Comparison of being a military brat vs. a military spouse
|Living the Military Life, Doubly
There is nothing more heart-wrenching in this world than seeing someone you love and care for deeply leave, not knowing if he or she will even return safely, for an extended period. But in the military, this is just a part of everyday life. I have never personally served, but I have been both a “military brat” (the child of someone who does) and a military spouse. There are a number of ways in which they’re similar; but I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is a huge difference when your father goes off to war, and when it’s your husband that does.
I was born in Monroe, Michigan, but I did not grow up there. Instead, shortly after I entered this world, my father left for basic training into the United States Air Force. During my childhood, we were sent to numerous places: Howard Air Force Base, Panama; Ft. Stewart, Georgia; Schloss-Kaserne, Germany; Tiffin, Ohio; and Ft. Drum, New York. Every few years, we were forced to uproot ourselves in the name of servitude and start all over in a new place. I learned how to make friends quickly, but not to become too attached, simply because I knew that in a relatively short span of time we would have to separate anyway. I was also able to experience other cultures, which taught me the value of being open-minded and compassionate for different ways of life at an early age.
When the time came for my father to deploy to various places for various reasons (fighting in Operation Desert Storm, a year-long assignment to South Korea, numerous training exercises, etc.), it was hard to say goodbye to him, but at the same time I was able to pretty much live my everyday life regardless. I went to school, played with friends, and tried to help my mother around the house. As a child, the thought that he might not come back from war never truly occurred to me. Once I grew older, I understood it more, but by that time there were not any major conflicts going on. It was not until after September 11, 2001 that I started to see just what kind of danger my father was willing to put himself in for the protection of our country. By this time, I was eighteen years old. I was a full-time student at Eastern Michigan University, and I remember vividly calling my mother back and forth that day, scared that the terrorists might start retaliating on military installations. With Ft. Drum being among those closest to Ground Zero, it was a very real, and incredibly frightening, possibility. Thankfully, that did not happen, but it did cause him to be sent to Afghanistan a few months afterward.
Fast forward to one year later: I am now fulfilling the duties of a proud Army wife, and I support my husband and his career wholeheartedly. Having grown up a military brat, I thought I was prepared for the day he would deploy. I recalled sending my father off, and believed that I would be able to handle things in much the same way. But a lot of things change when you are watching your husband leave instead of your father, and I grew to appreciate how my mother held everything together that much more. First of all, when my husband’s unit was sent to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom IV, we had recently found out I was pregnant. At nine weeks along, the day came where we had to part, and I had to spend my entire pregnancy alone, as my father had retired from the Air Force and moved my family back to Monroe by this time. It was considerably more difficult to manage the mundane, day-to-day tasks as a military spouse, as I soon discovered. Now I had to get used to walking around an empty house, sleeping in an empty bed, fighting the tears that would come without warning from something as simple as seeing a shirt he had left on the floor of a closet…it was a huge adjustment, to say the least. Suddenly, I was left to do everything by myself. I paid bills, I cleaned house, I grocery shopped, I went to my prenatal appointments—the military life was a hard one to lead, which I had known from growing up, but it was tenfold more difficult when you are hundreds of miles away from any relatives for support.
I discovered there were some similarities between the two ways of military life I had grown to know. For one, healthcare was never an issue. If I were sick, it was off to the doctor without any hesitation; and regardless of whether it was a common cold or giving birth to my daughter, there was never any out-of-pocket expense. Also, I always knew there would be a roof over my head, no matter what…sure, it may have been a number of different roofs, but there was never any doubt that we would have a place to call home, wherever we were. And there’s a certain camaraderie that accompanies the military lifestyle I have yet to find duplicated in the civilian world; when a group of soldiers, sailors, etc. leaves, the entire community rallies behind them, praying for their safe return, supporting those left behind, and consoling those who have lost loved ones. I cannot succinctly put into words the way this works, but I made some friendships that will last a lifetime as a result.
I may no longer be a military brat or spouse now, but the lessons I have taken from both ways of life will remain for the rest of my life. I am much more self-reliant, independent, and appreciative of others than I might have been had I not had the privilege of living military; after all, when your husband’s away, who else will fix a washing machine, or soothe a crying infant? When you are halfway around the world in a completely different culture, you have the choice of assimilating or making things much more difficult on yourself by resisting learning their norms and language. This has broadened my awareness of the human spirit, which exists in all of us, regardless of profession, lifestyle or age. I am incredibly grateful for the things I have learned, and I will always support our troops…and those they leave behind. After all, I know exactly how they feel—in more ways than one.