Welcome back, dear Reader. The Air Force recently celebrated its 70th Anniversary and I’ve been thinking a lot about my MilSpouse status lately (that’s military spouse for all you normies out there). It’s far more likely though that my recent reflections are due to our impending PCS orders. PCS stands for Permanent Change of Station. Meaning? We’re waiting to hear about Billy’s next position – and our new location! – for the next 2-3 years.
A few months ago we filled out our wishlist of locales but, as regular readers know, the impact of these lists is questionable. Middle Georgia was never on our list and alas, here we are, “enjoying” 90-degree days in late September.
This time is both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Imagine, dear Reader, waiting for a phone call to tell you whether to pack up and move your entire family to Japan in 6 months. Or maybe North Dakota. Or Hawaii. Or, actually, maybe you’ll be told to ride it out in Middle Georgia a few more years. It’s a real roll of the dice but, as with any gamble, I try to remind myself that if you can lose, you can also win.
May the odds be ever in your favor…..
Anyway, we don’t know where we’re headed yet, but it got me thinking about my experience as a MilSpouse these past two years. Let’s flashback to spring of 2016. We’re living in Italy and have just found out about Billy’s command opportunity (yay!). In Georgia (not-so-yay). In three months (WTF?).
While leaving spin class on base, my friend Julia comments on my recent blog post about being a military spouse. This post was – and still is – my most popular by far. For someone who had been a military spouse for a hot second, I still managed to strike a chord.
“Maybe you could write a book about it one day,” Julia suggests. “There are tons of books out there and…”
But my mind is already elsewhere, her words hitting me like a smack in the face. Oh my god. BOOKS! My oldest friends. Why hadn’t I thought to consult books?! Here I am, fumbling through this transition to military life when surely some knowledgeable spouse had already outlined the tricks of the trade! To be honest, dear Reader, it never occurred to me anyone would write about spouses. Not unlike furniture, we get shipped from base to base, lending a sense of consistency and comfort to the ever-important Active Duty Member. What’s there to say?
I had to find out. To the digital library!
Julia was right, there are a ton of books out there for and about military spouses. Let’s see, there’s An Idiot’s Guide..., confessional memoirs, Biblical Strategies to Help the Military Spouse Thrive, and even Chicken Soup for my MilSpouse soul. Some offered practical advice on how to read a Leave and Earning Statement (LES) while others had pink covers and barftastic titles like Married to the Military. Still more promised to school me on manners and protocol. I chuckle to myself. No thanks.
But maybe this one…
Following the Flag: Marriage and the Modern Military
Based on personal interviews with military spouses, as well as current articles and statistics and studies from the Department of Defense and Rand National Defense Research Institute.
Still sweaty from spin class, I hit download and make myself comfortable on the couch for an afternoon of reading.
The parco below is quiet. It must be late afternoon now and I’m still exploring the history of military spouses. The book explores themes like prolonged periods of separation, single parenting, and the chronic under- or unemployment of spouses. It also attempts to explain several outdated social norms that dictate some of today’s lingering expectations. (Ahem, white glove tea parties and bunco nights!). I love seeing the evolving – and expanding! – role of women in the home, the workplace, the military.
Things are going well until I come across this gem:
…the Commanding Officer’s Wife or COW…
I look up from the page with a grimace. Oh no they didn’t.
*Note: This has since been changed to Commanding Officer’s Spouse (COS) since not all Commanders are men (or straight) these days. Booyah!
Before we even land in Georgia, Billy and I have a week-long stopover at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It’s now summer of 2016 and Billy needs to attend Squadron Leader Orientation before assuming command in Georgia. I’m taking the corresponding Spouse Course.
“Like Spouse School?” my girlfriend from Boston scoffs into the phone. “What, are they going to teach you how to fetch him a drink? To talk to him in soothing tones when he comes home?”
We both laugh but I suspect that is, in part, the gist of the training.
Certainly, the last thing I want to do in the midst of an international move (the second in 12 months mind you) is sit around with a bunch of COWs all week. According to the agenda, our days begin at oh-six-hundred-fifty-five each morning. All I can think is: oh-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me. But here we are, bright and early, all 18 of us not including Mentor Spouses. (Yeah, it’a real thing. Just let it go).
Our training begins with a video. It shows emotional couples reuniting in front of airplanes, handsome young men in uniform (with women and minorities sprinkled in for good measure), “community” themed montages, and lots of American flags billowing in the background. The voice-over claims the men and women of our armed forces feel more intensely, love more deeply, and overcome insurmountable odds. The music swells.
“Propaganda,” the woman next to me whispers.
I nod. We both have tears in our eyes anyway. (What? It was well executed propaganda).
In general, I found the training to be well-organized, informative, and, in my humble opinion, equal parts stuff and fluff.
Perhaps most importantly, it gave me a firmer grasp of what this position means for my husband – and it is kind of a big deal, guys. We also learned how to harness various resources – childcare, mental health, medical, social – and how to connect others with those important resources. Plus, I did meet some cool ladies.
Other parts of the training didn’t go over so well…. Being forced to color a mandala in a stress-busting session had the opposite effect – I felt infantilized and sulky. A short segment about protocol left a bad taste in my mouth. I know which fork to use at a formal dinner, thankyouverymuch.
Yet, through it all, I was plagued by one nagging question: why am I here?
After all, I don’t work for the Air Force. I’m not on its payroll. There’s no superior I can call to say, “Dude. This Georgia thing… just no.”
The gentleman who organized our training shared that sometimes they begin these sessions by asking the spouses to arrange themselves according to rank. And so the spouses do… (“Okay, if your husband is a Lieutenant Colonel and mine is a… well then I should stand here….”)
“The big joke being,” the gentleman reveals, “you have no rank! Ha ha! Only your spouse has rank!”
My worst fears have been confirmed; military spouses are a joke.
However, there’s an important point being made here: Don’t go bossing people around. You ain’t shit. Indeed, we were repeatedly told that nothing we did would influence our Active Duty Member’s career.
Which brings us back to the haunting question: why am I here? As a Commanding Officer’s Spouse, I have no official authority. No power of the pin, as they say. And yet…. I’m being asked to play den mother to an entire squadron of my husband’s employees. Hosting parties, offering counsel. Taking care not to wear pajamas to the commissary in order to maintain a refined – though approachable! – persona.
It’s confusing, no? I didn’t grow up in a military family or even live in proximity to a military community. Back in the corporate world, I’d never heard of any similar CEO Spouse School. So what is this?
Suspicious by nature, I begin to wonder…. is the Air Force attempting to placate us with “opportunities” so we feel less like furniture and more like influencers? Am I being gratified because the Air Force knows it’s the spouses who keep our Active Duty Members afloat (and in clean uniforms)? Are they looking for free labor?
More importantly, does this mean I’m not allowed to write blogs about my Air Force experience anymore? You know, now that I’m a COW? It gave me much to think about, dear Reader.
So, The Great MilSpouse Experiment continues! Mine is an uneasy alliance with the Air Force, recognizing its ability to both giveth and taketh away. Threats of deployments and crap locations loom large. Until Billy retires, I’ll probably wear my Air Force swag with some ambivalence. You likely won’t see me on the cover of Military Spouse Magazine anytime soon but, ultimately, I believe I’ll look back on these years as a period of adventure.
As an outsider to the services, I admit to being impressed by the USAF during my short stint “in the fold.” (USAF: United States Air Force. You at least guessed that one, right?). The Air Force takes tremendous pride in what it does, but it also remains thoughtful about its failings and eagerly offers a new course of action when necessary. I’ve also seen it strive (however imperfectly) to care for its people. Although, if you’ve ever been to a food court on base you might disagree. Someone please write the D.O.D and tell them their military families deserve a Starbucks and a Sweetgreen!
Apparently there is, in fact, much to say about this MilSpouse experience. I look forward to writing more about it and, hopefully, hearing more from other spouses. Oh, and fear not…
This message has been approved by The Commander.