solutions are being explored, ranging from hot-loading Marine Corps F-35Bs on austere airstrips on captured islands in the case of the Marines, to the Navy’s ongoing development of the MQ-25 aerial refueling drone that aims to extend the reach of America’s carrier-based fighters. Still, thus far, there has been no magic bullet. In fact, concerns about a near-peer conflict with China has even prompted several high-ranking defense officials to question the practicality of America’s fleet of super-carriers, both because of their immense cost, and because of the likelihood that they could be sunk by China’s hypersonic missiles long before they could get close enough to Chinese shores to begin launching sorties of F-35Cs and F/A-18 Super Hornets.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mohamed Labanieh/Released)
The fundamental challenges a war with China would present are clear: Finding a way to mitigate the risks posed by advanced anti-ship missiles and offsetting the significant numbers advantage Chinese forces would have within the region. In the past, we’ve discussed the possibility of arming commercial cargo ships with modular weapons systems in a “missile barge” fleet as a means to bolster American numbers and capabilities. Another feasible option that could even work in conjunction with this strategy would be issuing “letters of marque” to private operations, effectively allowing non-military forces to serve as privateers for the U.S. government.
The Capture of a French Ship by Royal Family Privateers by Charles Brooking
American Privateers or Pirates?
The concept of issuing letters of marque to American privateers was recently discussed by retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian and Brandon Schwartz in the U.S. Naval Institute’s publication, “Proceedings.” Although the idea seems almost ridiculous in the 21st Century, the legal framework outlined by Cancian and Schwartz is sound, and one could argue that their assertions about the viability and strategic value of privateer fleets are as well.
Cancian and Schwartz argue that privateering is not piracy, as there are laws governing it and precedent for the practice established in past U.S. conflicts, including the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
“Privateering is not piracy—there are rules and commissions, called letters of marque, that governments issue to civilians, allowing them to capture or destroy enemy ships. The U.S. Constitution expressly grants Congress the power to issue them (Article I, section 8, clause 11).” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
However, despite their argument being technically right, it’s difficult to dismiss how the piracy narrative would almost certainly affect public perception of the use of privateers, and potentially even the conflict at large.
While the United States could argue that privateers operate with specifically outlined rules and commissions, even the American public would likely see American privateers as pirates. And because America has found itself trailing behind nations like China and Russia in terms of manipulating public narratives, that narrative could indeed hurt not only public support for the conflict; it could even jeopardize some international relationships.
The Pride of Baltimore, left, and the Lynx, two privateer vessels, reenact a battle of the War of 1812 in Boston Harbor during Boston Navy Week 2012. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elisandro T. Diaz/Released)
Privateers are not pirates in the literal sense only because a government is sanctioning their piracy. In the eyes of those who don’t recognize America’s authority to grant such permissions in far-flung waterways, the two terms would be interchangeable.
Regardless of vernacular, the United States has used this approach to great success in the past. Although the last time American privateers set sale was more than 200 years ago, their approach was modern enough to set precedent for a return to the concept.
“The privateering business was thoroughly modern and capitalistic, with ownership consortiums to split investment costs and profits or losses, and a group contract to incentivize the crew, who were paid only if their ship made profits. A sophisticated set of laws ensured that the capture was ‘good prize,’ and not fraud or robbery. After the courts determined that a merchant ship was a legitimate capture, auctioneers sold off her cargo of coffee, rum, wine, food, hardware, china, or similar consumer goods, which ultimately were bought and consumed by Americans.” -Frederick C. Leiner in “Yes, Privateers Mattered“
In the event of a large-scale conflict with a nation like China, that potential narrative blowback may be a necessary evil. However, the ramifications of that evil could be mitigated through a concerted narrative effort to frame privateer actions in the minds of the populous as an essential part of a broader war effort that has the American people’s best interests in mind.
In the War of 1812, privateering saw such public support (in large part thanks to the profits it drove) that some took to calling the conflict the “War of the People.” Managing the narrative surrounding American privateers could make the concept far more palatable to the American people.
As for the legal aspects of privateering, you can read a thorough legal justification for the practice in a separate piece written by Schwartz called “U.S. Privateering is legal.”
(Italian Center for International Studies)
The role of American privateers at war
China’s massive fleet of vessels in the Pacific can be broken down into their three command groups, all of which ultimately answer to China’s People’s Liberation Army. China’s maritime militia accounts for approximately 300 vessels, the militarized Coast Guard has 135 more, and the PLA-Navy itself boasts an ever-growing roster expected to reach 450 surface vessels by the end of the decade.
In the event of a war with China, the American Navy would have more than its hands full engaging with such a massive force, limiting its ability to cut China off from one of its most significant revenue sources, overseas trade. China’s reliance on shipping products to other nations has helped its economy grow rapidly, but it also represents a strategic disadvantage, as Cancian and Schwartz point out, if America can find the means to disrupt this exchange.
“Thirty-eight percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) comes from trade, against only 9 percent of U.S. GDP. Chinese social stability is built on a trade-off: The Chinese Communist Party has told the people they will not have democratic institutions, but they will receive economic prosperity.” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
In 2018, China’s merchant fleet was already approaching 2,200 total vessels, thanks to massive external demand for inexpensive Chinese exports. America’s Navy would likely be stretched too thin to actually blockade such an expansive merchant fleet. Like with aircraft, America’s preference for large and expensive ships that are capable of fulfilling multiple roles has offered increased capability but significantly decreased numbers. At its peak during World War II, the U.S. Navy boasted more than 6,000 ships. Today, the Navy has 293 far more capable vessels, but none can be in more than one place at a time.
American Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, for instance, are too big and expensive to task with waiting out Chinese ships hiding in foreign ports, and would likely largely be assigned to Aegis missile defense operations. This is where American privateers could offer an important service.
American privateers wouldn’t be tasked with engaging the Chinese Navy or even with sinking merchant ships. Instead, they would be tasked with capturing Chinese cargo vessels, offering them a multi-million dollar bounty on each, and quickly compromising China’s ability to sustain its export sales.
“Since the goal is to capture the hulls and cargo, privateers do not want to sink the vessel, just convince the crew to surrender. How many merchant crews would be inclined to fight rather than surrender and spend the war in comfortable internment?” -“Unleash the Privateers!” In Proceedings
Of course, despite Cancian and Schwartz’ dismissive take on how apt Chinese crews would be to fight to maintain control of their ships, it’s important to remember that these privateers would likely be engaging in close quarters fighting with Chinese crews or security on board. As American privateers proved more costly to the Chinese government, an increased emphasis on protecting these cargo ships would almost certainly follow.
This begs an essential question: Where do you find privateer crews?
Private security contractors in Iraq (DoD photo)
Private infrastructure already exists
While the concept of American privateers seems borderline fantastical, the truth is, the United States has already leveraged the premise of using non-military personnel for security and defensive operations the world over. American security firm Blackwater (now Academi) is perhaps the highest-profile example of America’s use of private military contractors. In fact, contractors in Iraq have reached numbers as high as 160,000 at some points, nearly equaling the total number of U.S. military personnel in the region. At least 20,000 of those private contractors filled armed security roles.
So while the term “privateer” or even pirate suggests an entirely unconventional approach to modern warfare, the premise is already in play. Terminology may dictate perception to a significant degree, but in practice, privateering wouldn’t be all that different from existing relationships the United States maintains with private security outfits. Further, private security firms, including Blackwater, have already operated at sea in a similar manner to privateers, from Blackwater’s armed patrol craft policing Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa to countless armed and privately owned boats patrolling the Indian Ocean today.
In 2007, Blackwater acquired the McArther from the NOAAS. (WikiMedia Commons)
Many such organizations, with existing infrastructure and established relationships with the U.S. government, would likely seek and win contracts, or letters of marque, in the early days of a burgeoning Sino-American war, and stand up their own forces far more quickly than the United States could expand its naval force in the same volume. Rather than building ships and enlisting crews, the United States could simply authorize existing ships with existing crews to go on the offensive against China’s commercial fleets.
The American government’s experience with military contractors throughout the War on Terror means these relationships would not be as without precedent as they may seem, and the existing private military industry would make American privateers a quick and effective means to grow America’s offensive capabilities.
China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea (shown in red). A conflict with China would undoubtedly play out here. (WikiMedia Commons)
A complicated solution to a complex problem
Of course, there are many variables at play when discussing a future conflict with China. Incorporating privateers into such a strategy admittedly seems rather extreme from our vantage point in 2020, but it’s important to note that there is no precedent for what something like a 21st Century Sino-American war might look like. The massive sea battles of World War II may offer some sense of scale, but the rapid advancement of technology in the intervening decades creates a hypothetical war that is simply incongruous with the World War II models.
America does boast the largest and most powerful military in the world, but China’s rapidly expanding and modernizing force has not been growing in a vacuum. From space operations to warship construction, China has been developing its war-fighting apparatus with America specifically in mind. China isn’t interested in competing with the United States on its terms and instead has been focused on identifying potential American vulnerabilities and tailoring new capabilities to leverage those flaws.
China’s Type 002 Aircraft carrier (Tyg728 on WikiMedia Commons)
Large scale warfare between technological and economic giants would play out differently than any conflict we’ve ever seen. In order to emerge from such a conflict successfully, America has to do much more than win. Once the price of victory begins to compromise America’s ability to sustain its way of life thereafter, that victory becomes less pronounced.
In order to win in such a conflict, the United States will need to dig deep into its bag of tricks. On the home front, it would mean finding ways to rapidly expand America’s industrial base to replenish vehicles, supplies, and equipment as they’re expended or destroyed on the front lines. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, and Space Force will all be required to communicate and rely on one another in ways never before accomplished on a battlefield.
And China’s massive numbers advantage would have to be mitigated somehow. American privateers, or pirates as the press would surely call them, might just do the trick.
Last week, I read an article on this site called, “America, Where Are You Going?” in which the author (anonymous) bemoaned recent social and political activism of his or her fellow military spouses.
I read all the way to the second page, where one line jumped out above all the rest: “However, that mutual understanding and respect that our spouses should never be publicly political seem to have fallen to the side for a few…” (emphasis added).
Dear Anonymous, I could not disagree with this sentiment more. Here is my rebuttal.
For over twenty years, I’ve served my country by making sure that my spouse’s home and family are taken care of. I make lunches and brush hair and comfort babies when they haven’t seen their daddy in too long. I make sure that if he is called to deploy, he can leave our family knowing that we are taken care of and focus on the job in front of him. I love my country. My work isn’t a sacrifice so much as it is an act of patriotism and pride.
At the same time, it is out of a deep and abiding love for my country that I recognize her flaws and errors. It is also my duty to speak up and call for change.
In 1830 the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, and my ancestors were robbed of their homeland in Mississippi. Choctaw Nation would start the trek west to Oklahoma where they would be confined to a reservation in a wholly new environment. My ancestors survived, though many others didn’t.
This story was told to me as a child. I could hear the pain in my grandmother’s voice as she retold the story her grandma told her. The early 1800s was one of many dark chapters in American history. But my Nation grew strong and built a future in Oklahoma.
Ever since then, I have been firmly grounded in the understanding that my country has deep flaws that we should all mourn. We also have the promise of freedom and the opportunity to grow that is lacking in so many places around the world. My American story goes back far beyond the first European settlers, then later was enriched by Italian and Welsh ancestors. I am rooted in this country in deep ways. This makes me both confident in the future that is possible and aware of the blemishes within.
Part of my duty as a patriot, as a military spouse, and as an American is to speak out against actions that harm our citizens and dishonor our history. Of course we can be publicly political! We’re stakeholders in this great American experiment, aren’t we? That means we get a say in how our country’s run. In fact, as military spouses who have lived in all different kinds of places, we have unique insights on how different systems work. Our perspective is tremendously valuable to the political process.
Those who suggest that spouses should never be political are likely the spouses who benefit most from the way things are now. I do not have that luxury. My Nation does not have that luxury. For us, our existence is political. If we do not speak up, we risk being erased entirely.
At the very end of the article, the author wrote: “The military is not just one entity, it is a family made up of individuals, all with different outlooks on life, political affiliations, religions, every race, and every culture imaginable.”
On this we can agree. Military spouses are no more of a monolith than any other demographic in America. I have military spouse friends who are Muslim, Jewish, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Gay, Transgender, socialists, and conservatives. All of us come into this military life with passions and beliefs, some that change and some that grow stronger. The shared experience of serving together bonds us across those differences with a strength that is rarely seen in civilian circles.
So of course: I no more speak for all military spouses than they speak for me. (I’ll add that in the original New York Times article I’m pretty sure this author referred to, that was made abundantly clear.) However, it does not mean that we do not speak at all. On the contrary, we cannot and must not remain quiet when we see injustices. We can and must stand up and say enough.
If you’re interested in political activism like me and what to know where to start, I recommend checking out the Secure Families Initiative. They host nonpartisan webinar trainings on how to be the best advocate you can be, whether that’s lobbying your elected officials or simply telling your story. It’s a super cool community of kickass military spouses!
My voice is important, my voice is unique, and my voice is mine. I am not speaking for my spouse or anyone else, but I am speaking for what I believe is best for my family, national security, and my country.
There’s been so much written lately about the heroes on the front lines. The selfless men and women bravely going to their jobs to serve their country and their communities. The ones who are knowingly going to work with patients or customers who could infect them. Yes, we rightfully applaud the truck drivers hauling supplies to replenish depleted stores. We extol the cook at our favorite restaurant who keeps making meals and the employees whose tips have been practically eliminated but still run our orders out to our cars. We watch with sheer amazement and horror as our doctors, nurses and medical staff go into the line of fire lacking basic, necessary protective equipment. We honor you all. We salute you all. We love and respect and are grateful For You All.
But this letter isn’t about that. Nope.
This letter is to you — the spouses of the mission essentials.
You are the ones left behind each morning. The ones left to deal with homeschool and meals and kids unable to play with their friends or understand their math homework that they didn’t quite grasp in a packet.
You are the ones left to carry the emotional burdens of children who are frustrated at a Zoom classroom and don’t understand why they can’t have a sleepover or go see grandma or even play at the park. You are the ones who field countless requests for snacks, a thousand utterings of, “I need help,” and even more declarations of, “I can’t do this.”
You put your own work on hold, your own health, your own sanity to muster one more ounce of patience, one more hug, one more deep breath, all while balancing that other nasty, invisible weight: the burden of your own anxiety. Anxious about the world. Anxious about your spouse. Anxious about their health and your health and your parents’ health and your kids’ health and their screen time and your elderly neighbor’s health and the teachers’ health and your job and your neighbor’s job and the economy and your kids’ education, and given your one hour of free time a week, why you suddenly identify with a character on Tiger King.
Here’s the thing: It’s all too much. And it’s going to feel like you’re failing.
Failing by definition means, “a weakness, especially in character; a shortcoming.” But if we’ve seen anything in this time of pandemic, we’ve seen your strength. Your resolve. Your gracious heart. We’ve seen you stay home and help flatten the curve. We’ve seen you take on additional responsibilities so your mission essential spouse could keep being mission essential. We’ve seen you offer encouragement to your friends on FaceTime when you have none to give yourself. We’ve seen you reassure your exhausted partner that everything will be okay, all the while knowing you will lie awake in the dark in the middle of the night, the echoes of your own fears so deafening you can’t fall back asleep.
We see you. You’re going to be okay. Reframe your measure of success to include a bar that allows for just getting by. Find time for gratitude. Make space for prayer or meditation or simply a silence that isn’t broken by fear or anxiety. We are all in this together and your best is good enough. As my seven year old reminded me yesterday, this is his first global pandemic. Ours too, bud. Ours too.
Safe House Project co-founders and military spouses, Brittany Dunn and Kristi Wells hosted SHP’s Freedom Requires Action event in January 2020 in Washington, D.C. in order to promote corporate and community awareness of the sex trafficking epidemic.
Founded and led by military families, The Safe House Project (SHP) is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering victims of human trafficking by providing them a place to call home.
The group is focused on the development of safe houses for survivors of sex trafficking. Its 2030 mission is to eradicate child sex trafficking in America by strengthening networks.
“In 2018, there were less than 100 beds in special care homes [in the U.S.],” Brittany Dunn, a Navy spouse and co-founder of SHP, said.
Without a place to go, many victims are turned over to the foster care system, juvenile detentions or mental institutions, with some even electing to return to their captors.
According to the US Department of Justice, finding adequate and appropriate emergency, transitional, and long-term housing is often the biggest service-related challenge that [human trafficking] task forces face.
Dunn, along with SHP co-founders and fellow Navy spouses Kristi Wells and Vicki Tinnel, began researching ways they could fill the gap. Rather than start a small non-profit organization focused on helping their local community, they thought big.
SHP accelerates safe house development through providing education, resources, funding and government contacts to local nonprofits who seek to establish safe houses within their local communities. These individual safe houses provide specialized counseling and resources to help victims get out of the cycle of abuse. By adopting a business-like organizational structure, SHP partners do not have to work in isolation to solve a problem. They are part of a larger network and better able to solve big-picture problems.
“What most people see as a disadvantage, moving around constantly, we’ve been able to use that to our advantage,” Dunn said. “A majority of our volunteers across the U.S. are military families. That creates networks that most people do not have as a natural resource.”
Many survivors find art therapy to be an important part of processingtheir past. Art allows them to express their pain, while also helping them find their wings.
Why is this so hard?
Like other national problems, sex trafficking issues are often complicated by the division of power between local, state and federal government. If a victim is rescued in a state that does not have an active safe house, SHP will attempt to have them transferred to a neighboring state that can provide the resources they need.
While this is the ideal model, according to Dunn, some CPS [Child Protective Services] don’t want to see their dollars flow out of state.
“That is where education and awareness come in,” she said.
Victim reintegration from a stable treatment environment back into the “real world” must be strategic. Without proper planning, victims could easily run into former “johns” and reenter the cycle of abuse. The reason safe houses are so essential is because victims have specialized needs and many shelters do not have the resources or government mandate to help them.
“There is a need domestically for improved victim services, trauma-informed support, better data on the prevalence and trends of human trafficking,” Congressman Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said at a Safe House Project’s Freedom Requires Action event held earlier this year. Hudson, a cosponsor of the 2019 Put Trafficking Victims First Act, hopes this legislation will “provide stakeholders — from law enforcement to prosecutors to service providers to government officials — with the guidance and information they need to better serve victims of trafficking.”
Congressman Richard Hudson, R-N.C. was a guest speaker at the Safe House Project’s Freedom Requires Action event in January 2020 event held in the U.S. Capitol building. Hudson is also cosponsor of the 2019 Put Trafficking Victims First Act
The majority of trafficked children are not victims of a snatch and grab.
“We live under a perception that our kids are safer because they are in a first world country, but they aren’t. It is the harsh reality,” Dunn said. “It just looks different. Instead of having a red-light district in Thailand, you have kids being recruited on Fortnite or being approached peer-to-peer in schools.”
Every time a child is exposed to sexually-explicit content in conversations, on television or online, underage sex becomes normalized. For some, abusive acts do not feel like the crimes and victims do not feel like they are being victimized.
“Child sex trafficking is a difficult subject to talk about but raising awareness and talking about it is the first step in solving it,” Ria Story, Tedx speaker, author and survivor leader, said.
Safe House Project and Coffee Beanery are teaming up to raise awareness in coffee shops across America. Advocates also marked their hands in red to support the #EndItMovement.
See something. Say something. Do something.
According to Dunn, “any epidemic has two sides to eradication. Prevention and treatment.” She encourages everyone to look for the problems that may lie under the surface.
In addition to providing safe houses, SHP has trained over 6,000 military personnel to recognize and report instances of sex trafficking and hope to more than double this number by the end of 2020. And for those who cannot attend an official training, SHP offers online tools (https://www.safehouseproject.org/sex-trafficking-statistics).
Deploying is just one of those things every troop knows will happen eventually. There are two ways troops look at this: Either they’re gung-ho about getting into what they’ve been training to do for years or they’re scared that they’ll have to do what they’ve been training years to do for years. No judgement either way, but it’s bound to happen.
The truth is, combat only makes up a fraction of a fraction of what troops do while deployed. There are some troops who take on an unequal share of that burden when compared to the next, but everyone shares some of the same downsides of deployment.
Today’s troops have it nicer than those that came before them and some units may inherently have an easier time of things. Still, everyone has to deal with the same smell of the “open air sanitation pits” that are lovingly called “sh*t ponds.”
Yep. And the VA is still debating whether this is unhealthy or not.
Sand will get everywhere no matter how many times you sweep. Black mold will always creep into your living areas and cause everyone to go to sick call. That’s normal.
What’s not normal is the amount of lazy, disgusting Blue Falcons that decide that using Gatorade bottles as piss pots is more convenient than walking their ass to a proper latrine but get embarrassed by their disgusting lifestyle so they horde that sh*t under their bunk in some sick, twisted collection. True story.
That is, if you can get to an uncrowded USO tent to actually talk to your folks back home.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Carmichael)
Everyone knows they’re going to have to be away from their family, but no one really prepares you for the moments when you’re going to have to tell them you can’t talk a few days because something happened — “Comms Blackouts.” They’re totally normal and it freaks out everyone back home. it’s up to the troops to explain the situation without providing any info that would incur the wrath of the chain of command.
We’ve all heard the constant, nebulous threats. “The enemy is always listening!” “All it takes is one puzzle piece to lose the war!” Such concerns aren’t unfounded — and it leaves troops clammed up, essentially without anything interesting to talk about while deployed.
I’m just saying, we’re doing you a favor by not saluting you where there could be snipers…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena)
Other units’ officers
Every unit falls under the same overarching rules as set forth by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So, if someone’s doing something that breaks said code, any troop can (and should) step in to defuse the situation. That being said, every unit functions on their own SOPs while downrange and there’s always going to be a smart-ass butterbar who raises hell about not being saluted in a combat zone.
Don’t worry, though. This guy will probably have a a “totally legitimate” copy of all the seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ on DVD.
(Official Marine Corps Photo by Eric S. Wilterdink)
Everything you’re going to miss out on
Being deployed is kind of like being put in a time capsule when it comes to pop culture. Any movie or television show that you would normally be catching the night of the release is going to end up on a long checklist of things to catch up on later.
To make matters worse, troops today still have an internet connection — just not a very good one. So, if some big thing happened on that show you watch, it’s going to get spoiled eventually because people assume that, after a few weeks, it’s all fair game to discuss. Meanwhile, you’re still 36 weeks away from seeing it yourself.
You’d think this isn’t comfy. But it is.
Sleep (or lack thereof)
Some doctors say that seven to nine hours of sleep are required for the human body to function. You will soon laugh in the face of said doctors. You’ll be at your physical peak and do just fine on five hours of constantly interrupted sleep.
War is very loud and missions occur at all hours of the day. What this means is just as soon as you get tucked in for the night, you’re going to hear a chopper buzz your tent while a barely-working generator keeps turning over which is then drowned out by the sounds of artillery going off. Needless to say, when the eventual IDF siren goes off, you’ll legitimately debate whether you should get out of bed or sleep through it.
Ever wonder why so many troops make stupid films while in the sandbox? Because we’re bored out of our freakin’ minds!
The fact that you’re actually working 12-hour days won’t bother you. The fact that you’re going to get an average of five hours of sleep won’t bother you. Those remaining seven hours of your day are what will drive you insane.
You could go to the gym and get to looking good for your eventual return stateside. You could pick up a hobby, like learning to play the guitar, but you’d only be kidding yourself. 75 percent of your time will be spent in the smoke pit (regardless if you smoke or not) and the other trying to watch whatever show is on at the DFAC.
“Oh, look! It seems like everyone came back from deployment!”
All that money (and nothing to spend it on)
Think of that episode of The Twilight Zone where the world’s end comes and that one dude just wants to read his books. He finally finds a library but — plot twist — he breaks his glasses and learns that life is unfair. That’s basically how it feels when troops finally get deployment money. It’ll be a lot more than usual, since combat pay and all those other incentives are awesome, but it’s not like you can really spend any of it while in Afghanistan.
If you’re married, that money you’re be making is going to be used to take care of your family. Single troops will just keep seeing their bank accounts rise until they blow it all in one weekend upon returning.
For anyone high school age or under, America has been at war since they took their first breath. Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, a conflict that is ongoing, it has been a nation at war. In this time span, American troops (and drones) have fought in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya, Libya, Uganda, and Yemen. To a kid, this is all very far away if they know about it at all. Such conflicts are only fleetingly headline news and barely make their way into pop culture (unless, of course, you count conflicts on galaxies far far away). But kids should know about war. Right? Is it a parent’s duty to tell them about the conflicts their country is engaged in? And if so, how much should we tell them?
It all depends on where a child is in their development. Parents of older children can engage in more complex conversations about the dangers and reasons for war, using their history lessons and entertainment as an entry point. But when it comes to a kid under the age of 7, things require a bit more finesse.
“The brain is rapidly evolving during growth and development, and it leads to very striking differences how kids understand these kinds of concepts” says Dr.Chris Ivany, a child and adolescent psychiatrist working in the Washington, DC area.
The conversation about what war even is needs to cater to a child’s understanding of the physical world while not resorting to metaphors that are either dangerously reductive – “it’s like when mommy and daddy fight” – or frightfully apocalyptic. It’s a conversation about life and death, politics, morality, and human nature. None of those topics taken alone are easy to convey to a child. Add them together and you’ve got a quagmire that needs to be explained in simple, non-terrifying terms.
That’s even tougher when parents seem to freak out about every new news item. The fact is, people have been freaking out about war’s representation in the media for generations. We’re only a few decades removed from Cold War anxieties that caused Boomers to duck and cover at the sound of an air-raid siren, and only about 30 years from the emergence of the current 24-hour news cycle, which came to prominence during the Gulf War. As we enter another period of escalation and deescalation with Iran, it’s on parents to try to calmly explain what’s happening in the world without leaving children shaking in their boots.
“Even more than the words that are spoken back and forth, the tone and way in which discussions like this happen between parents and kids are important,” says Ivany. “Kids pick up on worries and anxieties that parents may have. Parents (should) model the idea that there truly are hard and scary and bad things out in the world, but (also how) we get through them.”
Pop culture can help. Certain touchstones provide context, which is exactly what a child needs to understand the world around them.
“A 4-year-old seeing war presented in a Disney cartoon (like Mulan)… it probably doesn’t overwhelm him or her and then you can have a conversation about it. That same 4-year-old watching the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan is going to be overwhelmed and it’s not going to have the same effect,” says Ivany. “The exposure to the various points in pop culture or discussions in school, as long as it’s developmentally and age-appropriate it’s probably a good thing. Unfortunately, war is a reality and we need to understand it. If it leads to a productive discussion because it’s not an overwhelming topic, it opens the door for future discussions.
“As the brain grows and matures, you can have another discussion that’s more complex than when they were four. And they’ll do that because they feel like engaging you was helpful and not scary: You created a line of communication,” says Ivany.
That line of communication can lead to more productive discussions as a child ages and starts to understand the concept of war on a deeper level, touching on the reasons for war, the concept of morality and “just war”, and the ethical and moral aspects of conflict.
Still, war, even in abstract, is terrifying. That’s why it’s important to stress with children that they’re fortunate in that war isn’t immediately encroaching on them, ready to wipe them out.
“Kids tend to internalize and put themselves in the middle of things that logically doesn’t make sense, and that may result in fears that aren’t logical to adults: ‘If it’s on the TV screen, why wouldn’t it be at the door? If a missile can fly from Iran to Iraq, why can’t that missile fly to the suburb where they may live?'” says Ivany. “Especially in kids up to the age of 7, part of this conversation is a reassurance that they are safe, and this is not something that they need to be worried about on a day-to-day basis.”
As for kids with loved ones deployed, Ivany stresses that while conflict has its casualties, it’s essential that they understand, “the vast majority of soldiers come back just fine. Any time somebody is hurt it’s a tragedy, but most of the time people are safe.”
Simply having a conversation, to begin with, can be tough. But being open and honest is the key to helping assuage fears and anxieties about war. And, as with all things parenting, those conversations can evolve into larger lessons on life outside the battlefield.
“You can use conversations about serious things like this to help encourage growth and development in other areas,” says Ivany. “It can lead to a helpful discussion about compassion for other people, or it could become a launching point about speaking out about what’s wrong and to be able to take personal positions on things (like standing up to bullies). These conversations about war oftentimes provide an opportunity for other discussions that are helpful in kids’ development.”
Moving to a new base is a family decision as much as it is a career move. When considering where to go, there is so much to think about beyond career path; for instance, health and well-being, proximity to family, available health services and more.
Besides, sometimes it’s just fun to live somewhere new! As a military family, you’re likely used to frequent moves. But you can also find the right move that suits your interests, career changes, and more. Moving is a given, but when you get a say in where to go, it can make all the difference in mindset and family unity.
Consider finding a duty base that best suits your family needs for your next stop by:
Fulfilling family needs
First things first, what does your family need? Do you have a family member with certain medical needs? What type of amenities need to be nearby? Look at the proximity and quality of services close to each possible duty station. This information should be available online, with reviews so you can consider a move from afar. Military bases themselves might also offer this information, letting you know in advance what types of treatments are approved at each base. Or, find those who live there already and ask around.
Other things to consider include unique aspects to an area, preferences for climate, distance to important landmarks in your life (family, facilities, etc.).
Of course, moving somewhere new can be a great deal of fun! If you’re ready to try out a new location, think about what can be done and how it’s different from your current duty station. What activities are available that you can’t do now? (Snow skiing, hockey, sailing, rock climbing, and more.) Can you easily travel to landmarks that interest your family? Will you be able to adapt to weather changes easily?
Look at the option for adventure when considering your next base and what type of activities each family member can take on. Keep fun and adventure in mind so you can experience new cultures as well as all there is to be seen.
Looking at career moves
It’s also important to keep career changes in mind with a potential PCS. How will the move affect your military member’s career path? Is there a compromise for their best move that will also help the family? Look toward a solution that helps — or at least doesn’t hurt — a career projection in years to come.
This, of course, is based on you or your spouse’s job in the service. Some jobs will have more location choices than others, while others might head to various bases, depending on the point they are at in their career.
Taking a vote!
If your kids are old enough, consider a family vote to decide where you might PCS. After all, they’re being affected by this move, too, so it’s only fair to consider their wants! It may or may not make a difference in the long run, but it’s worth having a discussion.
Besides, a good old fashioned family vote just seems fun! While parents have final say (and ultimately the military has final final say), it can help kids to feel included and welcomed as part of the family when voting on upcoming PCS locations.
All in all, there is much to consider when looking at military moves. Look at responsible aspects, such as infrastructure and promotion path, but also consider just how much fun is to be had at potential addresses.
How does your family decide where to move next? Tell us below.
When, at a ceremony or event, an emcee asks that all active military, veterans, and spouses stand together to be recognized, there is not distinction between the groups.
They all stand. If the woman is a service member or veteran, they know that when everyone stands together the assumption will be they are a military spouse. And what about military spouses? How does this make them feel? They don’t quite fit into the category of service member since they are a spouse. Although they appreciate being recognized for their sacrifice, it just doesn’t feel quite right.
Situations like this especially aggravate an already existing complicated relationship between female service members and female military spouses. Women who serve in the military are constantly overlooked and their service is devalued. They often have to defend their service to the men who they either serve with or men who never served at all. Grouping their service with the service of non-veterans is very disingenuous.
Military spouses appreciate being recognized for the work they do to support the military because it is often an unseen and thankless job. But when everyone is pushed into one category, military spouses find themselves feeling awkward or uncomfortable. The very group they are trying to recognize doesn’t feel supported or appreciated.
Instead, they still feel like outsiders.
But treated differently
As both a veteran and a military spouse, I am in a unique position to see how military spouses and service members are treated in similar situations.
Military spouses are classified as dependents, and are often treated just like the title sounds. And while some rules are made to protect the military and the member, they often make life a lot harder to be a military spouse.
A basic task like getting an identification card renewed or having repairs done to your home when you live on base require the service member. In the civilian world, a spouse is not dependent on their husband or wife to get basic tasks done. But the same cannot be said for military spouses. When I was in the military, I was treated with respect and always had great customer service.
As a military spouse, if I go on base to get help without my husband, I have found myself leaving in tears, treated unprofessionally and feeling like no one even cares. While military spouses don’t hold rank, they should be treated with respect.
Instead of support for spouses, there seems to be an unwritten rule where people can say negative things about military spouses, but if you say anything negative about a service member you are being disrespectful. Even military spouses who are just trying to engage in conversation with female service members may feel the need to tread lightly based on past experiences when stating their opinion ended up in a situation where they were humiliated.
And then there is the “I serve too” issue
Military spouses and service members use the same words to describe different things or don’t understand the other side’s experience. When military spouses say, “I serve too,” this can ruffle all kinds of feathers on both sides. For the military service member, the word service is tied to signing up to join the military and being willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.
While military spouses don’t serve the military in that function that doesn’t mean they don’t serve the military. Military spouses make countless sacrifices to support their service member. Maybe they gave up their career to follow their service member to the next assignment. Maybe they are the one who constantly has to take time off work or bend their schedule to accommodate the deployments, training and endless temporary duty assignments. Being a military spouse is often a lonely, hard and thankless job.
Understanding our stories
The best way to bridge the gap between military spouses and service women is by getting to know the other’s story. Until you actually meet and get to know a military spouse the only thing you know are the stereotypes. And until you actually meet and get to know a female service member all you know are the stereotypes. Stereotypes that are not good. Stereotypes that are often expanded stories or perceived truths that are rarely factual.
Military spouses are not lazy, attempting to get a free ride. Military spouses are strong, determined and are willing to bend over backwards to make military life work while taking care of their family. Many military spouses are working in careers that don’t meet their qualifications, but they have a hard time finding and keeping a job with all the demands of the military.
Female service members are not sluts, using pregnancy as a means to get out of military obligations, or fooling around with married service members. Female service members are strong, determined and work hard to make it to the rank they have obtained.
They are professionals. And, if they stay in after marriage and kids, they have to make countless sacrifices while trying to find the balance of keeping a career and raising a family.
How many stories do you know about the women who have served our country? Or how many military spouses do you know and can talk to about their experience? The only way we can close the divide is to listen to the other side.
Want to share your story or thoughts on this topic or other important topics facing the military community? Email us at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
Part of the Air Force wife gig is making and losing friends constantly. It’s a revolving door of meeting people, forming fast friendships and saying goodbye. The whiplash pace of hails and farewells has conditioned me to act quickly in forging relationships, more easily done in Mil-world because of the high-pressure situations we find ourselves in together.
The average time spent at an Air Force assignment is two years and six months before PCSing (Permanent Change of Station) to the next. That’s 30 months to find a place to live, receive your household goods, pick up your vehicle from the nearest VPC (Vehicle Process Center), enroll your kids in a new school and get familiar with a new doctor before packing it all up and doing it again.
(U.S. Army photo)
So there you are, standing on the steps of the Coffee, glass slipper in hand. Do you chase after a fast friendship or let her go? There’s only one answer for me.
“Hi, my name is Rachel. Let’s be friends.”
The great part of the military spouse culture is other wives get it. You show up, and you start getting invited to events. Two and a half years is already a short time to make a meaningful connection with someone, but odds are you don’t have that long. When you meet that special person you want to get drunk with at the Christmas party, either they are probably halfway through their assignment, or you are.
I went to a wedding at Shaw and hit it off with another pilot’s girlfriend who just moved there from out of state. She laughed at my jokes. I laughed at hers. We got our phones out to exchange numbers, but when we realized I was PCSing in under a month, we both just shrugged and put our phones away. The same thought went through our heads. “Damn. I liked her.”
Heather Miner, president, Officers’ Spouses’ Club, left, speaks to a guest during the Havana Nights Gala Benefit Auction hosted by Smith’s Ranch in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo/Preston L. Morris)
For the past eight or so years, moving around as an active duty Air Force spouse, I’ve been trained to nose out my new friend in a crowd then get to making her realize we are friends as quickly as possible. The downside of Hi-my-name-is-Rachel-let’s-be-friends is that I forget that it scares civilians. It’s just too aggressive. Time is a luxury I can’t afford, and I suspect most civilians don’t have that kind of pressure. I have to dial it down or else I come on too strong, which is very easy for me to do.
Where are you from? Did you like your high school? These questions are okay.
What illnesses run in your family? How often do you guys have sex? Did your episiotomy go all the way to your butthole? These questions are nooooot okay in the civilian world. Sure, they are a little wobbly in the military world too, but when you live overseas for a few years with roughly the same 100 people, things heat up quickly, especially when alcohol is involved. If I’m being honest, it’s more fun that way.
After a series of cringe-worthy fails, I’ve untrained myself from using Hi-my-name-is-Rachel-let’s-be-friends with civilians, even when I want to be friends with you now. Like, right now. But the truth is if in my heart I like you, I still don’t want to waste time. I’m ready for us to be friends. Let’s get to it.
Military spouses are a growing group of individuals. With so much to relate to with one another, they can easily become fast friends and trusted companions. With unique life changes — multiple moves, the jargon (so much jargon), waiting on hold for an insurance related question, and more — so. much. more, milspos just “get” each other in ways that the rest of the population never could.
Beyond that, there are further niche groups that bring people even closer together, or at the very least, lets them understand where the other is coming from over a cup of coffee. Maybe there’s the spouse who was stationed at your former favorite base. The spouse you grew up near, but never met until your spouses got placed in the same unit. Spouses whose partners have a similar school, or kids with the same therapy programs.
Then, there are infantry spouses — the corner of the military that seems to be its own breed: combat professionals and a reputation to go with it. In the infantry, the humor is different, the hours are IN-SANE (yes that’s insane with two syllables) and the gear is infinite. Only those with large attics might survive.
Here are 12 ways to tell you’re an infantry spouse:
You might be an infantry spouse if:
You see a certain shade of blue and your brain auto-corrects to “infantry blue” when naming it as a hue. The last time you asked the nail tech for “infantry blue” you got some side eye and had to backtrack and explain.
You might be an infantry spouse if:
You’ve hosed off muddy uniforms before they were ever allowed to cross the threshold of your at-the-time home. Maybe you even got smart and left an outdoor bucket for clothes that aren’t quite kosher for the indoors.
You might be an infantry spouse if:
The sound of exploding bombs or close overhead birds doesn’t cause a blink. Another day, another wall-shaking event.
You might be an infantry spouse if:
You see everyday military workers and their un-infantryness and think to yourself, “What a POG” … even though you, yourself are the POGiest of POGs … in the civilian equivalent.
You might be an infantry spouse if:
You’ve been woken at 3 am by your frantic partner who can’t find the correct PT gear. Then, without moving from bed, you name where it is and the state of general cleanliness (or lack thereof).
You might be an infantry spouse if:
Your normal week includes jump-starting the car, changing a flat tire, taking out the trash, work, cooking and cleaning, and booking the plumber — all while solo parenting. Busy? Nah, you’ve had worse.
You might be an infantry spouse if:
Sudden and dramatic plan changes are the norm. You only write plans in pencil these days anyway.
You might be an infantry spouse if:
You have zero idea what anyone’s first names are. All your partner’s coworkers = last names only. When a fellow spouse refers to their own partner as, “Steve” or “Rebecca” you have to auto-correct and remember who they’re speaking about.
You might be an infantry spouse if:
You know that four-days, sick days, etc., don’t usually apply. Those are for the rest of the military … not the infantry. Sigh.
You might be an infantry spouse if:
You know better than to drink from the Grog. Smells terrible, tastes worse — at least, you are assuming. Even pre-COVID you wouldn’t touch that stuff!
You might be an infantry spouse if:
You know they want to be home as much as you want them to be home. And when that day comes, you try your hardest to make the most out of family time together.
You might be an infantry spouse if:
You keep pushing forward. Canceled leave? Promised orders nowhere in sight? Carrying your family and putting the kids first with zero energy left on your plate. Yet you know the show goes on, and even if it takes some time, you will muster up that energy to be positive and impactful on those around you, one caffeinated beverage at a time.
Before he was wielding lightsabers in Star Wars or blowing up Twitter with Marriage Story, Adam Driver was a Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company, 81’s platoon, out in Camp Pendleton, California.
“I joined a few months after September 11, feeling like I think most people in the country did at the time, filled with a sense of patriotism and retribution and the desire to do something,” he stated in his opening remarks.
He joined the Marines and found that he loved it.
“Firing weapons was cool, driving and detonating expensive things was great. But I found I loved the Marine Corps the most for the thing I was looking for the least when I joined, which was the people: these weird dudes — a motley crew of characters from a cross section of the United States — that on the surface I had nothing in common with. And over time, all the political and personal bravado that led me to the military dissolved, and for me, the Marine Corps became synonymous with my friends,” he shared, voicing the brotherhood that many veterans feel while in service.
Then, months before deploying to Iraq, he dislocated his sternum in a mountain-biking accident and was medically separated.
“Those never in the military may find this hard to understand, but being told I wasn’t getting deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan was very devastating for me,” he confessed.
Those of us who wore the uniform but never deployed know exactly what he means.
It’s a different type of survivor’s guilt, a common response to surviving a life-threatening situation. In this case, it’s about not even going into that situation. In the eighteen years since the 9/11 attacks, our military has kept a high deployment tempo. Many of our friends never returned.
And for those of us left behind — whether because our mission was elsewhere in the world or, like Driver, we were medically ineligible for combat — well, it’s a shitty feeling.
“I have a very clear image of leaving the base hospital on a stretcher and my entire platoon is waiting outside to see if I was OK. And then, suddenly, I was a civilian again,” blinked Driver.
“It’s a powerful thing, getting in a room with complete strangers and reminding ourselves of our humanity, and that self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder.” Or a lightsaber at your hip?
“I was surprised by how complex the transition was from military to civilian. And I was relatively healthy; I can’t imagine going through that process on top of a mental or physical injury. But regardless, it was difficult,” he shared, voicing what many veterans have felt after their service.
He struggled with finding a job. “I was an Infantry Marine, where you’re shooting machine guns and firing mortars. There’s not a lot of places you can put those skills in the civilian world,” he joked.
He also struggled with finding meaning in acting school while his friends were serving without him overseas.
“Emotionally, I struggled to find meaning. In the military, everything has meaning. Everything you do is either steeped in tradition or has a practical purpose. You can’t smoke in the field because you don’t want to give away your position. You don’t touch your face — you have to maintain a personal level of health and hygiene. You face this way when “Colors” plays, out of respect for people who went before you. Walk this way, talk this way because of this. Your uniform is maintained to the inch. How diligently you followed those rules spoke volumes about the kind of Marine you were. Your rank said something about your history and the respect you had earned.”
Find out more about how he went from Marine to actor in the video above — and how he has found peace in service after service — in the video above.