I like to think that I can spot a new Army wife from a mile away. They are usually young. They are full of innocent optimism, patriotism and believe in the best case scenario. Three week training separations break their hearts. They are experts in all things Army, with no idea that, in reality, they don’t yet know anything.
I can spot them because I used to be one.
There’s no doubt that you can tackle the Army wife life in a million different ways. Far be it from me to say what works for me will work for everyone. (And there’s no way I can school an Army ManSpouse on this stuff because I am definitely not one of those. So I’m only going to talk about wives here. Sorry, guys). But here is what I know:
How to be an Army (Strong) Wife
Marry a soldier. Don’t just find one who looks snazzy in dress blues (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). And don’t find one who is just in the military for the paycheck. Find one who loves soldiering and the Army because of something higher. Doing the Army just for the money gets old fast. The hours are too long and the training is too grueling. Find a happy soldier, and his love for his job might just rub off on you, too.
Succumb to the flag. If you already get misty eyed when the National Anthem is played, you’re on the right track. That American flag on your soldier’s shoulder is the symbol for why you are putting up with dinners alone and long absences. When you succumb to the flag and let it mean as much to you as it possibly can, you are embracing the “why” behind all the sacrifice. Let the history and symbolism wash over you. Because in hard moments you’re going to want to know why it is you put up with this lifestyle – and the flag will remind you.
Find yourself. Just because you know why your family does what it does, doesn’t mean you don’t want more for you. Making career and military work isn’t easy and it isn’t always fun. But it can be done. Waving the flag, loving your soldier and supporting him doesn’t mean you can’t also support you. Take advantage of grants and free money for education. If you’re new to the Army, for example, you can use the MyCAA program. Be on the lookout for ways to advance and take time for you. The flag is awesome, but so is the woman who supports it.
Learn the lingo. Soldiers love acronyms. My soldier can hold entire conversations in acronyms only. For awhile it felt like I was stuck in a foreign country. Not only did the acronyms mean nothing to me, but actual words sounded senseless as well. I would just nod and smile and pretend that I knew what people were talking about. I thought that made me look smart. But then I started asking “what does that mean?” And suddenly my understanding of my new life grew by leaps and bounds. I learned that even though “redeployment” sounds like something that happens when soldiers go away again, it actually means they are coming home. I learned that “DFAC” means “dining facility,” and I learned that most of the time the people speaking the acronyms have no idea either what they specifically stand for.
Learn to love moving. Much of your Army life will be spent moving and moving and moving again. And now you have to make a choice: are you going to love moving – or at least tolerate it – or are you going to hate it? Choosing to find the good things about moving (See new places! A chance to de-clutter! Find that missing TV remote!) will help inch you towards Army happiness. Choosing to hate it will inch you towards Army bitterness. Which one sounds nicer?
… Or choose to love staying. Not everyone in the Army PCSes every three years. Some people stay and stay and stay. Here at Fort Campbell we know people who have lived here for more than 10 years. Ten years! After three duty stations in three states in three years, 10 years sounds like an absolute eternity. If you are a stayer learn to love the place you live. Even if there isn’t a Target within 20 miles, every location has its good points. Find and embrace them.
Get a hobby. During deployments days seem to add hours. What was once a 24 hour day now stretches out into at least 36, or so it seems. So even if you work full time, you’ll want to find a hobby to fill in the time cracks. I like to read, so I make to during my Army wife life to revisit my favorites, books like “The Secret Garden” that I can cozy up to like long lost friends.
Become a volunteer. Even if you work full time or have some many little ones that you have a child hanging off every limb, volunteering is worth it. Some spouses use volunteering to help them find that perfect job. But you can use it to simply connect with your Army wife community. Use volunteering as a way to find out what this life of service thing is all about. Use it as an excuse to get a babysitter for a few hours a week.
Date some new friends. If there is one certainty in Army life, it is that your friends will move away. And while that will always hurt, learning how to date new ones will keep those moments from crushing you completely. So join a bunco group where you have the chance to constantly meet new people. If you have little ones, become a member of a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) club. Attend the Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) group on post. Open your horizons to new people so when the old ones leave you can keep moving forward.
Become a Skype Ninja. While your soldier is away you will probably rely on Skype as your lifeline to seeing his handsome face. But skyping can be an art form. Learn that you can wear a pretty top while secretly sporting jammie pants on your lower half. Figure out what lighting works best. Master the art of Skyping to your best advantage.
Hold down the fort. During long or short Army absences you – Household Six – will be the captain of your personal fort. Choose to be the consistent staying power in your family. Choose to let your soldier slip as seamlessly as possible out of his family duties. That stuff takes practice. But I know you, strong Army wife, have got this.