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Carte de visite and the silver salver – or – What is expected from the military spouse.

July 19, 2010

A scene in John Ford’s epic  Fort Apache – the martinet Colonel tells his daughter that she can’t marry the young officer, after all, he’s only the son of the Regiment’s Sgt Major…  terribly dated you say?  No one thinks that way anymore?  We are all equal?  Not in the military, we’re not.  The same young officer arrives at the home of said Colonel, to drop off the required carte de visite – where’s the silver salver to put it on?

A century later (only 20 years ago), a base in Germany – a Colonel’s wife calls the wife of an junior NCO into a counseling session, since she has become the friend of a lieutenant’s wife and even though they aren’t in the chain of command, they are still in the same unit – dear, it’s just not DONE…….. still dated?  Really?  I remember that session, she tore me a new one!

In case anyone thinks that these days are long long gone – you might remember the latest incident at Fort Bragg.    There are reliable accounts that there are still brigades that counsel the officers wives if they aren’t living up to what is expected, that senior enlisted wives are being removed as heads of support groups to hand them over to officer’s wives who may not have the years of experience and knowledge, and separate FRGs in National Guard units for enlisted and officer’s spouses.  These units seem to be going back into what some folks may call “the good old days” when dependents knew their place, when almost all wives stayed home and were the unpaid, and sometimes unwilling, labour force for the battalion.  These wives ran the “wives clubs”, made sure that the junior wives knew what was expected of them, and were expected to guide and mold the next generation of women who followed their spouses from one post to another, from run down quarters at Rucker to Quonset hut in Virginia Beach, watching their household goods fall victim to the latest round of packers, but expected to have that hut shipshape and tidy and ready to entertain at the drop of a hat. Most of these women didn’t work outside the home, their careers were on hold or gone completely.  If this was or is done willingly, fine, but for many this penalty paid for loving a soldier, was an unwilling sacrifice.   Is this what we want again?

The military has a hierarchy, and we all know it.  A few months prior to the “advice” from the Senior Wife I received all those years ago, we were at a meeting in her home, and her husband addressed us.  He told us to get in line by rank/date of rank.  After a few minutes of milling around asking dates of promotion, he bellowed “none of you has rank!”  When I think of it now, I want to laugh, and tell him to talk to his missus – she wore his so well.  I don’t know about you, but I hear this constantly.

We are all in this together, there isn’t a difference between us, we are all military spouses together, don’t think of me as a “rank given, loudly” wife, I’m just one of you.

Seriously???  Are you kidding me?  I’ve been in this little world of ours for a very long time, both sides of the fence of the “great divide”… and if you don’t think that rank means a  whole helluva a lot, I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn just begging for a new owner.

A friend of mine went to a gathering of like minded spouses a while back, and was thrilled to find that there was not ONE WORD about military gossip, no mention of ranks, I’m not sure that last names were even used.  A wonderful afternoon of serious conversation, laughter, and that old fashioned word, camaraderie was the break she needed from all of the worries of the soon to be deployed unit problems.  This seems to be what is keeping some of us sane, the knowledge that this group may be available to us too.  It’s a matter of finding that first person who is one of “us”, who shows us the secret handshake and invites us to join in.   Have you found that person yet, are you that person?

What does the military want from us, the military spouses of the 21st century?  From what I see, it still wants us to be the unpaid workers, running the support groups and trying to fund them with cupcake sales in the parking lot, valiantly trying to help that “lost” spouse, the one who has lost her way or is seriously thinking of harming herself, all without the training we desperately need.  We are running our households and our families while deployment after TDY after school removes the uniformed spouse from the family.  They tell us we can have a career, a portable career – a realtor, a medical transcriptionist, child care worker and they’ll pay for our schooling, but don’t ask for the promised program to pay for the social worker degree, the nursing certification, which are the positions  the military really needs. They’ll decide what’s portable, after all, we need to be told what to do!  They’ll keep the promise, but only when they decide that the career is the right one.

Before you say it, yes, I know, we chose this life when we married a soldier, airman, sailor or Marine.  That doesn’t preclude us from trying to make this life better, from letting the military powers that be know that we could and can and will do our part to keep our families together, and our spouse ready and willing to serve, but really could use their cooperation!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2010 10:11 pm

    With all due respect, enough with “choosing this life.” Let’s stop that right here, right now. we didn’t “choose” this life, we chose our spouses. And they enlisted and we were drafted to serve without pay, rank, or recognition. To quote:
    “We choose to be soldiers, but our families get drafted,” said Col. Courtney Carr, 76th Infantry Brigade Commander. “It can be stressful on our loved ones. The strength at home is crucial and it allows us to focus on the mission.”

    Furthermore, We didn’t “choose” to have our loved ones sent to fight a war based on lies. The American public chose that. And now they are so disinterested – because the war hasn’t come into their homes – that it’s okay to continue the occupation.

    Ahem. Back on track – although it’s all related. I am the spouse of an NCO – an enlisted Army National Guard (the horror!) soldier. Didn’t get the handbook. didn’t get any of the other hoo-ah shit, for that matter. By the time the Kool-Aid got to me, it was pretty well watered down. So I had no idea of the barriers, boundaries, and protocols that I was breaking when I approached Sheila Casey, wife of Gen. George Casey. But I will tell you this: she was fantastic, and receptive, and has responded to all of my calls and requests. If there’s a best case scenario for an officers wife, she is it, in spades. So maybe, just maybe, if more mil.spouses had the courage to stand up and speak out, we could change things. Sooner rather than later. Because I don’t know about you, but me…? I am living in the firce urgency of now, and cannot bear even one more phone call from a military spouse or veteran on the edge 0f suicide. Rank and protocol be damned. I will always put people first. We are dealing with lives here.

  2. July 20, 2010 4:39 am

    As a former Guard Wife – I know the koolaid doesn’t reach the ground, believe me. Trying to help the families through a 22 month deployment, replete with funerals and the Surge – without a functional support network, was very illuminating. The “you chose this life” is what we hear, ad nauseum, from those who criticize us for “complaining” about something military related. Chose this life, yes I did (speaking only for myself) I supported Chief when he started doing Active duty with the Guard, and when he got his 20 year letter, I agreed with his decision to stay with the Guard and later, go Active. So, yes, I chose it.

    The VERY Senior Spouses – Mrs. Mullen being my particular example – are secure enough in themselves not to pull the rank issue, although when Mrs Casey asked me why I was in favour of no last names at the Caucus, she was skeptical at my answer. I saw the results, I saw the women at my table go into shock when they realized that the Deb who had been at the table, was Mrs. Mullen, and were worried about what they had said.

    My question was, and still is, what does the military want from us? Are we still the unpaid labour? yes, we are. And we aren’t just coping with luncheons and Xmas parties, we are coping with the suicidal phone calls, the despairing spouses who are exhausted by the continuing Optempo.

  3. July 20, 2010 7:50 am

    I think being Guard is just a world unto itself and like Stacy said, and LAW knows…we don’t get any handbook. none. And half the time we don’t even get any involvement in our units until there is a deployment. Over the years I knew SB’s work people through the annual christmas part, but that was it. Even..get this…when my hubs went to the Sergeants Major academy I found out (too late to matter) that there was a spouse course being held…far from home. Like the Academy just assumed that I could drop off my kids somewhere, for a week, and accompany my spouse. WTF? They took none of that into consideration, yet, I’m constantly being told that I’m “supposed” to be doing XYorZ.

    I don’t know what the answer is, other than we have a very small informal, unofficial FRG which State says we’re not allowed to have, which we handle all online. No one knows who is who, I’ve mentioned this before. The commander’s wife and the E-3…friends. No one cares.

    But. But, with that comes responsibility among us wives. I can’t tell my husband that so and so thinks her husband is cheating on her. I can’t tell my husband much of anything. That’s where I stop the wearing of the rank. I am just Michelle. I listen, I share, I gab. And if more of us did the same, then the whole wearing of the rank would end. We may have a lot to blame on the army, but THIS, this we can stop.

  4. Laya permalink
    July 21, 2010 9:22 am

    The women who wear their husbands’ rank the most often- is it because they’re living vicariously through their husbands’ careers? Is that why they rely on it so much?

    I’ll admit, I don’t know much, but I would think that a woman who is secure in herself and in her career wouldn’t be so dependent on her husband’s position.

    • LAW permalink
      July 21, 2010 9:23 am

      Laya – her career? for a lot of us, the question is “what career”???

  5. July 21, 2010 1:31 pm

    I personally think the Army expects the wives to wear the rank and many wives do it willingly, which is why like I said above the wives themselves aren’t stopping it. They enjoy it. It’s good to be king and it’s even better to be the queen. i think there is a sense of power that they get by being “THE” spouse. I personally don’t understand it, but that’s how I see it. I think for those spouses who do the rank wearing, this IS their job. They consider themselves to be IN the military, just as much as their husband.

    • TammyJ permalink
      July 21, 2010 7:05 pm

      I wonder if this is more true for the Army than the Air Force or if I just haven’t seen it as much. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist in the AF but from what I’ve been reading, it occurs much less. Four years into our marriage (about 8 years ago and my hubs was an O4 at the time) we had moved to small German village. I was thrilled to meet another American mom at the playground. We arranged a “playdate” for the kids and things were going well. But when she found out I was an officer’s wife, she said she wouldn’t tell her husband (Army enlisted), that she didn’t think it was “allowed.” As an AF wife, I had never heard such a thing. Unfortunately that was the end of that friendship.

      • Tracy permalink
        July 22, 2010 1:32 pm

        Tammy–unfortunately, they are out there. I used to think it was mostly among retiree wives at the commissary, but lately I’ve noticed it making a comeback among the active duty AF crowd. I don’t think it’s rampant, but there are enough out there to be embarrassing to the rest of us. Personally, I have no problem telling someone that they are delusional if they think I should treat them special because of their husband’s rank.

        I will never forget the time the wife of a brand new 2nd Lt(AF) tried to cut in line at checkout. I was talking to an airman from my spouse’s squadron, so I guess she thought we were together. She said she had things to do and she was allowed to go ahead because she was 2nd Lt. so-and-so’s wife(I am not making this up). If she had been in a hurry and polite about things, I might have obliged, but I have no tolerance for ignorance, so I made some sarcastic remark. She asked for my name, because she was going to tell her husband about “us.” She was quite horrified when I told her she didn’t need mine, but I’d be letting the captain, my husband, at the cop shop know about our conversation, and that she and the Lt. should expect a phone call and a visit. Of course I was BS’ing(I did tell my hubby the story, which he thought was hilarious, but never mentioned a name). I can only hope it kept her from ever pulling such garbage again.

        • TammyJ permalink
          July 22, 2010 1:43 pm

          Tracy- OK I both laughed and cringed so bad with that story. I hope she got an education real fast. It’s even more pathetic because even if we did “wear rank,” an officer would have no further privileges at the commissary than an enlisted airman…at least until you get to the point of getting the “coveted” parking spot. Anyway, I can’t tolerate spouses like that. They create such division and yeah, give the rest of us a bad name.

        • Laya permalink
          July 24, 2010 9:33 pm


          I’m a DC native, and though it’s not necessarily the same thing as what happened to you, summer time in DC= intern season. It’s probably one of the most frustrating things in the world having interns (all or any interns) cut in front of lines or deliberately act snobbish because they’re the interns of “Senator So-and-So.” One stepped in front of my mother when she was boarding the metro, saying that she got special privileges to do that…and my mom responded, “You get special privileges because you lick stamps and copy papers?”

          Who knows? Maybe people in general need things to bolster their self-confidence.

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