Some military families love to PCS. The sense of adventure that comes with moving to another duty station every few years is exciting to them. Even when they receive orders to a location not on the top of their wish list, they find a way to embrace the suck and learn to love their new home until military orders move them once again.
Being positive about the process is an important coping skill, but what happens if you find yourself really unhappy? What if you just can’t shake truly hating your duty station?
My husband’s final duty station was at an Army base in Arizona. As a Florida native, and as someone who loves the south and being close to the beach, I tried to embrace the new high desert landscape. I firmly believed it was best to make the most of where we were. But in reality, I loathed being stationed there. It was extremely dry, the temps were super hot in the summer (dry heat or not, 110 is miserable) and we got snow in the winter.
I missed all of the tall trees, greenery, and water I was accustomed to. We were also 2-3 days drive from our family. That had always been a difficult aspect of military life for me, but we had been blessed with orders within a days drive in the past, which made it bearable.
I was miserable.
And I felt like a spoiled brat. My husband was home and out of the fleet. Friends at other duty stations were saying goodbye to their spouses for yet another deployment, and mine was home every night. How dare I be so miserable because the beach was not close by.
And then I realized that me feeling guilty and forcing myself to pretend it wasn’t so bad, was making it worse. There is nothing wrong with having a preference when it comes to where you live. I wasn’t being a spoiled brat because I desperately missed the area I called “home,” but I did need to survive it without being completely miserable or making those around me the same.
So I accepted that I was never going to love the place.
Instead, I focused on the people. It doesn’t matter where you go, there will always be good people. We joined a Cross Fit gym, I sang with a local community choir and we made an effort to get to know our neighbors.
I focused on the opportunities. We traveled to southern California, the Grand Canyon, and other places we would probably not have the opportunity to visit after retirement. We visited interesting local spots like Bisbee and Tombstone frequently.
I focused on the future. With retirement just a few years away, we started to pay off debt in anticipation of buying our first home. We started to dream about what our lives would look like when we were able to plant permanent roots in an area we both loved.
And we survived. Acknowledging that Arizona was not my favorite has made me appreciate our forever home location even more. In the summer when we have 100% humidity, I am reminded how miserable that dry heat was for me. In the winter when it drops to 20 for a few days, I am reminded how I hated all that snow. And when I am at the beach, I appreciate it’s beauty in a way I didn’t before.
Everyone’s job plays a role in the grand scheme of things. Everyone is just one piece in the puzzle few of us get to look at.
5. Learn how to wear your gear properly
This is one that will undoubtedly gain some respect from grunts. One common complaint among the grunts is that POGs have no idea how to wear the gear. Magazine pouches don’t go on the back of your plate carrier, and get that first aid kit in a place where you can reach it.
4. Learn basic infantry tactics
This one almost goes without saying — learn the basics of a grunt’s job and they’ll have no room to talk sh*t.
3. Set yourself to grunt standards
Infantrymen have to be physically fit in order to handle carrying all their gear, and someone else if the need arises. If you can keep up with a grunt or even outperform a few, they’ll treat you like one of their own — especially if you take the advice from point #4.
2. Don’t act like your rank gives you experience
The infantry, especially the Marine Corps infantry, is full of E-3s with TONS of experience. One thing that will piss a grunt off more than anything is if an E-4 who only has 6 months to a year of time in tries to act superior to an E-3 with 2 or 3 years of experience (demotions exempt) and deployments under their belt.
Grunts talk trash all day, every day, and there is not a single day that goes by in the infantry where they don’t. If you can sh*t talk with a grunt (and if you can do it better) they’ll undoubtedly accept you as one of their own. But make sure you have more in your arsenal than, “Well, you’re just a dumb grunt.”
That one’s been used so many times that people with ASVAB scores of 80 and higher are joining the infantry.
*Bonus* Take pride in being a POG
Grunts feel that POGs often just have an inferiority complex, which results in treating grunts like low-life scum (which isn’t totally wrong). Take pride in the fact that you help grunts bring the fight to the enemy! Grunts actually love cooks and motor-T because otherwise they’re stuck with MREs and long walks.
Short answer: One is still used as a tactically viable way of getting troops into the fray and the other is more ceremonial.
Benjamin Franklin once said “Where is the prince who can afford to cover his country with troops for its defense, so that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not, in many places, do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?”
Both of these troops fit that bill over two hundred years later.
Out of all of the current military rivalries, this one still ranks pretty high on the list. As someone who’s Air Assault and let his personal rivalry simmer a bit, there’s no reason to keep it up. The differences between the two just keeps growing with each conflict.
By World War II, many forces developed their own form of Airborne infantry that soared into combat. Allied forces captivated folks back home with the tales of jumping into the European theater. Over the years, airborne operations can be performed in essentially two ways: static jumps (think of the age-old cadence “Stand up, Hook up, Shuffle to the door! Jump right out on the count of Four!”) and HALO/HAHO, or High Altitude, Low Opening and High Opening (free-falling).
Air Assault rose in the Cold War and became more prominent in the Vietnam War. There are usually two means for getting troops into combat, FRIES, or Fast Rope Insertion/Extraction, where you grab a piece of rope and slide out of a hovering helicopter and just Air Insertion, where the helicopter lands on the ground and troops hop out. Technically, there’s also Sling Load operations, where you attach things underneath a helicopter, but that’s more of a special task that’s assigned to Air Assault qualified troops.
But in the wars since 9/11, you can count on one hand the number of combat jumps performed by US troops. They were done twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan — and all three to command and control airfields.
Making a combat jump authorizes you to wear a Combat Jump Device. It’s a gold star that adorns the Parachutist Badge and is often referred to as a “mustard stain.” Finding one of these bad asses outside of Jump School is like finding a CW5 — you know they have to exist somewhere because you’ve seen the badges at the PX, but it still sounds as plausible as any other barracks rumor.
There isn’t as comprehensive list on total Air Assault missions because it’s far more common. It’s just another way to get around.
Many combat arms guys can tell you that they never went to Air Assault school, but still do Air Assault operations in country. The only Air Assault task restricted to someone who actually went to the school is the previously mentioned sling load operations. Even that has its “volun-told” feel to it. Sling loading has a risk to it that could be deadly if not done properly. Only Airborne school qualified personnel are allowed to complete airborne jumps (because of the weeks they spend just learning how to fall properly).
Sure. We have our disagreements and will probably flame each other in the comment section. They’re both ways to get men out of a perfectly good aircraft.
We both deal with a heavy amount of prop / rotor wash that training can never prepare you for. And both of our badges are still highly sought after by badge-hunters — usually a staff lieutenant or junior NCO. And they both will probably correct you by saying “well actually, according to Army regulation…”
Wear your blood wings proud, my brothers and sisters.
Every week, new service members report for duty at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton located in Southern California. There, they’ll undergo some intense training — but they’ll also have some time off. So, the boots will often ask others what fun stuff is nearby.
You might get a few good suggestions but, for the most part, it’s tough for a newbie to travel around without spending a sh*t ton of cash. So, if you’re “ballin’ on a budget,” we’ve come up with a few places you can visit while on liberty that won’t bleed your wallet dry.
Located in Irvine, this outdoor mall contains of plenty of excellent restaurants, a state-of-the-art movie theater, and a Dave and Busters to help you hone your gaming skills. Just north of Camp Pendleton, the large shopping center has enough to keep you entertained for hours.
Ready for some excellent fish tacos? Well, OC Tavern has great ones alongside a full bar to get you smashed — if you’re of age, of course. This place hosts concerts, has a cigar lounge, and is a great place to play billiards. Since it’s located just a few minutes north of Camp Pendleton, it’s an easy spot to reach on a Friday or Saturday night.
Located in Mission Viejo, this shopping and entertainment area is close to Camp Pendleton and features a Buffalo Wild Wings, a solid movie solid theater, and a gym where real girls go — as opposed to the male-dominated Marine gyms.
Since it’s closer than Irvine Spectrum, the Uber ride will be cheap, which is perfect for junior enlisted who don’t make a lot of cash.
Located just north of Camp Pendleton, Goody’s Tavern is a chill place for great drinks and entertainment. You’ll run into tons of Marines here, so you know you’ll be in good company.
Del Mar Beach
Located near the main gate, the beach in Del Mar has everything you need to blow off steam. There, you can camp and rent small cottages for a few days at a time. These rental areas are so close to the shore that you’ll hear the waves lapping onto the sand as you sleep. There are also BBQ pits available, and you can sneak in a few games of football or volleyball before heading back to the office on Monday morning.
It’s a well-known fact that Marine recruits east of the Mississippi go to the flat lands of Parris Island for basic training while those from the west head to sunny San Diego.
What many don’t know is there is a huge rivalry between “Island” and “Hollywood” Marines, and it all boils down to who had it tougher. Although the competitive nature between the two is all in good fun, Marines are known for fighting both big and small battles.
Since the curriculum at both of the training camps is the same, there are a few differences that separate the two.
“I think the sand fleas give you that discipline because you’re standing in formation and you got them biting on the back of your neck,” Capt. Robert Brooks states during an interview, fueling the rivalry in support of Parris Island.
Capt. Joseph Reney, however, jokes in favor of California:
“San Diego has hills and hiking is hard. I would say San Diego makes tougher Marines.”
Regardless of the training location, both boot camps produce the same product — a patriotic Marine.
Hidden in the arcane halls of the command deck there are three billets few Marine infantrymen interact with. Every infantry battalion has specialists attached to them to ensure training is conducted as expected by high command. These gentlemen of warfare cut through bureaucracy. They ensure the lance corporal kicking down doors is as lethal as possible. Yet most enlisted in the line companies do not know they exist.
The Marine Gunner is a Chief Warrant Officer specifically trained in the employment and training of infantry battalion organic weapons, gear and assigned personnel, and in the Combat Marksmanship continuum. Marine Gunners are special staff officers employed as the principal advisor to commanders at all levels. They assist in the development of training and employment plans designed to ensure Mission Essential Task compliance. They help design and vet the weaponeering and training policies of the commander and help to disseminate information to the unit’s personnel regarding such policies.
NAVMC 3500.44B Excerpt, Signed 30 Aug 2013, pages 10-2 to 10-3
The Gunner is responsible for reports and feedback from the Fleet Marine Force directly to Systems Command. They know everything about every single weapon system. The amount of knowledge they have is incredible. Therefore, this is why when the battalion commander goes to them when he has a question about weapons. Additionally, the Gunner is the only person a lance corporal can walk up to and give his opinion on equipment and request new or replacement gear for the battalion. If you think the rifles in the armory have lived past their use – this is the person to talk to. It sounds too good to be true but it happened in 2nd battalion 6th Marines. The Non commissioned officers in the line companies complained that the M16A4s they had were pieces of sh*t and the Gunner ordered brand new M4s.
Marines will put up with alot but we draw the line with garbage weapons. When you receive new gear, this officer wants to hear the good, the bad, and ugly. They stood where you stood as prior enlisted, they won’t give you a hard time because gathering that information is literally why they exist.
The adjutant is responsible for: coordinating internal and external administrative requirements; tracking and monitoring critical administrative support requested by higher headquarters and/or subordinate commands; preparing and publishing duty roster assignments; publishing staff regulations, preparing, reviewing and staffing command correspondence to include congressional inquiries/special interest correspondence; managing the commands’ performance evaluations program; processing personal, unit, and special awards; maintaining command correspondence files.
Essentially, the Adjutant is the subject matter expert of everything Admin. They are the colonel’s administrative right hand, normally holding the rank of captain or major at the battalion level. They’re also the officer in charge of the S-1 shop. An Adjutant isn’t as approachable as a Gunner but they’re still there to get the administrative mission done. As well as being an infinite source of knowledge, they can dispel myths about Marine Corps Orders (MCO) if you can catch one at the smoke pit.
CBRN Defense Officer
CBRN Defense Officers function as supervisors, coordinators, technical advisers, and Special Staff Officers to the Commanding Officer for operational and technical functions associated with CBRN and supporting Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (C-WMD) related issues within the command. CBRNDOs provide technical expertise pertaining to the management, procurement, and distribution of CBRN capabilities. They plan, coordinate, and supervise CBRN related training, and prepare plans, annexes, orders, and standard operating procedures relative to CBRN. CBRNDOs also advise commanders on the vulnerability of their own forces, and work with intelligence, plans and operations, and logistics communities in collecting, evaluating, and dissemination of information concerning enemy/ adversary CBRN capabilities, as well as other information relating to CBRN threats and hazards supporting C-WMD objectives.
Also known as Chi-wo (CWO) on the command deck. Every infantry battalion has a CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) attachment. Most infantrymen only encounter this Military Occupational Specialty when they have to do their annual gas mask training. This MOS is attached to the S-3 Operations section as their own island. That is, they have their own office or building, and they are part of the shop in name only. They have their own chain of command, albeit much smaller. It will consist of a junior enlisted, a non commissioned officer, and the warrant officer. At the battalion level they are usually ranked at CWO 3.
The reason infantry do not know these guys exist in the battalion is because they skate so hard it is awe inspiring. A Chi-wo is the batman of the battalion — he will disappear mid-sentence if given the chance. I do not know what they do with the other 364 days of the year and I’ve worked with them for at least two years. Without a doubt fighting crime.
Every military branch makes it plain where exactly you stand. It is worn on your uniform, printed on your CAC, you are greeted by it every day. “It” is rank and it plays a significant role as it entails your duties and expectations, job notwithstanding. It seems one rank reigns supreme in every service, though.
Below are 6 of the top reasons why being top of the lower enlisted ranks is the best rank.
25 is the age that many of us have the time of our lives. We are far enough removed from teenage angst and the crap that often associates with it but still a lot more than a few wake-ups away from the big three-oh.
Old enough to get good insurance rates, but young enough to fit in most everywhere.
That is the Air Force’s Senior Airman. That is the Marine’s Lance Corporal. That is the Army’s Specialist. This is the Navy’s Seaman (heh). It’s far enough removed from boot but quite a ways from retirement.
5. Watch and learn
This is the perfect rank to watch and learn.
You may have been mentored and exposed to some supervisory duties earlier (if you weren’t assigned to a POS) but it’s at this level where you are allowed to flex some of what you’ve learned.
Sometimes that power comes in an official supervisory capacity, sometimes as a makeshift assistant to your actual supervisor. It’s like being a Non-Commissioned Officer, but with training wheels.
The opinion of the Senior Airman/Specialist/Lance Corporal is respected. Those beneath the look up to them, or they should anyway, and those who outrank them will look to them as the bridge between the NCO and junior enlisted tiers.
It is literally the best of both worlds.
3. Introductory supervisory roles
As stated above, you may have some actual, official supervisor duties depending on how long you’ve been there and what type of performance you’ve turned in to that point.
Even if you haven’t been granted such access, you are still going to be entrusted with certain responsibilities just based on the necessity for you to grow up and fill the role.
2. You know all the tricks
At this point, you know what you’re supposed to be doing and how to do it, most of the time. You also know exactly what you’re not supposed to do…and what rules will really get you in trouble.
You know how to maximize your sleep and how to quickly get your uniform together. You can commit large passages of regulation to memory, verbatim. You know what you’re doing and what you want to do.
Good news is you’ve mastered this rank just in time to promote. Now the game changes.
You’ve been in for a some time now and have likely earned a good amount of respect and responsibility and that feels great. Conversely, you’re still junior enlisted yourself and won’t be thrown into the deep end just yet.
How is this better than being an NCO? From my experience in the Air Force, Staff Sergeants are typically viewed in a more infantile manner than the Senior Airman.
I know, it doesn’t make any sense. Still, it is a fact of life.
Your first duty station is always full of surprises. You’ll quickly learn that your career is nothing like how you envisioned it in the recruiter’s office. The troops you serve with are nothing like the ones portrayed in films.
Every troop comes from a different walk of life and each has their own story. That being said, when you finally get to know the troops you’re serving with, there are always going to be a few of the same archetypes.
These are the guys you’re going to meet when you visit the commo shop.
It’s no secret that the commo world is extended some nicer enlistment bonuses. The Pentagon sees it as a necessary bribe to fill a high-demand MOS within the service. The bonus chaser signed up for these benefits and they’ll happily let you know it.
This troop is completely average. They’re nothing special, they keep their nose clean, and they begrudgingly say “roger” to every task that comes their way. They’re boring and, chances are, they’ve never said a word to anyone outside of the S-6 — they probably won’t say anything to those guys either.
2. The “trooper”
Commo guys work closely with the higher-ups. The radio guy never leaves the officer’s side and the computer guy is always fixing their email. The “trooper” enjoys the attention.
They belt out, “you’ve got it, sir! Right away, sir!” like it was their calling card. They do this because they enjoy the fact that they’re needed more than the average Joe and take pride in their work.
3. The talkative nerd
There’s no denying it: the computer side of the commo world attracts a lot of nerds. At some point you’ll probably hear the sergeant major scream, “my internet went out! Someone get me those S-6 nerds!” And, for the most part, they’re right.
These aren’t your typical high-school nerds who sit quietly in the cafeteria. No, these nerds have learned how to talk to others and the military encourages troops to interact — which gives the computer guys an opportunity to explain all of their Game of Thrones fan theories… even if you’ve never watched the show.
4. The extreme jock
This commo hates everyone they work with — almost entirely because of the talkative nerd. They’ve heard all about Bitcoin investing, they’ve heard every reason why the Star Wars prequels were just misunderstood for their time, and they’ll probably snap the next time they hear the phrase, “anime waifu.”
They’ll do anything to get away and have at least one conversation involving a sport. They’ll overcompensate to prove to everyone that they’re not the talkative nerd.
5. The former grunt
This commo guy reclassed for better benefits after a few deployments, during which they did some real sh*t.
It’s sad watching the former grunt work. It eats them up inside every time they need to fill out a work order to get sent to civilian contractors to finally get the admin password so they can reinstall the operating system. This just isn’t their world. Watching these guys work with technology is like seeing a former college football star work at the Apple Store.
If you listen closely, what sounds like a head banging against their desk is actually “kill me” in Morse code repeated over and over again.
On the scale of grunt to POG, you can typically put most combat arms troops on the grunt side. Even a support MOS is part grunt by proximity. But then there’re these guys.
Their pay grade says E-6, but their actions make you question how they even passed Basic Training. Hell, they won’t even make excuses when you call them a POG. They’ll probably just retort with some sh*t like, “Yeah? Well, I can take away your computer access with the stroke of a keyboard!”
The Air Force gets a lot of flak (see what I did there?) from all the other branches for its somewhat lax persona. Yes, sometimes, the USAF seems more like a corporation than a branch of the Armed Forces. But despite decent food and living quarters, Air Force, Inc. is still very much a military branch.
There’s more to the U.S. Air Force than the classic stereotypes of high ASVAB scores, delicious food, nice living quarters, and beautiful women. The Air Force deploys. They do see combat. They just have their own unique way about it.
1. We salute our officers before sending them into a fight.
Our pilots — all officers — are the ones putting their asses in the line of fire supporting troops on the ground (troops from other branches, most likely), but the airmen who maintain and marshal those planes are enlisted.
The video above demonstrates something known as “Freestyle Friday” marshaling and, while it may be funny, those crazy marshaling dances still always end with a sharp salute — no matter what. Those pilots may very well not come back from a combat sortie, so respect is always due.
2. We don’t know if we should salute a warrant officer.
The reason for that is the Air Force doesn’t have warrant officers and hasn’t had them since 1992 when the last warrant officer, CWO4 Bob Barrow, retired. The last airman to become a warrant officer did it in 1959.
Does your branch salute warrant officers? How will the Air Force know if no one ever tells us? Do we care? Does it matter? I know airmen who went ten years without ever encountering a warrant.
3. Enlisting in the Air Force gets you halfway to a 2-year degree.
It has its own accredited community college, one that accepts basic training as physical education credits and puts your Tech School training towards an Associate’s Degree. Once at your permanent duty station, you can either take general courses at the base education office or take free, unlimited CLEP tests to finish it off.
Getting a degree from the Community College of the Air Force is so easy that it’s now one of those unwritten rules: Airmen need to have one to get promoted.
4. We don’t have ground combat troops.
The Air Force has its Security Forces, its special operations troops, combat arms instructors, and it even lends airmen of all careers to other branches. Airmen see combat all the time. But the USAF’s regular combat force is aircraft. We don’t have an infantry or anything like it.
5. The Air Force trains hard… just not always to kill.
When you flip a light switch, the lights go on. It seems simple, but a lot of preparation, training, and work went into what happened behind your wall. A JDAM works the same way. Aircraft maintainers, ammo troops, and pilots train relentlessly for years to make sure that kind of support is there when a Marine calls for it.
Just because an airman’s deployed location is a little plush doesn’t mean they didn’t spend eight years of their life training. Watch how fast a flightline can get a squadron of F-22s in the air and tell me airmen didn’t train hard for that.
Liberty Suppressors has released a new silencer for those of you who want to go large and do it quietly. And when we say large, we mean it.
Introducing the Goliath for .458 SOCOM.
The Goliath was probably named for the big-assed Philistine from Gath, though it could be someone’s nickname from chubbybunnie.com. Rated for supersonic ammunition, it’s intended to suppress the noise you make when you’d normally be going loud with the modern descendent of the old Trapdoor Springfield bullet.
It’s 10 inches long, 2 inches in diameter, and built with a titanium core and tube. It dresses out at just 20 ounces.
Liberty says the Goliath meters at a “…mere 132.2 [decibels] (including First Round Pop) providing an average sound reduction of over 21 [decibels].” We haven’t tested it ourselves — at least not yet — but since we’re fans of the .458 round and shooting suppressed, we reckon it’s worth a further look.
Liberty sez, and we quote, “The Goliath is not for the faint of heart! Created for the mighty 458 SOCOM, this silencer not only stands up to the size of its name, but also the size of it’s caliber. But don’t think this giant is a clumsy oaf. With an end cap and core made of Grade 5 titanium and a tube made from Grade 9 titanium, the Goliath is a heavyweight hitter in a featherweight class.”
This weight savings really comes in to play when perched on the end of a hog hunter’s rifle of choice. Taming both the noise as well as the recoil of the 458 cartridge, the Goliath keeps you after game all night, instead of home early with tired shoulders and ears. When it comes to 458 SOCOM, it pays to have a giant on your side.”
MSRP on the Goliath (the silencer, not anybody on Chubby Bunnie) is $999.
Liberty Suppressors is a family owned business based in the Peach State, last of the original Thirteen Colonies. They’re known for their work with monolithic core silencers, offering cans from calibers from .22LR to .300 Ultra Mag.
You can find ’em online at libertycans.net, should you be so inclined.
You can watch a great Liberty Cans gear porn flick here.
Here are the specs (you’re welcome):
Goliath .458 SOCOM: 450gr Sub-Sonic in an 11 in. AR-15, Baseline unsuppressed 163.1dB. Suppressed shot 1, 137.3 db. Shot 2, 130.5 dB; Shot 3 131.5 dB, Shot 4 130.6 dB, and Shot 5 is 130.9dB.
Caliber: 458 SOCOM
Material: Titanium tube, core, and rear cap / Stainless Steel Thread Inserts
Weight: 20 OZ.
Approx. DB Overall: 132.2 dB (including First Round Pop)
Approx. DB Reduction: 31 – 33 dB
Finish: C-Series Cerakote
Mounting Type: Direct Thread, 5/8-24 and 5/8-32 Inserts Included
The day my husband swore in to the US Marine Corps, his veteran grandfather gave me a book that had belonged to his late wife: “The Marine Corps Wife,” published in 1955.
This marked the first of many sources I came across in my quest to figure out Military Spouse 101; as a new, eager (and, frankly, naive) military wife, I was desperate to *prepare* myself for the life that lay ahead of me.
I was met with (what I believed to be) a veritable charcuterie of articles and forums — but as the years went by, I noticed that there was something missing. The spread was inadequate, repetitive, and at times, toe-curlingly tacky; a little more big box store than French boutique, if you will.
There’s a slew of contemporary literature out there for the prospective military bride, but among the twee messages about “stages of deployment” and care packages and (yawn) PCS season, there are myriad mil-nuances that your average milspouse blogger will omit.
The truth is, there’s a delicate disconnect between the star-spangled blogs and real-life immersion in military culture; the too long/didn’t read version is, quite simply, that military life is not real life.
No one — no musty tome or cheery modern blogger —quite prepared me for this.
Granted, I’ve drunk my fair share of military Kool-Aid (and — yikes — tap water) in the relatively short time my husband and I have been married, but I’m here to tell you about the subtext, the small-print: some of the things you don’t hear about military life.
1. It’s not glamorous.
Imagine: Laundry that smells worse than Lake Bandini, dowsing your true love’s blistered feet in hydrogen peroxide, and the smell of MRE farts. And I can’t speak for everyone, but when I think of deployments, I think of cheap wine, popcorn for dinner, and record-breaking Netflix marathons (shout-out to me for slaying six seasons of “Lost” in a month).
Even the movie-montage-worthy highlights are largely unspectacular. I’ll take all the flack that comes my way for admitting this, but farewell ceremonies before deployments are, honestly, rather tedious; imagine a lot of standing around for several irksome hours while bags are loaded and fed-up children cry.
Homecomings happen at relatively short notice, rarely do things go according to plan, and there’s always those awkward hours of families standing around with bedazzled signs, twiddling their thumbs. There’s the heartbreaking sight of junior enlisted troops trudging off to the barracks without anyone to greet them, the readjustment phase that no clipart-laden pamphlet can prepare you for, and work begins as usual within an obscenely short window of time.
It’s worth it — it’s always worth it — but trust me, nothing about military life is glamorous.
2. Your spouse’s job affects your social life.
Ah, the mother of all military spouse debates: does your husband’s rank determine your social life?!
Unpopular opinion: yes. Yes, it does. A military spouse’s life is at least somewhat affected by their significant other’s job. And yes, it’s as asinine and frustrating as it sounds.
By this, I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that there are ranks among spouses —even my quaint 1950’s wife manual states as much, for goodness’ sake — and the (perceived) dichotomy between officers’ spouses and enlisted spouses only exists if one allows it to.
Lore of spouse’s “wearing” rank is, more often that not, just that: social myth. That’s not to say that wives who refer to “our” promotion or bluster when they aren’t saluted don’t exist, but these rare prima donnas are best left to stew in their own little worlds.
We military spouses do, however, have to accept that our significant other’s job will have some degree of influence over our social life. Fraternization rules dictate who service-members can and cannot be friends with, and therefore, socializing as a couple can get a little thorny. We learn to accept that it’s at least expected that we’ll make an effort with the spouses of our husband’s chain of command (I consider myself to be enormously blessed in that I ended up making some seriously fabulous friends this way).
We also become accustomed to pasting on a smile and being ultra-nice to the people our partner tells us to be pleasant to, even when we’re cranky and would rather not be a circus monkey, thank you very much.
3. It’s seriously old-fashioned.
Sorry, not sorry, y’all: military life is pretty archaic. The question of how to solve this is a much bigger one than I can give credence to, so, for now, I’ll stick with a few illuminating personal examples.
Recently, I took a vacation by myself because my husband had to work through the weekend. This simple endeavor was met with pure shock in dozens of my peers: to think, a married woman might travel to a new place on her own. Pass the smelling salts!
At the ripe old age of 26, no single group of people has ever been so interested in my reproductive health or family planning methods — not even my grandparents, and trust me, they are thirsty for grand-babies. Turns out, there’s an unspoken timeline in military marriages, and after a certain point — generated by some vague algorithm involving your age and the amount of time you’ve been married — people feel no shame in asking unsolicited questions.
I’ll also never forget how I read a three-page list of guidelines for wives of Marines attending the annual USMC birthday ball; highlights included a friendly reminder to “remember: this is not about you,” and a subsequent series of commandments forbidding everything to include cleavage, talking before one’s servicemember, and being afraid of utensils. Bless this lady’s heart; the piece was punctuated with a reminder to “HAVE FUN!!”
I wish someone had at least forewarned me of this before I married my husband. It wouldn’t have changed a thing — I like, like like him, guys — but this retrograde aspect of the military is something that I do wish people talked about more openly. Stay tuned for the book to follow.
4. It’s freaking weird.
There are endless quirks to life on a military base; granted, you become accustomed to them fairly quickly, but to an outsider, it’d be pretty easy to see why most people inside the military community refer to it as a “bubble.”
For example, when you live on a military base, gone are the days when you can roll out of your car and into the grocery store in your favorite Spongebob pajamas; there’s a dress code, ma’am, and you’ll be kicked out if you don’t stick to it. You get used to passing gas stations for tanks, helicopters passing overheard stopping your conversation in its tracks, and speed limits that seem more adequately designed for tortoises. You stand to attention (yes, even as a civilian) for colors twice a day. You notice the coded badges pinned to people’s collars, and you understand what they mean.
It’d take a real Scrooge to hate all these strange subtleties, though; it just becomes part of life that, when you’re extracted from it, is simply a little bit kooky.
5. This is a job that your spouse can’t escape from.
Now, when I come home from work, I have the luxury of becoming real-life Amy the moment I clock out. My husband? Not so much.
Servicemembers are paid by rank, not by the total amount of hours worked (which is arguably criminal if you look at the military pay rate, especially for junior enlisted ranks). Thus, they’re never “off the clock.”
This bleeds into everyday life, even when they’re not working. They’re never not a Marine, a soldier, a sailor, or an airman.
If I could only take back the number of hours I’ve lost waiting for my husband to get his weekly haircut, I could probably take a short sabbatical with them. He shaves every morning that he has to go out in public (save for the cheeky vacation scruff of 2017, RIP). He receives work-related phone calls at all hours of the day, seven days a week. Vacations are a precarious endeavor that are dictated by ops temp o, deployments, and leave blocks — not simply a whim and accumulated hours.
Furthermore, the military life whittles at the character of the person you married. In my case, this has been all positive; my husband has truly blossomed since he became an active duty Marine, and I wouldn’t trade any of the lost hours (or facial hair) for this immaculately-sculpted person.
Regardless, cheesy stories aside, no-one ever tells you that the job will mold the human you wed in ways you weren’t anticipating.
6. It does take a specific type of person to be a military spouse.
In the beginning, I naively thought that marriage would be easy (that was my first mistake).
The second, larger mistake was ardently believing that anyone could be successfully married to a service-member if they wanted to. I truly believed that grit and love were the only necessary components of a lasting military marriage.
Now, I look at long-term military spouses with nothing less than awe; to weather decades as a military spouse is a truly incredible feat.
You have to be tolerant. You have to be flexible. You have to be resilient. You have to be extroverted, or at least sociable enough to fool all the pools of new people you’re thrown in with on a regular basis. You have to be willing to make sacrifices to your career — because fulfilling, military-spouse-proof, work-from-home jobs don’t grow on trees (whatever Susan’s pyramid scheme would have you believe). You have to be capable enough to manage a household single-handedly, but humble enough to be sidelined in social situations.
Could I do it? I’m not sure; time will tell.
What I am sure of is that military couples who manage to maintain strong, healthy relationships over long periods of time deserve unadulterated respect.
The bottom line? Military life is a life of sacrifice, however large or small, for servicemembers and their families.
Admitting this is not martyrdom, it’s an admission of truth in a world that encourages marriage without making it known that civilian wellbeing is not a priority.
Ultimately, I think if we talked about this elephant in the room, instead of laughing at it and labeling it a “dependa,” we’d see some real change in military family culture.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
One of the most challenging parts of deployment for many soldiers is being away from friends and family. Soldiers and family members alike often lean on others who share a similar experience during long periods apart.
But one family in the 1st Cavalry Division’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team is sharing an experience here to make deployment just a little bit easier.
Army Capt. Andrea Wolfe and her son, Army Spc. Kameron Wideman, both assigned to Brigade Support Medical Company, 215th Brigade Support Battalion, deployed to Kuwait recently from Fort Hood, Texas, for nine months in support of U.S. Army Central.
Wolfe, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, began her Army career as an enlisted lab technician 24 years ago.
“I had two sisters who were in the Army,” she said. “I followed them in. In a family of nine, we couldn’t afford college, so I had to do something to be able to get some kind of college education, and that was the way.”
As far back as she can remember, she said, she wanted to be a nurse. “It’s just something I wanted to get into to help people,” she added.
That aspiration propelled her through her career, taking advantage of educational opportunities in an effort to make her dream a reality. “I tried to get into the nursing program,” she said. “When I was a lab tech instructor in San Antonio, I put in my packet three times for the nursing program.”
After 17 years of enlisted service and multiple attempts, the frustrated sergeant first class decided to try something different.
“So I put in a packet to the [physician assistant] program, got picked up the first time, so I figured that was my calling, and I’ve been doing that since 2009,” she said.
Meanwhile, Wolfe was raising a family. Her son, Kameron Wideman, was born in 1996 at her first duty station in Fort Lewis, Washington. Brought up in a devoted military household, it was no surprise when he enlisted in the Army, Wolfe said.
“I was good in school, but I didn’t take it seriously enough, but the Army was always my fallback plan,” said Wideman, a behavioral health technician. “I initially wanted to join just so I could help people. That’s why I got into the medical field.”
Meanwhile, Wolfe and Wideman are tending to the physical and mental well-being of the soldiers deployed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Wolfe said that while her focus is on her job and taking care of the soldiers, the mom in her can’t help but feel some of the same concerns stateside parents feel about having a child deployed.
“As a mother, you still have that deep-down concern of ‘What if something happens to my baby? What am I going to do?'” she said. “But I can’t let him see that, because I need him to focus on his job and what I need him to do, and that’s to provide mental health, which is something that is very much needed in this day and age.”
Wideman said he enjoys having his mother right down the road. “I’m blessed,” he said. “I’m blessed to have her with me.”
Although Wideman has served only two years in the Army, he is no stranger to the deployment experience from a family member’s perspective. His mother, father, and stepfather all serve on active duty.
“All three of my parents have deployed at some point,” he said. “It was tough as a little kid saying goodbye to your parents. When you’re little, you tend to have a big imagination. You’re thinking, ‘Oh no! I’m probably never going to see my parents again,’ because you’re little, and you’re in your own head about it.”
But the experience of being the kid who was left behind didn’t prepare him to actually be deployed himself, he said.
“I still didn’t really know what deployment was,” he said. “It was like this random place that my parents were going to for like a year and then coming back. I didn’t really know how to picture where they were.”
Thankfully, he said, he had a source close to home to answer his questions.
“I had the normal questions like, ‘How are we going to be living?” and me being a millennial, ‘Is there going to be Internet?’ and things like that,” he said.
Wolfe and her husband, Army 1st Sgt. Andrew Wolfe, a company first sergeant at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood, Texas, help mentor Wideman through his Army career with advice and guidance.
Drive, Motivation, Discipline
Echoes of the same drive, motivation, dedication and discipline that exemplify Wolfe’s career path are evident in Wideman’s.
“We cross paths every now and then,” she said. “I don’t see him all the time. I let Kameron be Kameron. We are passionate about the military. This is our Army. My husband is a first sergeant, and I used to be an E-7 before I switched over, so that leadership is instilled in both of us, and that comes out in the way we raise our kids — the leadership, the discipline, the morale, the ethics, everything. This is the way you’re supposed to live.”
Wolfe said she often finds herself giving the same advice to her soldiers that she gives to her son.
“Get all you can out of the military, because it’s going to get all it can out of you, and that was my insight coming up,” Wolfe said.
“I don’t know how many colleges I went to, because I needed classes. I went to school all the time, and I was just taking advantage of the opportunities that were out there. That’s what I tell all my soldiers coming up in the military. You have to take advantage of it. No one’s going to give it to you. You have to go and get it.”
Earlier this month, the Army’s top general in charge of supplying units with troops blamed a lack of readiness on limited time for training, adding that lack of funding isn’t the biggest challenge.
Head of Army Forces Command Gen. Robert Abrams said the lack of training stems from lawmakers making policy that commits the service to engagements around the world without an eye toward keeping the force healthy and trained up.
Abrams explained that soldiers were expected to deploy more and have less time home because of downsizing.
“Our goal has always been … one month gone, two months back,” Abrams said, adding that the Army is currently experiencing a ratio of “deploy-to-dwell” that trends closer to one month gone, one month back.
“Our commitments worldwide across the globe in support of our combatant commanders remains at a very high level while we continue to simultaneously downsize the total force,” Abrams told an audience at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.
“Our number one constraint for training is time available.”
Recent budget cuts have forced the Army to reduce its total active duty soldiers to 450,000 while still meeting its obligations worldwide. As a result, the operational tempo for soldiers is higher and more demanding — ultimately requiring soldiers to train more, for longer periods of time, in addition to more and longer deployments, Army officials say.
“The impact of non-standard missions continues to have a degrading effect across our force in being able to sustain proficiency in combined arms maneuver,” Abrams said.
Because soldiers are experiencing a minimal deploy-to-dwell time, there isn’t enough time for soldiers to maintain the training the Army requires.
“We struggle today to maintain and meet Department of the Army standards in our critical combat fleets,” Abrams explained before highlighting unmet requirements within the Army’s aviation and ground fleets. He was quick to explain that in aviation in particular, the problems do not lie with the aviators. The problem stems, instead, with plans to restructure the way the Army finances those fleets, impacting training requirements, upkeep on aircraft, and overall readiness of aviators.
While Abrams was very careful not to blame funding shortfalls for the readiness issues facing the Army, he did not hesitate to blame the readiness of the National Guard in particular on lack of money.
“We’ve dug ourselves this hole because of funding,” Abrams said.
Despite the tough times, Abrams said the Army has made tremendous strides in the last year in terms of readiness and overall capabilities.
“Last year at this exact forum, one of underlying themes was that as an army in terms of our joint war-fighting capabilities, we were pretty rusty,” he said. “I’m happy to report today that we have made progress in our ability.”