Category Archives: military life

Like Lazarus, Only More Fragrant

File:Giotto di Bondone - No. 25 Scenes from the Life of Christ - 9. Raising of Lazarus - WGA09204.jpg

Raising of Lazarus, Giotto (c.1306)

Lazarus was only in the tomb for 4 days.  My blog has been “at rest” slightly longer, if the Christmas header image that I just replaced is any indication.  Don’t suspect for a moment that I have had nothing to say.  Rather, I was more overwhelmed by the unrelenting waves of events that left me scratching my head and wondering, “WTF?”  I found I didn’t have the energy to blog about what I now see as the inevitability of American decline.

Oh, and there was also a series of life changes.  Since I last checked in, Darling Husband retired from the US Navy after a career of 21 years, 9 months, and 4 days.  His new career in the civilian world began right away, thank Heaven, but lasted 3 weeks.  And then he changed jobs.  This new position is what he was looking for in the first place except…wait for it…it required us to move.  Thus, since late January, this Housewife has been neck-deep in real estate listings.  Our move is half complete.  We are settling into our temporary dwelling while we wait for our new home to be built.

So where does this blog go from here?  My take on military life will now be from the distance of a retired family member.  With budget cuts targeting retirees’ military benefits, I’m sure I will have thought to contribute.  I’m halfway between mom-of-teens and empty-nester right now.  Junior is finishing up (Please, God!) his junior year of high school, leaving one more year at home for him.  That means his college search will be in full swing soon.  SuzyQ will be returning home in a few short weeks after her first year away at college.  I’m sure that will mean some readjustment for all parties.

Is there a niche for over-forty, retired military, conservative, Catholic, almost-empty-nester bloggers??

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Some Random Post-Veterans Day Thoughts

Veterans Day fell on a Friday this year.  Hot Dog!! A 3-day weekend!!  That’s the widely shared sentiment, right?  The media generally pays lip service to veterans on this national holiday, and this year was no different.  News shows aired some moving stories about aging World War II veterans as well as currently serving vets.  Sports broadcasters took a few moments to recognize those who serve.  All levels of government and most schools closed in honor of the day.

The cynic in me knows, however, that a 3-day weekend for Veterans Day really means a weekend getaway, a shopping extravaganza, or at the very least, 3 straight days to sleep in.  A Tuesday Veterans Day, on the other hand, is just an interruption in the week.  You can’t make any big plans because you have work or school the next day.

I try to do something meaningful each year on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, etc.  This year, I dragged the whole family to daily Mass at 7:30 a.m.  Our parish church had a special celebration in honor of veterans along with a flag raising ceremony at the parish school.  I live in an area with a huge concentration of military families, both active-duty and retired; and my parish has experienced the loss in combat of several parishioners during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Mass was fairly well-attended for such an early hour on a Friday morning.  It got me thinking, though:

  • Where are the young veterans?  Perhaps many of them had to work if they don’t hold a government job.  Certainly in my area, though, the number of folks who either work as civilians for the government or serve on active-duty is enormous.  In a parish of 2000 families, only a handful felt this was an event worth attending?  Of course, this is a question asked by many veterans organizations, too, according to this Fox News story.
  • Are older vets more proud of their service than younger ones?  At church that morning, many white-haired veterans donned their old uniforms for the occasion.  Those who were not in uniform wore jackets or pins or ribbons announcing their service affiliation.  Young veterans don’t often do this.  You just don’t see them sporting “Proud to Have Served” apparel.  And most young active-duty service members are loath to put on a uniform when not on duty.
  • Speaking of uniforms, I saw a veritable timeline of uniforms on Friday morning.  One old chap wore his green Service Uniform with the pants tucked into his boots.  This seemed unusual.  I think it has something to do with being a member of an air assault unit.  Incidently, I have since learned that the green Service Uniform has been phased out in favor of a blue version.  No more olive army green??  The new blue uniform was on display, too.  You can always count on the Marines to appear smartly dressed, and the Marine dress uniform never seems to change.  The Navy Service Dress Blue is pretty consistent as well.  Air Force uniforms are a different story altogether.  They change every few years, bouncing from commercial airline pilot look to Army copycat to a WWII throwback style.  Good luck with all that.
  • Military discounts for Veterans Day are great…except when they aren’t.  I shopped at an XXI store (I think this is part of the Forever 21 brand.) over the weekend.  When the clerk saw my military ID, he stated that they were offering a 15% discount for military in honor of Veterans Day.  The catch was that if I took the discount, the merchandise would be considered Final Sale–no returns.  What’s with that??   Strings attached?
  • Finally, if you are the President of the United States placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month: GET THERE ON TIME!!

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Filed under holidays, military life

“Coming Home”: Love It or Hate It?

If you have even seen the commercials for Lifetime TV’s new show “Coming Home,” you know a large box of tissues is mandatory for viewing.  It’s a reality program that documents surprise homecoming stories of deployed military members.  The show producers don’t just film the homecoming.  They stage an elaborate homecoming event that the service member’s family never saw coming.

If you go to the show’s website, you can read all the viewers’ gushing comments about how wonderful they think the series is.  As of today, there were over 300 comments about how heartwarming the show is and how it is a great tribute to what military members and their families go through.  A few people grumbled about there being too much of one service represented and not enough of another, although no one can seem to agree on which branch is being slighted.  Without exception, those who have commented mention the fact that they cry through every episode.  That’s entertainment??

So how could anyone find fault with such a laudable program?  Leave it to the Uncommonhousewife.

Full disclaimer:  I have not watched any episode in its entirety, though I did see a portion of the first episode.  I will be watching the episode set to air this coming Sunday because SuzyQ will appear in it ever-so-briefly.

When I saw the first commercials for “Coming Home,” I knew I wouldn’t watch or recommend the show.  I find it rather cruel.  As someone who has experienced a number of deployment homecomings, I can tell you that I have never wished that a camera crew would film the event in all of its HD glory for a national viewing audience.  And I would never agree to have the homecoming of their dad sprung on my kids like a surprise birthday party.  I can’t believe there are so many moms and dads who think keeping their other parent’s return date a secret after he or she has been gone for months on end is fair to the child.  Even worse, the same mom or dad then lets this huge drama play out in front of classmates and neighbors, and total strangers.  All I can say is, I hope the glamour of being on TV was worth it.

If you have never experienced the emotional roller coaster of a deployment, you have no idea what goes through a person’s mind about homecoming.  Everyone assumes a child will just be thrilled to see the parent that has been gone, but often there is a grab bag of feelings about the event.  Very young kids frequently get nervous when this person just reappears, and they will hide behind Mommy or even refuse to throw their arms around Daddy like everyone else.  Sometimes, they will be feeling poorly on the big day–tired, hungry, generally cranky– and will just want to get it over with and go home.  A child might be so overwhelmed with emotion at seeing that parent, she will just break down.  You actually see a lot of that on the show.  And that’s all true even when the kid knows about the homecoming in advance.

Now multiply all of that times 50 or so, and watch it all happen in front of the child’s teachers, classmates, fellow symphony-goers, spectators.  It’s definitely dramatic, if not fair to the child.

Imagine a wife or girlfriend in that same position.  She’s going along all unsuspecting.  She didn’t pick out the outfit that really makes her feel great about herself; didn’t color the gray out of her hair; didn’t move her stuff out of his closet.  She figures she has plenty of time to do this later.  Then all of a sudden, there he is.  So what’s the big deal; none of those things are really important, right?  The problem is that these little insignificant details are all part of the process of preparing yourself for your service member’s return.  There is so much more to it than the balloons and hugs of the moment.  What shows like “Coming Home” fail to mention is the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with being apart for 6, 12, 15 months.  People change and adapt to life without the loved one.  It’s not always easy just to go back to the way things were before the deployment.  That’s why there are all kinds of resources provided by the military, like Military One Source and Fleet and Family Services, that address exactly these issues.

I get it that a lot of people, especially military families, think that “Coming Home” will educate the rest of the world about the sacrifices and hardships that are part of military life.  Maybe, after watching the show, people will do more than pay lip service appreciation to the 1% of Americans who risks their lives in defense of the rest of us.  Jacey Eckhart’s latest great piece is about just that.  And I agree that the show does have the potential to give viewers a hint of the pain of separation and some realization of the mortal danger that these men and women repeatedly, and voluntarily, face. 

But I can’t get past the cheap thrill “Coming Home” offers its viewers at the expense of real people: sons, daughters, siblings, spouses, and parents who can’t contain their raw joy at seeing their loved one return alive.  Showing a homecoming in an airport or parade field is one thing.  Staging elaborate spectacles to spring a homecoming on an unsuspecting loved one is entirely different.  Is nothing sacred, private, or personal anymore?

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It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without…

…this angel that Junior made out of a toilet paper tube when he was 6 years old.  We were between houses that Christmas, renting a place until our house was finished being built.  All of our household goods were in storage, so when Christmas came around, we had to make all of our decorations by hand.  Junior surprised me by making this angel all on his own for my Christmas gift.  Even now, when we have all of our regular ornaments and decorations, this angel goes on the top of the mini tree we put up every year with most of the handmade ornaments from that Christmas.

I love unpacking that angel each year and remembering how we have made the best of things for many Christmases.  That’s part of what being a military family is about.  Many times, the holidays come, and you are separated from your loved one.  Thankfully, we have only experienced that a couple of times.  More often, we found ourselves far away from our extended family.  It was in those years that we developed our own traditions and some treasured memories.

In our first year in Hawaii, Darling Husband was deployed for Christmas.  We traveled to meet him at a port call in Singapore.  I carried a present or two for each kid in my suitcase to open on Christmas morning.  The kids loved telling their grandparents that their Christmas came first because they were over the International Dateline.  And Christmas clothes for the tropics looked a lot different from normal:

By the next year, we had orders moving us back to the Mainland 2 weeks after Christmas.  Nearly all of our things except for the bare-bones essentials had already been shipped ahead.  We had borrowed furniture.  Our Christmas tree that year was a scraggly, 2-foot potted Norfolk pine, decorated with just one string of lights and a few strings of popcorn and cranberries.  We remember that as the year of the “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.”  All of the presents that couldn’t easily fit in a suitcase had to be crated up and sent to the Mainland, not to be seen again for 6 six weeks while they were in transit.

Without a doubt, the holidays can bring some really tough times for military families.  Sometimes, holidays in the military force you to get pretty creative in how you celebrate.  Years later, though, the memories of those unusual celebrations are the ones that really warm my heart.

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The Secretary of Defense Deeply Regrets to Inform You…

Is your next of kin on Facebook?  For all the military spouses and parents out there: is Facebook the way you would want to find out that something bad had happened to your loved one in a combat zone?  Sadly, that is just what is happening in this age of instant and continuous communication.

This article by a Washington Post writer relates how military spouses of Fort Campbell soldiers reacted to an imposed communications blackout after the unit had sustained casualties in Afghanistan.  Military officials typically shut down email and phone contact so that next of kin do not learn of their soldier’s fate via CNN or in passing in online chatter among other family members.  In the case of the Fort Campbell unit, one of the unit’s own soldiers violated the blackout by calling his wife to tell her he was OK and report who had been killed in an explosion.  Unfortunately, he had one of the names wrong.  As word got out, other family members wildly sought information from one another and compared names of possible casualties on Facebook.

I suspect that I was supposed to feel really sorry for the spouses who had been cut off.  After all, they were used to non-stop conversation with their loved ones.  Instead, I was outraged by this story.  Do we really think that the “right to know” is so sacred that we ought to seek and exchange information even at the expense of others’ well-being?  Imagine the effect of idle speculation on a child who overhears a phone conversation between wives or spends an hour browsing on Facebook.  Is it so terrible to wait until the basic facts and, indeed, the names are established?

Just because it is technologically possible to be in touch with your soldier, who is halfway around the world, doesn’t mean that you will hear from him regularly.  It’s possible that he might have something to do other than update his Facebook page.  You know, stand watch or go on patrol?  This is all connected to the idea that we can’t be without a cell phone–ever–not even in a restaurant or at church or boarding a plane.  Apparently, we must be in touch at all times, whether we are in the bathroom or driving down the interstate at 60 mph.

I know I am an old-school dinosaur, but I find this ridiculous. I would rather have “old” news that has been confirmed to be true than instantaneous reports that may be proved false later. Many of us survived multiple deployments without email and cell phones.  And even once email came into the picture, we realized that it was not a sure thing.  Here is my heartless piece of advice to spouses with a deployed loved one: find something to keep yourself busy!  You are only torturing yourself with this frantic 24/7 search for connection and information. 

Without a doubt, communications blackouts must bring a sense of dread to families and a desire to know what’s happening right now.  But do those few hours of waiting really cost us anything?  I would argue that those are extra hours a family has to consider itself normal and fine before tragedy robs them of that.  How many times does one spouse’s desire to find out take precious hours of normalcy away from another family?

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Welcome to Wild Kingdom

As I was browsing through the blogosphere (For the record, I hate that term.) this morning, I came across this post from Conversion Diary about finding a scorpion in one’s toilet.  This started me reminiscing about all of the wildlife I have had the privilege of encountering as we have bounced around the country courtesy of the U.S. Navy.  I think that’s one of the little-known “benefits” of being a military family.  How else would I get to know all of these various and sundry species:

In an 18-year military career, I have crossed paths with all of these creepy crawlies.  Full disclosure: the black widows only made it as far as the garage (Thank God!), and the snake was hiding in the screen porch.  Oh, and the fire ants were in the yard.  All the others made it into the house.  And wouldn’t you know, they usually all snuck in when darling husband was away from home.  My weapons of choice for extermination are his sneakers and his engineering textbooks.

Do normal, civilian people realize that we military spouses face challenges as ridiculous as this every day?  Every new duty station has brought me a close encounter with things I would rather not get to know.  And it is definitely a challenge trying not to completely freak out over a scorpion in front of your young children.  You don’t want them to be terrified of every corner of your own house, after all.  As the kids got older, they began to be entertained by how many times Mom would have to whack the centipede to actually kill it.  And they could offer ideas as to how to get it out of the house without touching it.  Same with the mice.

This is definitely one military privilege I would gladly decline. 

What is the nastiest visitor you’ve found in your home?

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Military vs. Civilian Life

After 18 years as a military spouse, I should be able to let the common annoyances of military life roll off my back.  Hey, even salty old wives like me need to vent sometimes!  I think most people in the civilian world get it that when service members deploy, life is hard.  Really, really hard.  What I think many people fail to understand is that life can be pretty hard even when a service member is manning a desk stateside.  Here’s what I wish everyone knew about life in the military (in no particular order):

  1. Weekends mean nothing.  Yesterday (Sunday) my darling husband had a meeting scheduled for 7:00 AM.  A service member is on call every day at all hours, no matter what day it is.  There’s no overtime pay or time-and-a-half, either.  The service member works until the job is done all for the same pittance of a salary.
  2. All that earned vacation time (“annual leave”) people say service members are so lucky to get goes away if he is unable to use it because of his unit’s schedule.  Many folks end up losing leave days every year because they never had the opportunity to take time off.  And a lot of us end up begging the airlines for refunds because we had to suddenly cancel a vacation due to unexpected changes in the ship’s schedule or unit exercises, etc.
  3. Free housing is a myth.  Even my in-laws often remark that we have nothing to complain about since our housing is free.  There are 2 parts to this myth.  First, government housing (base housing):  It’s scarce with often insurmountable waiting lists.  It’s usually really small and frequently located in the worst school districts or high crime areas.  Second, housing allowance (BAH):  For those who choose to or must live off base, the amount of money the government provides as an allowance rarely covers your monthly rent or mortgage payment.  There is some strange calculus used to adjust the rates periodically, but they just don’t keep up with real world housing costs.
  4. Free medical care: you get what you pay for.  Get ready, America.  The same health care system military families have dealt with for years is coming to you soon!  It’s the HMO gatekeeper system; it’s rationed; and it’s frustrating at best and a real danger to your health at worst.  Waits for routine care like mammograms or school physicals can be ridiculous, not to mention trying to see a specialist.  You might never see your Primary Care Provider or even the same person twice; and your “doctor” is usually a Physician’s Assistant or Nurse Practitioner.  (That’s not always a bad thing.)  And you had better love generic prescription drugs or be prepared to pay for name brands at a civilian pharmacy.
  5. No one gets used to moving.  This is HUGE, and I hear it all the time:  “You must be used to all that moving by now.”  Even though we do it often, it doesn’t get any easier.  Changing schools is still extremely tough on military kids, as is leaving behind great opportunities on sports teams, in orchestra or choir, in scouts, etc.  Every move means a child has to start over to establish herself in these activities as well as in school.  For middle school and high school kids, this can be nearly impossible and can impact college admissions.  And plenty of spouses will tell you that they have watched job opportunities disappear as soon as the potential employer finds out you’re an active-duty military family.  We may get better at saying goodbye, but that’s only because each move makes us a little more detached or harder inside.

Yes, indeed, our military is an all-volunteer force.  But ask yourself:  If they didn’t do it, would you?

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