Every time things go wrong for the 6,548,746th time and I want to vent about being a military spouse, someone chimes in with, “Well, you knew what you were getting into.”
I smile and nod, but in my head, I’ve punched them in the throat at least 7 times. Honestly, my eye probably twitches as I send death glares to that unfortunate idiot.
The fact of the matter is that I did NOT know what I was getting into when I married a service member.
Here are 5 things no one tells you about being a military spouse:
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He’s Gone….ALL the Time
“Oh, well you should have expected that.”
When we first began this journey in the Army, I expected that he would be gone for deployments. I expected that each deployment would last 9 months to a year and that he would probably have more than one.
However, what I didn’t know about were the hardship tours, TDY assignments, schools, field trainings, or JRTC/NTC, etc.
I recently sat down with my husband and we tried to total up the number of months we have spent apart since he first joined 10 years ago. And the total was almost F O U R years!!!
I am still in shock over that number, but it’s not only shocking, it’s heartbreaking.
No wonder we have struggled. Surely, every marriage has it’s struggles, but all of this time apart doesn’t help. No wonder divorce rates are so high among service members and military spouses.
And more to the point, there was NO WAY I could have known all of this when we got married. No one tells you about all of these extra things that take them away.
All Duty Stations Are Not Created Equal
One of the most popular reasons for joining the service is to travel the world. However, don’t be surprised when your first duty station is Kansas and Uncle Sam is laughing at you!
There really are some crappy duty stations out there.
Sometimes, it’s the location that make an assignment suck so bad. Such as the duty stations in the middle of nowhere, like Fort Riley and Fort Polk.
Sometimes, it’s the climate that make a duty station less than desirable, like Fort Irwin and Fort Drum.
Other times, it’s the op-tempo that make an assignment stressful. Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne and Fort Campbell’s 101st Airborne brigades are notorious for deploying a lot. (And this is not taking into account Special Forces or Ranger units, who deploy even more.)
Then there are those awesome duty stations that everyone wants and loves. Duty stations in Europe, Hawaii, Colorado, and Alaska are always sought after.
Another thing that no one tells you about bad assignments is that you can end up there for a loonnnggg time. We have met people that have been here at Fort Bragg for 8 years!
Also, not only can you get that crappy assignment and then get stuck there for a long time, but you can get the same assignment again! We have a friend that was here at Bragg, went to Fort Polk, and then came back to Bragg!
But no one tells you that before you become a military spouse.
It Can Cost So Much Money
One of the most frustrating myths about the military that I’ve dealt with personally is “The military pays for everything. They pay for your moves, your housing, your healthcare, everything!”
THIS IS A LIE!
I won’t go into all of the specifics about BAH, moving, and Tricare, but there are a LOT of out of pocket expenses that no one tells you about.
Aside from all of that, there are the costs for all of the uniforms and gear. Service members are indeed issued some uniforms, boots, and gear in Basic Training and after they reach their duty station. However, those uniforms don’t last forever and when it’s time to replace them, it’s out of your pocket. There are also patches, pins, berets, socks, t-shirts, dog tags, etc. to be purchased out of pocket.
All of that in addition to the ridiculously long packing list they receive before each deployment, school, training, etc. Each time my husband has to fill one of those we end up spending a couple hundred bucks. Recently, he received a rapid deployment packing list and spent more than $600 filling it!
I realize that there are many other professions that require their employees to pay for uniforms and other things out of pocket, but it seems that in the military (at least the Army), it can be overwhelming. But, again, no one tells you about that before you sign that contract.
The Benefits are Great & Terrible at the Same Time
And while we’re on the topic of finances, let’s talk about the benefits provided by the military.
In many ways, Tricare is GREAT!
I can take my children to the doctor anytime they need to go at absolutely no charge. Not only is the visit free, but if I use the pharmacy on post, then all of their prescriptions are free too!
Neither my husband or I had health insurance growing up and our parents are still uninsured to this day, so this is not a benefit that we take for granted. (In fact, my husband re-enlisted just for the health care when we found out when we were pregnant with our second child.)
But there is a flip-side to that shiny-looking coin. With free-healthcare, you sometimes get exactly what you pay for.
We have seen some truly terrible doctors, sat for hours in waiting rooms to be sent home with Ibuprofen, and not been able to get appointments for weeks at a time.
And we can’t do ANYTHING about it. There is no manager, director, or CEO to take complaints to. Honestly, you can’t even vent to anyone about it. Because as soon as you say something, you’re met with “At least you don’t have to pay for it!” or “At least you can go to the doctor!”
It’s a first-world problem and I am grateful for all that we do have, but it can be annoying. And everyone failed to mention that before my husband joined. I’ll leave it at that.
This Life Changes You
The main thing that no one tells you about being a military spouse is that this life changes you. It changes you irreversibly for the better.
You move thousands of miles away from your support system and your husband deploys, you face the reality that you have only yourself to rely on. And you adapt to that.
I can’t tell you how many times I experienced ridiculously impossible situations while my husband was gone. Yet, each time I figured it out.
Flat tires, sick kids, a tent that blew up on the roof, a toddler that literally had to have her head cut out of a chair, broken appliances, being robbed at a gas station – you really never know what will go wrong, but know that it will. And you will rise to the occasion, figure it out, and be the super woman that you were all along!
Not only will being a military spouse make you stronger, but it also makes you so much more grateful. I am unbelievably thankful for small things that I took for granted before the Army.
We are unbelievably grateful for each holiday, birthday, and anniversary that we spend together. We are grateful for every single weekend we are bored together and for every night that we lay side-by-side.
I have spent so many days, ordinary and special, alone. And I’ll never again take for granted the ones that we have together.
I know that I have spent much of this post, bitchin’ and whinin’ about the military. And if you’re a new military girlfriend or fiance, you’re probably ready to run.
Life as a military spouse is beautifully and horribly complicated. But if you get the chance to do it with your soul mate, don’t hesitate. It’s worth it.