Tag Archives: military life

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

Anatomy of a Mid-Life Crisis

Sound the trumpets!  Cue the ticker-tape parade!  It’s the 100th post here at the Uncommonhousewife Blog!  It took a little over a year to get here, which I’m feeling pretty good about.  Readership, on the other hand, could use some work.  I’m thinking I should have a celebratory giveaway or something to boost my numbers.  Hmmm.  I wonder if I have any crap valuable trinket to offer.  Guess not.

Instead, those diehard readers still with me get to follow along as I muse about who, where, or what I want to be when I grow up.  Just recently, I passed into what must now be called my early 40s.  I’m not traumatized by it.  I am, however, prompted to evaluate what I’ve spent all those years doing.  As a full-time mother, I know I have done highly valuable work without earning a dime for it.  As a military spouse, I know I have provided the supporting pillar that has allowed our family to remain stable and happy as we were tossed around during deployments, moves, and other high-stress events that come with the military lifestyle.  Now, I’m seeing the not-so-distant end of each of those roles and wondering what’s next.

  • Going “back to work” isn’t very easy when you haven’t worked for pay in 17 years.  I’ve been following various bloggers who specialize in re-entry into the workforce for moms.  The problem is, most assume that the mom has a career path waiting for her to return to.  My story reads a bit differently.  I graduated college in the middle of a recession.  I took the best job offer I got, which was not in a career field I particularly liked.  A year later I got married and proceeded to hopscotch around the country every 6 months to 2 years for the next 19.  At first, I worked where I could.  Back in those days, employers were not so friendly to military wives, who were sure to leave right after they got perfectly trained at the job.  So it was temp work for me.  Then came children.
  • Is going back to school worth it?  I always said I would go back and get a master’s degree.  I was never too clear on which field I would pursue the degree, but I was definitely gonna get one.  After all, I was good at school.  My professors all made sure to tell me what a waste it was that I had no immediate plans to go to graduate school.  But 20 years later, I’m thinking that going back to school only makes sense if I have a specific goal in mind which requires that advanced degree.  Otherwise, it costs too darned much.
  • Where do I find roots and contacts when I’ve come and gone so many times?  This is the part where I wish I had diligently kept in touch with everyone I’ve ever known from college, wives’ organizations, school groups, churches, neighbors…Yeah, right.  I guess this is exactly what Facebook is for.  Now I can nudge those people who gave up trying to keep our address current on their Christmas card list.
  • Is all of this premature?  After all, I still have 2 kids to get into college and on their way.  And being their guidance counselor is basically a full-time job.  Darling husband could end up staying in the Navy for a few more years if the economy continues to self-destruct.  Or he could retire and bounce from one job to the next and one state to the next for a few years.  That would leave me pretty much where I am now: tumbleweeding around hoping to land on the right opportunity.

I know there have to be other women in similar situations out there.  So come on and chime in with suggestions.  Life coach?  Community college?  LinkedIn?  Politics?

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“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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Should Simplifying Your Life Be This Hard?

Several of the blogs I read regularly have featured posts recently about the feeling that you have too much “stuff” (here and here).  This was definitely a timely issue for me as I face the chore of unpacking the last few boxes after our move 4 months ago.

These boxes contain things that were stored in the basement or a closet of our old house.  With no basement and minimal closet storage in our current house, where will this stuff find a home?  If it’s been packed away and out of use for 2 or 3 or more tours of duty, why am I even holding on to it?  It would seem logical that our military lifestyle, with the frequent moving into housing ranging from 1500 to 3000 square feet, would prevent me from accumulating and hanging on to a lot of stuff.  Sometimes, though, I think just the opposite happens.  The curtains in one house don’t work in the next.  No central air means you pick up a few window fans.  You need more or fewer shower curtains than you had before.  Now you have wall-to-wall carpeting, but at the last house you needed area rugs.  At some point I guess I figured it was less expensive to hold on to things “just in case.”

The harder issue concerns what to do with the mountains of sentimental stuff.  We have boxes full of yearbooks, scrapbooks (the old-fashioned kind with newspaper clippings, greeting cards, and pictures), report cards, kids’ artwork vacation souvenirs, and so on.  I rarely open the boxes to look at this stuff, and it doesn’t really flood me with warm, fuzzy memories. These take up space we really don’t have.  But it also takes up energy to hold on to these things.  Unpacking after each move would take a lot less time if I didn’t have all of that wedding crystal that we’ve never used in 18 years.  Maybe I could breathe a little easier if I didn’t feel like I had to find a storage space for all of those mementos.

Why is there so much guilt involved in getting rid of these things that really aren’t giving me any pleasure?  Will later generations hate me because I didn’t pass down any heirlooms?  What makes something heirloom-worthy anyway?  Am I a bad mother for not keeping the kids’ old report cards for posterity?  How can I tell if something will be an artifact someday or just junk?

My immigrant not-so-distant ancestors came to this country with basically nothing.  They started whole new lives without worrying about “things”.  I don’t know if they grieved about leaving family treasures behind.  It’s more likely that they were so poor in the Old Country that there were no treasures.  So is it that important to keep things to pass on to future generations?  How much of a loss will they feel if they don’t have any of their grandmother’s things?

The magazines make it seem so easy to get a serene, uncluttered home.  The covers scream at me every month to “Simplify!”  The professional organizers and life coaches quoted in the articles gives lots of perky tips for decluttering and eliminating excess.  So why am I still stuck with these last couple of boxes?

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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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Keeping the Military Spouse in Line

A recent column by one of my favorite writers/bloggers on military life caught my eye.  JaceyEckhart wrote “Service Members Shouldn’t Be Expected to Control Their Wives”  in reaction to a news report about a Fort Bragg Army wife who was banned from all interaction with her husband’s unit and its family members. Apparently her treatment of her husband’s subordinates and their wives was damaging morale.

Eckhart was surprised by the number of comments on the story calling for the service member to “lay down the law” and “keep your house in order.”  She recalls the Bad Old Days when the family of a service member could make or break his career.  She then writes:

 The cultural demand that family members be “controlled” or that family members are a danger to your career is very offputting to the current generation of military spouses. We need to cut that out or risk hemorrhaging the norm.

Jacey should know better.  It is a fact of military life that the family has an effect on the service member’s career.  “Offputting” as it may be, families have a huge roll in the service members ability to do his job, and a service member who is not deployable is not going to advance in his career.  Would you want to be on patrol with a soldier who is preoccupied by his party-girl wife who just got a DUI or  Drunken Disorderly?  What about the pilot who can’t stop thinking about how his wife maxed out their last credit card or how his kid got picked up for shop-lifting again?  Would you want to be in the cockpit with him?  Families that are out of control affect readiness, and readiness is what the military is all about.

Like it or not, the service member is owned by Uncle Sam.  He has voluntarily accepted an obligation not just to do a job but to live it, 24/7 at times.  In order to do that safely and effectively, he does have to have his house in order.  And if he can’t keep his personal life from interfering with his obligation, he will be “encouraged” to separate from the military either blatantly or by keeping him in dead-end billets and passing him over at promotion time.

A large part of the problem is that modern spouses often react to this reality defiantly.  No one is going to tell them what to do or how to behave.  And the service member is unwilling or just not strong enough to establish the command’s or his own expectations early on before crises arise.

Is it fair that a wife has to mind her P’s and Q’s at the peril of her husband’s job?  Maybe not.  Although the expectations for families is that they simply conduct themselves in a “normal” fashion.  But then again, no one ever said life–especially military life–is fair.


Filed under military life