Five Things About Military Life

April is the month of the military child.

I’m not necessarily fond of the whole idea of celebrating something for a month as it usually means it is ignored the rest of the year, but my daughter has enjoyed having something special everyday for the last week of school.

Halfway through the week she came home, and in a voice that could only have come from a surprised six year old, asked first if I knew she was a military child, and second why I had never told her. It had never occured to her that she had any association with the military.

I guess I’m not surprised she didn’t think about it. The military is a part of our lives as much as any other job; my husband goes to work, he takes business trips, and occasionally we move for his work. It is what it is. We don’t spend everyday celebrating our role as a military family, partly because it is not always something to celebrate. Some of our life is good and some of it is bad, just like everyone else.

1) Moving

Not everyone has to move for their work. Most people can live quite happily in one town, never even considering moving to the next town over for work. Military families routinely pick up and leave, switching states or even countries at someone else’s whim. Some thrive on the change, needing to leave everything behind every few years. Others hate moving and dread the day they will be told it’s time to go again.

For me, I fall somewhere in between. I hate to move, but I do look forward to the changes. I grew up in a small town; it wasn’t a bad place, but for me it was suffocating. I didn’t know what life was going to bring, but I knew it wasn’t going to bring me anything I wanted there. I was happy to have a way out, just as I am happy to have a way out when our bases go sour now. However, moving sucks. We go for months essentially being homeless. We have to look for a new house, a new house that usually does not fit all of our old furniture. Even if it fits inside, it was purchased for a different set up. I know some people are happy to buy everything completely new every few years, but not me. I like me stuff; that is why it is mine.

2) Separation

Military families talk about separation and deployment a lot. I have been very fortunate to have a husband who rarely is gone for more than a couple of months at a time. Even when he is gone, we do alright. The girls have gotten used to the idea that while daddy is gone, he will come back. For me, it’s almost like a marriage break; we love each other, but time apart can help us remember why. It’s not the same for everyone, but for us it is just another part of the job.

For me the hard part of separation is not from my husband. No, for me it is the separation from everyone else. I have lived in a separate country from my family for the past decade. I had to say goodbye to a brother I had barely seen in five years. There is constant guilt for the time away, guilt I can’t ever seem to let go of completely. I want to be there, but I want to be with my husband as well. I had to choose, and I don’t regret the choice. But I still feel guilty about it.

3) Travel

The military has sent my family to live in some pretty great places. We are lucky enough to be completely immersed in a new culture and learning about a place we might never have been if we hadn’t been told to move here. Additionally we get to travel to all of the other places nearby. Sure, I live in Belgium, but I get to see all of Europe.

The travel is not always something we all get to do. The most exotic locations visited by my family were done by my husband alone. When we lived in Okinawa I told him I wanted to visit Tokyo, Thailand, and Austrailia. The military sent him to all three of those places, and more, while I stayed at home working with the kids. I don’t want to be bitter or angry, but I was the one who desperately wanted to go ride elephants. Seeing the amazing pictures of my husband living my dream without me was not the same.

4) Benefits

Let’s be honest. Joining the military is a lot like any other job. At a certain point, it is about the money and benefits. Sure there is the adventure and duty and patriotism; these are all good things, and do factor into why a person joins the military life. No matter how much else is out there, at the end of the day we need to make a living. And here is a secret you may not know.

Military pay sucks.

Unless you are an officer, you will barely make enough to get by and you will most likely qualify for all sorts of government assistance programs. It is what it is. The only way many military members survive is through the benefits. Base housing takes out the need to pay rent and utilities, and medical care is mostly covered. The rest is up to the military member.

The benefits are great, right up until they are not. It doesn’t matter what the benefits were when you signed your contract. Terms of service are allowed to change at any time. You don’t like it, leave. Good luck getting a job that pays well enough on the outside, as not all military skills are easily transferred to civilian jobs. Naturally, some do; for those that do, they pay well enough it was probably a smart financial move.

5) Security

The military provides a security service to both our country and others. How you feel about the actions don’t always matter because you still get the benefit of this protection. In the past, the military has provided job security for those enlisted. Usually it would take a fairly heinous act to get kicked out, meaning you were in until you decided to be out.

Again, there was job security until there wasn’t. Cutting back on military numbers will save the government money, but will also put more people out of jobs. It’s great for those who are volunteering to take an early out, but for those who are needed to fill the numbers left, you can only hope they are prepared for civilian life.

All of the good of military life comes with a dose of bad. It’s not because the military life is inherently bad, it is just because it is life. There will always be the ups and downs.

I don’t identify myself first and foremost as a military wife.

It’s not because I feel the bad outweighs the good. I don’t identify myself as a military wife because that is only a small part of who I am. We’ve been with the military for many years, and might be for many more. But one day it will be time for retirement. We will walk away from this military life and be done. All of the good will be gone, as will all of the bad.

I don’t place my worth on importance on something that is temporary. When we are done, I will not be any less simply because I am no longer with the military. I will still be me, still married to the same man with the same kids. The good and the bad will pass, and we will still be here.

How could I possibly dwell on something that is just a brief moment in my life?

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