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Military spouses are so entitled; where do they get off?

April 12, 2011

A guest post from Slightly Rifted

 

Wife During War wrote a superb piece about the impact of the potential shutdown on military families, which I shared on my FB wall. One of the comments on my wall in response was,

” i don’t like paragraph 3. this paragraph, like most military wives i know seem to put themselves into their own little party/group like they are more important or special than others… that’s what i read in this paragraph as well. like…they’re better than everyone else. i don’t understand where that mentality comes from. please don’t hate me for saying that!”

What did paragraph 3 say? Here it is:

“I can tell you how it feels to us. It feels like the country that we sacrifice for, and that our spouses/sons/daughters/mothers/fathers risk their lives for couldn’t give a damn about us. It feels like the American people have become so heartless, so petty, and so small minded that getting their own is the only thing is that matters and if people get hurt so what. And yes, my fellow citizens, you have a part to play in this too. You elected these people. You gave them the ‘mandate’ to push your own ideologies ahead of everyone else’s and not to compromise or act like grownups. Don’t think that you’re blameless in all of this, although ultimately the responsibility for thousands of starving military families will fall on the politicians whose petty political wrangling was far more important than the survival of the families whose loved ones are overseas fighting for this country.”

Do I entirely agree with all of Wife During War’s statements? No, of course not. I don’t entirely agree with anyone on anything. It’s my contrarian nature. But Wife During War’s husband is deployed…again and she like so many military spouses has been uprooted over and over.

I was already thinking about many of the shitty comments my so called “friends” and “family” made last week as we headed toward what would be financial disaster for so many military families, many of whom are bearing the stress of one of their family members either deployed, injured, or suffering mental illness or distress. I was thinking about whether military spouses are actually justified in claiming what these people see as privilege. Here’s what I decided.

In many respects, military spouses may see me as privileged. I have had a reasonably stable home for 3 whole years as I have been completing my doctoral work in a field that interests me. I have made friends with people I see every week and whom I can depend on when things go wrong and celebrate with when things go right. I also spend the majority of my evenings before my husband goes to sleep, if he’s available, chatting with him over google video chat. This pushes my research into the late night/early morning hours, when normal people sleep and then I still have to work regular business hours. I am lucky.

The year before I moved here to school, leaving my husband to geobachelor it with the military, we lived 4 different places (in 1 yr). That is just long enough to unpack and repack. I had emergency gall bladder surgery after fighting with Tricare (our insurance) for 3 mos to convince them that I was in fact ill. I had been for the entirety of our marriage, but it had finally gotten so bad that I couldn’t eat. My husband was in a deep depression and I was facing down an IA with zero support. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone who could even explain to me what was happening, nor could anyone even tell my husband what his job would be (which would have helped manage my stress). We were in debt, because we had to put $3K down (1.5 mo rent for security deposit) on the apartment in CA, which the landlord refused to repay because he went into foreclosure. He filed bankruptcy after I got a judgement against him in court. I was unemployed, because let’s face it, who hires someone who has moved so many times in one year. It was the worst year of my life since I left home. I didn’t have any way to get around because we were sharing one car and TX, where we were is ridiculously spread out. It was hell. And you know what, I still had it better than many military families. That’s right, that hellish year was a good year compared to what many families experience.

Why was it a good year? I may have been facing down a deployment (#2 he had been deployed the previous year), but I still had my spouse and he was still safe. My husband is an officer, so we still made enough money that we could, even with our losses in CA, cover ourselves on his salary alone. Many military families aren’t so lucky. Many enlisted families live below the poverty line, even as these young men and women put their lives on the line for our country. My husband isn’t and wasn’t on his 5th or 6th tour to a war zone. He wasn’t wounded. He wasn’t struggling with PTSD. Many spouses are struggling to get their educations; I had my MS in geology, which is easily marketable, before I got married. And I didn’t have kids to worry about, as far as childcare v. salary considerations, being their emotional rock when I was feeling a mess, etc. Like I said, as military spouses go, I lead a damn charmed life.

Do these spouses deserve the right to draw a line and say enough is enough and stop politicking on the backs of our servicemembers and their families? Hell yes. The strain on military families is enormous. There is really nothing quite like it. And it affects every military family in different ways and to different degrees, depending on the support systems available. I think these few posts give an idea of a small fraction of the spectrum of issues military families face. Before you respond with any self-indulgent comments about how civilians have it every bit as hard, please take time to read and ponder them.

The biggest problem I struggle with as a military spouse is the uncertainty. Everything is uncertain. In my time here at BIGU (so 3 yrs), I have announced at different points: “Senior Jefe is getting out of the Navy”…wait no: “Senior Jefe is being IAed to Afghanistan” wait, no: “Senior Jefe has been sent back to TX and will be there for the next 18 mos”, wait, no: “Senior Jefe will be in VA for 2 yrs”, wait, no: “Senior Jefe is going to school near DC”, “Oh he’s done with that school, now he’s in RI for another one”, wait, no: “He’s going to Japan” wait, no: “They’re sending him to VA again”. Even when orders are issued, I no longer take them seriously. The Navy will surely change it’s mind. My life is up in the air again as I finish my PhD. Where do I get a job? Do I take the risk and bet that Senior Jefe will in fact be in VA? For all my luck, the anxiety of never being able to plan, of starting over multiple times per year, wears on me.

Psychologists have identified the top 10 stressful events in life. They include: Death in the family, Separation from a spouse (for any reason), Change in Job, and Moving, among others. These are things military spouses face every year and sometimes multiple times in a year. At the same time they are responsible for the mental and physical well being of our families. We have little to no family support. We may or may not have support from other military families. Most people don’t have to start over every year, often without the support of their spouse or family. So to have these people then turn and suggest we are somehow entitled is insulting. Despite my luck, I have to see a therapist every week in order to cope and be okay, because having my life in flux constantly is terrifying. Nothing is certain. I don’t take for granted that things will be okay, because I have far too many examples of where it hasn’t been okay for military families. Too many military members and spouses have been crushed under the weight of the uncertainty, of the strain, of the war.

Military families need to advocate for themselves. We need to speak up, even if the public, like my “friends” and my “family” calls us names, even if they spit on us. No one is looking out for military families. No one is looking after my friend, whose son is having panic attacks, or my other friend whose children are convinced that every time their dad puts on the uniform it means he’s disappearing from lives again. No one is looking after my friend who is suicidal from the strain, or even my friends who aren’t, but who are showing the signs of the constant wear and tear on their lives.

I learned a poweful lesson last week as my life was thrown into flux again. A couple (as in 2) of my civilian friends did offer to help. Many of them told me that I didn’t have the right to feel what I was feeling or acknowledge the stress of having my plans thrown out the window again, of facing down the yawning maw of uncertainty. Ironically the only people who acknowledged my fears and who set about to help me face them, were Snarky Navy Wife, Kimba, LAW and Unlikely Wife (as well as few others who do not have handles and so will remain nameless). These women blew up my phone and email with messages of love and support, as well as tips on how to face the next uncertainty. It made me realize that although I interface with civilians everyday, most seem to be under the delusion that the military is a job, like stocking shelves at Walmart. They don’t see the uncertainty, the strain, even when it is under their noses. When military spouses speak up about the challenges we face, we aren’t being entitled, we’re informing people that our lives are different and we do in fact need the help and support of the communities around us.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2011 3:26 pm

    Great post! I would also add in there that what makes us ‘special’ isn’t just the loss of our spouses for a year or more and the potential loss of our spouse, it’s the loss of our friends. My husband and I have lost 18 soldiers from his unit since last August. In what other profession could you potentially lose 18 or more friends in that time frame? 6 of them were killed in one incident in less than 2 minutes. Some of them still have items sitting in my closets and living rooms because they had no other family and I was storing their personal items when they deployed. The loss, the survivor’s guilt, is unimaginable. Does that makes me ‘special’? Yes. It does. Everyday I live with the fact that a 20 year old kid took a bullet through the neck defending his friend as my husband trained him to do. I support my husband through his grief, and loss, and prop him up when I need to so he can go back into theater and save more lives. I live with the aftermath of death and injury everyday of my life, and I will forever. And I deal with it all alone, so that my husband can do his job and save more soldiers lives. Does that make me “special”? Does that make me “entitled”? Fuck yes. And if you think it’s easy, you try it.

    • April 12, 2011 6:56 pm

      Thank you for pointing that out. The truth is the topic is so huge that there is simply no way I could encapsulate adequately all of the things that military spouses do that make us different and make us special. Even within the military community I don’t think we often honestly talk about what is really going and what we are really dealing with for fear that it will make our spouses look bad. So I am not certain I even know the magnitude of the struggles that military spouses are dealing with.

  2. April 12, 2011 7:51 pm

    I think that’s actually part of the problem….the scope of what we live with is so huge that it’s hard to compartmentalize it into pieces that people outside of the life can understand. We deal with crisis after event after crisis that would break other people if they experienced just one of them, and we deal them one after another after another. We don’t talk about it because it’s hard to talk about it. How do you talk about what it’s like to shepherd the family of a 20 year old who was just killed around brigade and try to tell them how their son sacrificed his life for his country? How do you watch the pain in their faces and cry with them and then come home and have to worry about the cable bill and the rent and making lunches and is the laundry done? How do you stand in front of an entire wall of pictures of friends who have been in your home for dinners and lunches and birthdays who have come home in boxes and cry and then turn around, smiling, so that your tears are not the last thing your husband sees before he leaves and kiss him goodbye sending him off to the same place where they died knowing that if you’re lucky you won’t see him for a year and if you’re not lucky you’ll never see him alive again. We just do it. And yeah, that entitles us to the respect of the people who don’t.

  3. April 12, 2011 8:06 pm

    I wanted to share this list of the Top 10 Life Stressors, which Unlikely Wife was kind enough to actually look up as I didn’t have time: http://unlikelywife.blogspot.com/2011/04/good-stuff.html

  4. April 13, 2011 8:18 am

    You know, I went for my annual “well woman” check up a couple weeks ago. The doctor I see ALWAYS asks about what’s going on in my life, how I’M doing, etc. She flat out told me, “I don’t know how you do it.” Honestly, I’m to the point I don’t know how to function if I’m not stressed because that’s how we live day to day. There’s always something. Then this year, you add our other child being identified as needing services from the school district (he’s 4), my MIL died after a battle with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and this stuff coming out of DC with the budget. We already have enough on our plates as military families, and a lot of us also in the Sandwich Generation. We don’t need a bunch of politicians saying how much they support our troops and then their actions speak of the complete opposite. I think we have every right to be mad at the politics. It’s like Congress made the military the kids stuck in the middle during an ugly divorce. We don’t need that when we’re dealing with so much already.

  5. April 13, 2011 9:13 am

    ha ha ha I love that analogy, that we’re the kids stuck in the middle of a divorce. That’s fantastic! And you’re totally right, if we weren’t always operating in crisis mode we wouldn’t know how to function. Maybe instead of giving us “military spouse appreciation days” that include lectures on getting rid of those pesky bad hair days they should be giving seminars on stress reduction/stress management techniques that we could actually apply to our lives.

  6. June 23, 2011 7:38 pm

    I have to say I agree with this post. But there are some bases where there is NO support. I am trapped here in Goose Creek at a training base and my husband is one of the rare form geobachelors in Hawaii. For 3 years. So everyone here is 18(I am almost 30) and has babies, my son is 9. We have nothing in common and they don’t really do activities here other than craft stuff(which just isn’t my thing). Because everyone leaves within 1 year max here. It is hard and I feel that these circumstances make us all special, but it is hard to find support. I surf through wives stuff all the time online and there is SO much negativity towards a woman who is not totally in love with the military or their husband at the present time( I mean that as factitious, as marriages have ups and downs). You aren’t allowed to complain or vent if life has failed you or surprised you yet again…it is hard. This blog meant a lot to me because there were some similar situations to what I’ve had to live with as I can’t find many people other than Army who have been through some of this. So thank you 🙂

  7. Mark permalink
    August 18, 2011 6:03 am

    Martyrs. You brought this on yourselves.

    Wish I could stay at home and complain while my wife dodged bullets all day.

    • Slightly_Rifted permalink
      August 24, 2011 11:19 am

      Dear Mark:
      I appreciate the fact that you have fallen into the stereotype trap. I know that many civilians assume all military spouses sit on their butts watching Lifetime while eating bonbons, spending their spouses’ paychecks and complaining, however, this stereotype is highly inaccurate.
      Don’t get me wrong. I have met a few military spouses like that, just like I have met some civilians like that. They make my blood boil. However, they are a small percentage of the whole. Some spouses are at home because they’ve moved to a new place for the 10th time in 10 yrs and no company will hire them because of the number of job changes they have had (See: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/28/138588958/military-spouses-face-especially-grim-job-prospects ). Some spouses have small children at home that really need to have one parent there when they get home because their mom or dad has been in Iraq or Afghanistan for the better part of their lives. Many of us work somewhere, often wherever we can, meaning that military spouses face greater underemployment than their civilian counterparts.
      Then there are “lucky” people like me. My spouse and I both have high powered careers, but this means that we live on opposite sides of the country and fly back and forth when our schedules coincide (if we’re lucky this happens 2-3x per yr) to have a conjugal visit. We skype, when and if our schedules overlap for more than 15 minutes. This is difficult since he is usually available when I need to get my 4 hrs sleep and vice versa. You see, he is in the Navy and I am a PhD candidate in the sciences. I also serve as chair of a national science committee, help run a mentoring group for young scientists, do science outreach in the local school system and work for a state scientific organization which provides critical services to a significant portion of the people in the state in which I live. My research has taken me to some pretty hostile places where I have to have a bodyguard everywhere I go. My research is funded by major corporations and the National Science Foundation; this is funding you don’t get if you are a 2nd rate scientist. I am heading overseas next month to represent the US at a science conference. I am also applying for jobs right now that will allow me to educate Americans as a science professor at a Research 1 university next year.
      But in all of these cases military life demands a price be paid. You get to hold your spouse every night. Most military spouses will get to see their servicemember in between training and deployments, which means that more than a year may pass between them getting to see each other. I have spent a total of 540 days (if you add up all those visits) with my spouse in 7 yrs of marriage.
      I hope you can see that military spouses are not a bunch of whiners begging for handouts. We do everything we can to compete in the civilian world, given the constraints we have placed on us by frequent moves, often to places where there are no jobs. Those of us who choose not to move pay different sacrifices, but either way, we are no slouches.
      I, personally, think you owe military spouses an apology. I suggest, in the future, you do your research before you make invalid assumptions.

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