I’ve heard it, have you?
“You knew what you were getting into.”
It’s often delivered by a more seasoned spouse when another person appears to be complaining about military life. Other times we hear this from well-meaning members of the civilian population. Either way, I most certainly did not fully grasp what I was getting into when I married my military husband. I’m betting you didn’t know either.
What I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming a Military Spouse
How to Move Homes
Before that first PCS, the biggest “move” of my life was for a one-semester study abroad in, wait for it, Canada. I’m from New England. It was like moving next door.
As I dove into the military spouse world, I quickly realized I was in over my head. Everyone else had binders and plans and apps and lists of serial numbers (with photos attached).
I had, well, nothing.
Over time, I’ve picked up a few tricks. I wash and then bag clothes, bed linens and towels. Food and water are supplied for the packers and movers, but I watch them like a hawk too. I always leave some extra toilet paper in the bathroom along with some room spray.
All the Acronyms
I’m a teacher. We use acronyms for everything. I thought I was prepared…until the military came to town. At first, my eyes glazed over and my mouth went slack, complete with a strand of drool. Every other “word” out of my husband’s mouth seemed to be a random string of letters.
Luckily, I found a few great military spouse guidebooks that really explained some of these acronyms to me. The rest? I either asked my spouse, turned to a friend or Googled it. I’m still figuring some acronyms out.
Military life goes hand in hand with lawyers, it seems. I knew that real adults needed things, like wills and stuff. I just wasn’t prepared to dive in right away.
Nope, the military had other ideas! I quickly learned what a POA was, and that I would need several different versions to actually run my life during deployment. I also learned about wills, DNRs, insurance policies and SCRA. I wish that someone had sat me down during pre-military marriage counseling for the lawyer talk.
How to Pick a Rental Property
I’m a decade into this ride and I still feel like I’m winging this one for the most part. Luckily, my father-in-law is super handy at home and taught my husband well. But I don’t know that I would know what to look for that indicates a terrible home.
The first time around? Our off-base rental had rats. Another home (or two) had funky windows and an old heating system. Our current on-base home was assigned without other options, but it’s got a few geckos. Yes, you read that right.
I would still love a comprehensive checklist with what to look for in a rental property. If you’ve got this, please hit me up!
Ask for Help
Before 2008, I mostly flew solo. I felt competent and confident about everything, from school to love to housing. And then I got married and he left for a long time.
I needed help, but I wasn’t sure how to ask for it. I’d never needed anything more serious than a recommendation letter or a little string pulled.
Now, I needed help moving into our house, finding friends, figuring out finances and navigating a new location. It was a lot.
Luckily, I ended up in base housing (after the rat situation). I was surrounded by other brand new spouses plus a few experienced friends. With a little help, I figured it all out, mostly. Now I can share a little of my wisdom with other spouses.
Your Heart Breaks
To prepare myself for military life, I watched military classics. Namely: “Top Gun” and “An Officer and A Gentleman.” I was prepared for the romance, the mystery.
What I wasn’t prepared for? The moment that bus pulls out for 9 to 12 months. No one told me how much it would physically hurt to be away from my spouse.
They also didn’t prepare me for the other goodbyes that were coming. Every few years, deployment or not, my heart breaks again when we move. I’ve stood in more parking lots than I care to think about, tears streaming down my face. Saying “farewell,” even “see you later,” to dear friends is heart-wrenching.
The Best People
Unless you live in this community, you don’t truly get it. I’ve never met a more diverse group of individuals. The military welcomes everyone. It could be terrible. There are a lot of opposing viewpoints and beliefs here that have the potential to erupt.
Instead, everyone seems to have adopted the idea that we are in this together. No one hesitates to offer help to another family in need. I’ve had almost complete strangers step up when I was too sick to be around my child. Other friends save coupons for me to use while we’re OCONUS. We share rental recommendations, school information and the lowdown on making the best of a bad situation.
Some of my absolute best friends, the gals who are in my life forever, are military spouses.
I wish someone had told me how amazing this community is before I stepped into this life. The people we’ve met along the way have made all the difference for us.