Dear Members of Congress,
I would specifically appeal to my senators and congressman here, but my congressman has banned me from his Facebook page for accusing the lot of you of acting like a bunch of pre-teens fighting over glitter nail polish and 7 jeans during a looming shutdown (therefore, I know he throws away my emails and letters), one senator is the typical I-am-deaf-to-your-reasoning-because-I-have-opinions-and-they-are-already-purchased-by-a-company-paying-me-all-teh-monies, and the other senator hasn’t had a chance to blow me off yet because he’s brand spanking new.
So for all the good it will do us, I will appeal to the lot of you and hope someone is listening and actually gives a good goddamn.
First, who is this “us” I speak of? Military spouses. We are a silent minority, toiling in the background, and expected–even in this more enlightened age–to stay quiet and docile and not make a fuss. More of us feel empowered with technology to speak our minds, but we’re still largely ignored. We matter even less than service members do.
But here’s the thing: we do matter. We are the wizards behind the curtain, the ones who make things happen while the service members are busy with the tasks you and the Commander in Chief pass down. We are the gear the military would have issued our service members if the government had wanted our men and women in uniform to have spouses, the ones who are given lip service for all we do and endure but understanding all the while that our struggles don’t matter. We are the uncounted, the ignored, the ever-present and ever-struggling, and it’s about damned time we were heard.
I have been a milspouse for twenty years now, and in that time, I have never heard of or seen a politician or military commander acknowledge the price we pay–our careers pay–to keep our families as whole as the military will allow. This misstep isn’t just nonsensical. It’s insulting because the struggle isn’t new, we have not kept our challenges quiet, and yet we are still ignored.
Many of us are welcomed into the military life with a swat on the butt and a “Welcome to the [service], Mrs/Mr X,” and are expected to put our needs aside to support the important career in the family: that of the service member. Yes, they have important jobs. Yes, there are legal ramifications if they don’t follow orders. And they’re gone so frequently and for potentially long stretches, and we want to be a family, so we follow them around the world in hopes that we can make the times together really matter.
We didn’t come into this life without goals and aspirations. Many of us stepped into this new role of milspouse with at least the first steps toward a particular career, and many of us have had to abandon those aspirations because they’re not compatible with this life.
We didn’t all come into this life thinking we’d have to completely change course or even endure long stretches of unemployment on our resumes, and yet that’s what’s happened.
We didn’t step into our roles thinking, “Well, I guess I’d better find some kind of volunteer position to fill this resume gap. And I guess I’d better find a way to shave off some of our expenses so we can survive the next few years without my paycheck.” We didn’t think we’d have to sacrifice our financial goals to be with the men or women we love.
We might have known what we were getting into when we married into the military, or when the military joined our marriages, but you can’t really know what sacrifices are required or how soul-sucking those sacrifices can be until you’ve lived it.
And the thing is, this particular sacrifice–this giving up our career goals, our economic safety nets, our own retirements–is pointless. Technology today is not what it was when I embarked on this Navy adventure twenty years ago. Today, we have email, Skype, webinars, VoIP, secure networks, high speed internet. We have tools that mean our physical presence is unnecessary. We can still attend meetings, even when they’re happening five time zones away. We can still pop in on a team member to discuss an issue, brainstorm new ideas, confab on a project, or just chat and build camaraderie…we just won’t physically be in their cubicle.
We milspouses are adaptable creatures. Semper Gumby is our motto, and so is Get Out of My Way For I Have Shit to Do. We are flexible. We are adventurous. We are strong and proud and motivated. We have dreams and goals, and most of us have to shelve those until our spouses leave the service, or else we have to agree to spend the bulk of our marriages living apart…and what kind of marriage is that? Those milspouses, the ones who pursue their own dreams far from their spouses–they are sacrificing just as much as those of us who follow our spouses. The problem is that we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t–the sacrifice rests squarely on us. Give up on being with the person who inspires us to be our best selves, or give up on what lights a fire in us? Civilian spouses are not required to make this Solomon decision*.
But dear Congress, don’t believe for a second that this doesn’t affect the service members and their ability to do their jobs. Especially as you chip away at the benefits your military personnel have earned through egregious toil in the last decade-plus, they are feeling the financial pinch when their spouses have to leave a job during a PCS and can’t find anything (even minimum wage) at the next duty station because their resume looks like a typical milspouse’s, and who wants to hire someone who’s only going to be here two years, anyway?
Don’t believe for a second service members’ morale isn’t affected when their spouses are completely unfulfilled by the administrative assistant job they scored only because they hid their MBA degree on their resume.
Don’t believe for a second that there isn’t a tiny sliver of toxic resentment chipping away at some of these marriages, affecting the service member’s ability to stay focused at work.
Don’t believe this problem of underemployed and unemployed milspouses isn’t a major issue for you, the ones who send the service members off to war.
We spouses get a lot of lip service, and in those few cases where we see a tiny ray of hope in the form of not-lip service (MyCAA, anyone?), it is yanked away from us. And if it returns (MyCAA, anyone?), it is restricted and restrictive, limiting spouses to pre-approved “careers” that, while great jobs, don’t actually offer any upward mobility. Medical transcriptionists don’t often climb the ladder to CEO, do they? An associate degree opens a door, but where does it lead?
A milspouse should have the opportunity and ability to take a job–whether for fun or extra money or as the next rung on the career ladder–any job, anywhere. Some jobs are impossible to make portable (you can’t telework a sous chef position), but so many jobs are.
Again: So many jobs are or can be made portable. Because technology!
Government sparks so many jobs. Proven need sparks even more. Lip service will no longer cut it. Listen to us. Hear our voices. Spark a change.
Incentivize milspouse employment. Incentivize jobs that are portable, that offer upward mobility, and that are as flexible as milspouses are.
Incentivize employing milspouses and ensure companies can’t discriminate against milspouses with lower pay or by passing us over just because we are milspouses (this does happen–all the time).
We should not be forced to sacrifice our dreams, our goals, our careers–or our families–because our spouses are serving this great country.
Do right by us for once, Congress. We’ve earned it.
*Nearly all, anyway. There are civilian families forced into this position.
We’ve been getting some comments about language on our site. And to paraphrase the marvelous Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station, this is OUR intellectual property. If you don’t like it, don’t come here. If you are shocked by the language on here, I’m trying to figure out why the hell you came to the site to read a piece! To the BRATs who are claiming to be so shocked by our language, may I simply ask where the bloody hell you were stationed, supposedly around the military, that our language shocks you!! Yes, we curse like sailors, soldiers, Marines… because we too are BRATs, milspouses – hung around those in uniform who have a tendency to use a few good words.
Many of you commenting appear to be my age, I’m a boomer, I’m a grandma. I won’t curse much around my granddaughter, but I know she’s heard it before. This looking back to the golden days of our youth in Germany or Italy or wherever, has taken on a “Father Knows Best/Gidget on the Beach” esque glow! I learned to curse in at least 4 languages, 2 of which I can say nothing other than those words! Hindsight may be wonderful, but stop using the bleach to make it pablum and pretending that we all fart rainbows and fairy dust because our parents were in the military or, in my case, the Foreign Service.
There’s a time and place to publicly call out assholery and to ask folks–individuals or the masses–to check their attitudes, privilege, bigotry, etc.
But I’ll just throw out there right now: it’s tacky as hell to bitch and gossip online about a spouse within your SO’s command*. Don’t do it. Unless, of course, your life’s purpose is to be a shitty milspouse and a shitty human being. Then, by all means, fulfill your life’s purpose. Embrace that shit, don your pearls, put your hair into a judgmental bun, and go for it.
There’s a special level of gauche involved in taking to social media to bitch and whine about another milspouse. It’s worse when the bitching and whining all relates to a bullshit definition of what makes a good milspouse.
So first, dear judgmental milspouses, you are not precious. You are not speshul and deserving of snowflake status. You wear no crown, and you have zero responsibilities relating to your spouse’s job unless you choose to take on volunteer obligations.
And please to note: Choose. Volunteer. YOU.
Back when women weren’t allowed to have credit in their own names and couldn’t get birth control unless they were married and had their husbands’ permission, a milspouse had to take part, had to contribute, had to be social and deal almost exclusively with other milspouses. Their husbands’ careers depended on it.
But these here days are a tad more enlightened. We are not paid to take part, we are not obligated by virtue of a marriage certificate to take part, and we don’t have to unless it butters our biscuits to do so.
If you think it’s your obligation to be a leader, I have a few things to note:
- That’s your effing decision, and you have zero right to expect that of any other milspouse.
- The training for CO spouses includes the appalling fact that NO SPOUSE IS REQUIRED TO TAKE ON ANY VOLUNTEER ROLES, EVER. Hell, the training for CO/XO billets includes the same tidbit.
- It shows a severe deficit of character if you choose to take to social media to bitch about another milspouse.
- It shows a failure of leadership if you take to the internet rather than take her to lunch and brainstorm ways to address your concerns. Though…
- Keep in mind that another milspouse’s decision to refuse a leadership/volunteer role is not actually a valid concern and doesn’t need to be addressed.
I really can’t believe this needs to be said, but obviously it does when this kind of thing is going on in 20-goddamn-14.
So to sum up: Each milspouse has the right to determine how involved s/he wants to be as a milspouse. Each milspouse has the right to maintain that level of engagement and is never required, by virtue of the service member’s job or otherwise, to take on leadership commitments. If you have a problem with this, you probably ought to get some perspective. If you bitch and gossip about someone who has a lower level of engagement than you do, you’re an asshole. If you bitch and gossip online, where no privacy setting is ever going to allow your statements an expiration, you are an epic pissbiscuit.
PS Divest yourself of your spouse’s rank. You’re a goddamn civilian.
* It’s tacky as hell to do it off the webz. But today, we’re talking the dickwittery of those who, for example, ask for “advice” on the web, especially when it’s clearly an attempt to gather the voices and confirm they are Right and Correct and that their feelings of harumph are Valid and Good.
I’ve tried very hard lately to curtail my insults because inner peace, motherlovers. But I just today heard about the CHAMPS vs BRATS (whatever, but more about that bollocks later) brouhaha that has now made its way to SpouseBuzz, which is how a friend heard about it, which is how I found out. And now I have all the insults because what has happened is completely unconscionable and deserves an epic effing smackdown.
BLUF: Jacey Eckhart is right. Those words will probably never again pass my fingers, but there you go.
Jacey is right because, regardless of what the CHAMPS people did or did not do, regardless of their military affiliation or non-affiliation, regardless of whether they chortled madly while USO touring (they *gasp* called it a vacay! how dare they enjoy themselves while helping to entertain the military! f*cking heathen civilian beasts!) the BRATS are a horde of bullies and entitled little shits who have just done more damage to the military-civilian divide than they can ever imagine (mostly because their worlds obviously revolve only around them, so seeing beyond their tiny little ego-bound lives is a pretty massive undertaking). If this gets any traction outside of the military world…wow.
And it could. Why? Because one of you egotistical f*cksticks published private details about the CEO online. And worse? She’s a mil-fiancee. Worse than that? Her fiance is deployed.
*golf clap* Good job, assbiscuits. You’ve really outdone yourselves. Online harassment. Bullying. And now now you’ve added “threats” to your list by publishing addresses and personal details–that’s unspoken permission and encouragement to those who are just a little bit that side of crazy or criminal, which makes your participation a threatening act.
Oh, and remember that other little drum you guys like to beat? ZOMG ISIS IS COMING FOR US EACH INDIVIDUALLY BATTEN THE HATCHES AND PREPARE FOR BEHEADING BECAUSE OBAMA. Yeah, good job advertising that military family to the terrorists. But, wait. I guess that doesn’t matter to you guys, right? Because f*ck her and f*ck that and f*ck everything let’s set all this shit on fire just to make our point. Right?
Reading the comments here and here, I have the overwhelming sense that the people leading this charge are suffering from a martyr complex, are so enamored of their own tiny lives that they like the mil-civilian divide because it keeps them special and other and over here, away from the civilian masses.
You know what this sounds like? That other little bastion of entitled little pricks who want to feel special and hate the idea that there are multiple viewpoints within and without their culture and are f*cking pissed that anyone would dare tread on their special space and are willing to harass and abuse and adopt a false front and then tantrum online to get their way: GamerGate.
Look at those comments. They can be boiled down to: It’s all about ethics in gaming journalism non-profit work and for-profit books of which a f*cking handful have sold.
Same thing, BRATS*.
Every one of you involved in this, and most especially those involved directly in the harassment and threats, should be ashamed of yourselves. You are NOT honorable. You are NOT responsible. You are NOT adaptable. You are NOT tolerant. What you are is a bunch of self-obsessed hypocrites, bullies, twatrockets, and buffoons, and you’ve just blackened the eye of the military community**.
Nice job showing the world how you revel in being a brat and eschew being a champ.
And one more *golf clap* just because your sins are so f*cking epic.
F*ck off. Then f*ck off some more. And then f*ck off so hard you tear the space-time continuum and f*ck off in an infinite Star Trek-like loop. And then, once you escape the time loop, f*ck off again.
* That is such an infantile thing y’all have done there. I’m a military brat. I will never be a f*cking military BRAT. You might as well be balls-deep in a warm wad of virgin cotton candy with this shit. Daring to choose to do what is right is boldness? How about f*cking surviving the mil-sprog life when you’re surrounded by egotistical cockbeasts? That’s bold right there. Responsibility…but of the Christian variety? Roger that, assburgers. Tolerant? Nice word – you’ll put up with anyone, but not necessarily respect their decision or right to live their lives. *high five* And OMG that S addition- spunk. The way you dickbiscuits have acted, I’m inclined to think the spunk you mean is the jizz kind. Good job. Epic job, actually.
** Plus, you made me agree with Jacey Eckhart, which might just splinter this reality, so f*ck you for that, too.
Not long after I posted a screed about Lattegate being a news item, a friend shared a Facebook post by Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station, and it was such a thing of beauty, LAW and I both asked if we could share his words with our peeps. He gave us permission to repost. We were all over that like a beard on a hipster because what he says is full of Hell to the Yes and A to the Men. Warning: thar be some language ahead but certainly no worse than you’ve read at my blog.
America has become the land of the perpetually offended. We are the forever outraged, we Americans.
It’s a bullshit first world problem that afflicts those who face no real difficulty in their day to day lives.
No difficulty? What’s that you say? Yeah, listen, when you have to lug the day’s water four miles from the nearest river on top of your head, get back to me.
This outrage, it’s a disease common to those who have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep and endless access to cheap goods and more TV channels than they could view even if they did nothing else. Yesterday, I stood in line behind an angry disaffected hipster at the coffee shop who spent ten minutes ordering a pumpkin spice chai tea latte with various ingredients, a drink that totalled – and I shit you not – $14.98. He held the line up for twenty minutes with his bullshit. Fifteen dollars for a cup of tea. Fifteen dollars for a cup of tea, folks. Twenty minutes of screwing around, and the pretentious little prick STILL wasn’t happy. And we all had to listen to him complain to the barista about his goddamned tea. I wanted to snatch him up by his nasty little goatee and smash his fucking head on the counter.
That’s what America has become, right there, a bunch of privileged snots mad because our chai tea latte isn’t hot enough.
We’re outraged all of the time because we’ve got nothing better to do than be outraged all the damned time.
Listen to me, when the worst thing that happened to you today is that the president waved at a Marine with a cup of coffee in his hand, when THAT’s what you’ve got to be offended by, then you really don’t have any actual problems. You’re just being an asshole.
It’s a symptom of the larger disease.
When the only thing you’ve got to be upset about is that two gay people want to get married, if that’s what offends you, you’re just being an asshole.
When the only thing you’ve got to be pissed off about is that other people worship a different god from yours, or go to a different church, or don’t believe in gods at all, then you’re just being an asshole.
When you’re outraged at the idea that some woman somewhere is getting an abortion, but meanwhile the thought of millions of children starving to death, or dying of preventable and treatable diseases, of suffering from poverty and neglect, or dying under the fall of our bombs doesn’t bother you, you’re just being an asshole.
When the only thing you’ve got to be outraged by is that you feel you’re being persecuted for your religious beliefs, or your race, or your gender, or your sexual orientation even though you’re a member of the overwhelming majority and you provably benefit from that fact every single day, then you’re just being an asshole.
When the worst thing in your day is that we’re not at war enough, that we aren’t bombing or invading or killing enough, if that’s your beef, then you are an asshole.
Other countries? Other places in the world? Their leaders are chopping off heads. Literally chopping off heads. Chopping off hands. Murdering. Raping. They’re gunning people down in the streets. They’re invading their neighbors. People are starving to death and they’ve got no choice but to drink out of the same river they shit in.
America? We’re outraged that the president waved at a Marine with a cup of coffee in his hand.
THAT’s what WE’ve got to be upset about.
Folks, let me clue you in on something: BY CONSTITUTIONAL DEFINITION, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS A CIVILIAN.
He shouldn’t be saluting at all.
Reagan started this idiotic bullshit, no president before him raised a salute, not even Eisenhower.
The president is a civilian. There is no law, statute, regulation, or US Code that requires him to salute. Period. Nor should he. And in point of fact, the people who set up this country SPECIFICALLY didn’t want the president to be a member of the military – which is why we put civilians in charge of it.
The president shouldn’t be saluting in the first place. Period. A nod, a verbal acknowledgement to the military folks guarding him is sufficient.
Listen to me carefully: We don’t want the president, this one or any other, acting like they are a general. This is the United States of America, and it’s long past time for you to remember that.
Folks, something I’d point out to you, the President is left handed, as am I.
The president was descending the steep boarding ladder of Marine 1, very likely he was holding on to the rail with his dominant hand, as would I, i.e. the left one. Out of habit, likely he was holding his coffee in his right, as would I. Both without thinking about it – because, and I’m guessing here, the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES just might have other things on his mind than which hand to hold his coffee cup in.
This exact thing happened to me, as a military officer, more than once. Holding my coffee cup, moving through the ship, step out on the deck, and get saluted and have to switch hands or nod or just plain fuck it up and salute with my cup. Because, you know, we’re all human. Some of us are left handed humans operating in a right handed world.
Again, if this is what you have to be outraged by, you’re an asshole and I don’t care which hand you’re using.
Today – there will be pictures of flags, and the twin towers with smoke or with the Statue of Liberty, and “never forget” clips. Today – we will all take a minute and remember how we heard, what we saw. Today – the military community will remember the upheaval in our lives, the changes we never foresaw on Sept. 10th. Today- maybe the country will change their focus and think about the veterans. That’s what today SHOULD be.
What will really happen today? The news commentators will put on their deep solemn voices and look into the camera with a stern look and waffle on about a local event being done for remembrance. Two minutes later they will perk up and tell us about the traffic, or the weather, or a cute puppy story. For a second, you’ll be mad – how DARE they make so little of it. Life does go on. For us, in this little bubble of a military community, we have a multitude of reminders. The embroidered prayer rug commemorating a deployment; the missed “big days” of every family; the wounds – visible or not- that are a constant presence in our homes; the friends we made and lost in the last 13 years of high deployment tempo, moves, online connections.
Should we continue to “remember” with solemn ceremonies? Will the two minutes that someone takes to change their cover photo to a mourning eagle or a firefighter’s helmet draped in black truly mean they understand? I don’t have an answer to that.
Today – in our house? We’re packing to move, and the boxes that impede our walking in the house are filling and being taped shut. The anticipation of the move and the myriad of “must do” tasks to get us ready for the Two Marines Movers tomorrow are dominant in my mind. But as I pack that embroidered prayer rug and move another trunk of old uniforms out of my way – I don’t need Charlie Rose to remind me to remember. Our lives changed utterly and completely that day, even if we didn’t know it or realize how much. Are we still being impacted? Yes, sometimes I don’t recognize that prior me or him. Where would we be if it hadn’t happened, if we hadn’t declared/not declared war? Who knows.
Today – yes, I’ll remember. And then I will pick up another pair of shoes and put them in a box and try to figure out where I left the tape gun now. Because we have to move forward and get things done. We can’t sit and watch commemoration TV shows all day – and even if we could, I don’t think we would. Mourning friends, mourning the sons and fathers, daughters and mothers lost is the right thing to do. Getting on with life as we have to NOW live it, is right for us too. We remember what today is, what it meant and what it means.
From a very good friend, Stacy Bannerman, who has written, advocated, worked and lived the life of a caregiver of a veteran.
I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical. An opera, really? Written and composed by two people from southern Oregon, of all places, who had no direct connection to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, how could an opera possibly begin to capture how these wars were coming home for the veterans with PTSD and their spouses? That was my frame of mind when I sat down with the rough cut DVD of the workshop performance of The Canticle of the Black Madonna www.cbmopera.com staged at the University of Oregon last year. Sure, I’d read the remarks by the vets who had been in the audience that evening, including this one, from Miah Washburn, 1SG, U.S. Army Infantry, who is right now training for another deployment to Afghanistan with the Oregon National Guard 41st BDE:
“You honor me, and my brothers and sisters in arms, with this opera. Please know that as a combat veteran I am truly and deeply touched that you have undertaken such an elusive and misunderstood issue as combat-related PTSD in America today. I am thankful to you all for what you do, and I know my fallen friends would be as well.”
But I was still skeptical. Perhaps I’d been to one too many retreats, seminars, or workshops hungry for, if not healing, at least understanding, some recognition of the reality of what it can be like living with a veteran with combat trauma, and far too often, leaving disappointed, alienated, alone. And then I watched, and pretty soon, I quit thinking, and started feeling, and then I was crying, a lot actually. Because they got it, and they got it right.
In the first act, this original, contemporary opera provides a powerful snapshot of what is really going on in too many homes of too many veterans struggling with the trauma of war. But it doesn’t end there, at that point where too many of our families are stuck. It doesn’t end at the place where our national conversation seems to have stalled.
In the second act – the whole thing runs just under two hours – the composer, Ethan Gans Morse, and the Librettist, Tiziana DellaRovere, move the music, the story, and us, the audience, onto a new pathway, a new possibility for finding our way forward after war, for daring to believe, for having the audacity to hope even in the midst of devastation that there is a path toward healing the souls of those wounded by war. We aren’t going to get there alone, and this opera serves as both medium and message for that.
So. An opera, really?
This opera, in particular, is resurrecting a 400-year-old genre to serve as a vehicle for addressing and transforming the invisible wounds of war, while bringing a serious dialogue about the role of the civilian community in healing the wounds of war to center stage. A nationally-renowned cast is performing The Canticle of the Black Madonna, a groundbreaking opera about the power of love to transform the lives of military veterans suffering from PTSD on September 5th & 6th, 2014 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre.
Stacy Bannerman, M.S., is the author of When the War Came Home (2006) and spearheaded the passage of Oregon’s H.B. 2744, and H.B. 3391, which created the Governor’s Task Force on Military Families. Stacy is the Director of Oregon Operations for The Canticle of the Black Madonna, http://canticleoftheblackmadonna.com/ an original opera about combat PTSD, domestic abuse, and the healing of the soul. E-mail her at her website, http://www.stacybannerman.com.