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Jun 13

Reluctant Army Wife

Posted on Sunday, June 13, 2010 in Army wife, Me

I’ve written before about my conflicted feelings about being an Army wife. Or a Army National Guard wife. It’s not an identity I chose, but it’s coming on with additional force. There’s nothing like a spouse’s upcoming deployment to focus your attention towards the Army and how it affects your life.

The National Guard has more influence on my life than I’d like. It’s the reason I got married. HabMoo and I might be married by now even if he hadn’t deployed, but it was one huge reason I wanted to marry. If something happened to him, I wanted that knock on my door. I didn’t want a visit or call from his parents who I didn’t know well yet. I wanted a person trained in how to deliver such news. Plus he made more money if we were married, so it was a good financial decision, but one I felt a little rushed into making.

This week I’ve taken a few steps to accept this Army wife identity. I joined the family readiness group (FRG—everything has an acronym.) I’ve even volunteered my time to the organization. But I do it with some amount of resistance. And I found myself bristling at so many things I might normally take in stride: website terms and conditions, commander’s approval needed for newsletter content, online discussions needing a moderator, etc.

While working on this blog entry I finally realized where so much of my emotional reaction is coming from. My introduction to the Army was through my high school sweetheart. She was a woman. This meant that everything even remotely indicative of our relationship was hidden. I did not officially exist. Any hint of me was buried. When my partner was at Basic Training I received phone calls only when she could get away from everyone and be as secretive as possible. She didn’t even want too much correspondence from me. I resent the fact that the Army created so much stress in our relationship. I resent the fact that now I can be part of the community because this time I fell in love with some with more testosterone.

I think I need the FRG, however. Being home alone during HabMoo’s deployment and a few extended trainings has been difficult and isolating. I have great friends and family, but I could use the additional support of being around a few others who understand my situation first-hand. I have hopes that if I’m a volunteer for the group, I can shape it a bit so it’s a place where other reluctant spouses and loved ones can feel welcome.

Military Spouse magazine coverToday I took the additional step of signing up for Military Spouse newsletter. I’m not up to subscribing to the magazine yet. The cover they use to entice you to subscribe shows the 2008 military spouse of the year. So for one thing, I’m appalled that they haven’t updated their ad. For another, it feels too much like other popular women’s magazines. I don’t identify with the spouse of the year image at all. I think I’m a good wife, but I don’t think a childless, bisexual, liberal, agnostic really fits the spouse of the year mold. I am not interested in how to stretch my makeup budget nor about choosing the perfect wine. Luckily, I’m positive that there are others in the FRG group who also have little or no interest in these things.

Here’s what I learned from a page on the site. This should give my friends another sense for why I’m a little uncomfortable with the Army’s intrusion into my life. While my spouse is in uniform, I have specific etiquette to follow.

  • Offer your husband an umbrella in the rain, but only if it’s black. He’s not allowed to carry any other color.
  • Push the baby carriage or stroller so your spouse doesn’t have to. It’s considered “unmilitary” to do so while in uniform.
  • Help your spouse carry any packages or bundles to make it easier for him to salute.

I’m actually happy to know these things. I’m not terribly good at etiquette in any situation and it’s easier if I know which rules I’m probably breaking. And those rules are more for active duty situations. I’m not sure I’ve even seen my husband salute.

I feel like I’ve joined some society with a language and mores I don’t understand yet. I’m slowly learning a few acronyms HabMoo uses, but even at the FRG meeting there were a few I had to ask about. And I know that once I become more of a part of this world, the more I’ll be using that same language and drawing that same boundary around me. I do not like that. I distrust any group large enough to have its own jargon and the Armed Services has layers of it. I don’t want to make someone feel like I felt so many years ago.

I think HabMoo gets a good feeling from being part of an institution with a long history. I wish I felt that same connection. My father served during WWII, but he wasn’t married to my mother at the time. So she has no experiences to share with me other than having a boyfriend killed during the war (and she was never willing to talk about that.) My brother served during Vietnam, but I was too young to remember and he never left the country. I’ve been around only a few people with loved ones serving and mostly I paid almost no attention to that part of their lives. My circle of close friends hasn’t included service members for a long while. So I haven’t found where I fit in history. Can anyone recommend any good book about the history of military wives?

I’m trying to be more comfortable with this identity. You’ll know I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid once I join I ♥♥ Being A Military Spouse! on Facebook. I’m just not there yet. (And those hearts will probably forever keep me out. Are those military spouses all 6th graders?)

Mar 11

As a reminder for the next time he comes home

Posted on Thursday, March 11, 2010 in Army wife

HabMoo was at Fort Gordon for 14 weeks learning how not to lead. He missed holidays and my birthday. Now he’s home and I want to recall how the end of this first week feels for the next time he’s deployed or off for weeks of training.

It’s not the relief and joy I expected. Is has been both of those things, but not today. Today things just feel wrong and out of sync. By next week I’ll probably forget the frustration of today. So I’m recording this so I won’t be surprised or alarmed the next time.

He’s in the way. That’s what it really boils down to. Months of living alone means taking over all the space in the house. It means creating a new rhythm and routine. It means being able to ignore your own messes. And it means a new routine. For example, I miss the nightly phone calls. They were something I looked forward to every day. Now he wants to talk when he gets home from work and its time to eat. It used to be time to think about dinner and anticipate his call.

It’s funny how while he was gone I would make sure to unplug the coffee maker because it bothered him if I left it plugged in. It doesn’t bother me a bit. But I unplugged it as a reminder of his presence. I did not lock the doorknobs or close all the curtains like he did and like he’s doing now. I’ve cursed him just a little when having to use my key twice at the door–once for the deadbolt and for for the knob. No big deal really, and something easily adapted to. Like I said, in another couple of days I’ll forget that it even bothered me. It’s just that today it does.

One of the things I really looked forward to was just having him in the house, being able to talk to him whenever I wanted, receiving a caress as he walked by, simple familiarities. I’m enjoying that but I’m also having to adapt to things like him getting up earlier than I want to and being in our tiny kitchen when I am. The stuff I miss and the stuff that bugs me are very much related.

I feel like the wife who complained constantly about her husband’s snoring and then couldn’t fall asleep after he died because it was too quiet.

Feb 24

Reflections on being an Army wife

Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 in Army wife, Me

HabMoo is in his last week of training in Georgia and will most likely be leaving for another deployment in the next 24 months. I’m a little scared of that next deployment since it’s been hard having him gone for just over three months. So I’m taking some time to reflect on just what it means to be married to a soldier.

I’m actually a Army National Guardman’s wife so I don’t have to follow him from base to base or live in provided housing and I don’t have to rely on TriCare for my health insurance. I also don’t get the services and amenities of an Army base and surrounding community. Nor is there a large number of other wives and partners to go to for support and understanding.

But there are some good things about HabMoo’s choice of employer. For one thing the National Guard is more than just an employer. Its his opportunity to serve. He and I have different ways of expressing service. I’d much rather volunteer and give donations. I prefer to choose who I’m serving and he serves the entire state and nation. I respect his choice.

crw_2701_thmI’m not really attracted to a man in uniform, but the dress uniform is pretty sharp. He wore it for our wedding so he looked good without spending any money. His daily uniform is really not attractive, but since he wears it every day there’s more room in my closet. And less washing. But the thing is covered in Velcro and sometimes snags my sweaters if I forget and put them in the same batch of washing.

Two more things about the uniform. First the boots. The man has far too many pairs of boots. They really don’t need to issue him any more. And then there are the duffel bags full of odd equipment and clothing. That also takes up valuable storage space. Can’t they just issue that as needed? Or store it in a locker at the Armory?

There’s a Yahoo Answers thread about the benefits of being married to an Army service member and there’s consensus that some people marry for the health care and paycheck. I had better health insurance through the U of M, but the paycheck isn’t bad. HabMoo gets paid more because of me. It’s so strange to think we’re in the 21st century and he’s getting more pay just because he’s married. This makes some sense for regular Army soldiers because spouses have to move when their soldier does and can’t just immediately find a new job. It’s sort of similar to how a university might do a spousal hire in order to get the professor or researcher they really want to hire. And it makes sense for when a spouse is deployed since there are expenses caused by the soldier’s absence, but that’s what the extra family separation pay is for. The extra pay is something I enjoy, but feel is wrong.

Speaking of money, there are a few discounts we’ve received because of HabMoo’s status. I tend to forget to ask about them and they aren’t as common around here as they are around military posts. We got excellent rates and a nice place to stay when visiting Seward Alaska. We pay a little less for our phones. Sometimes my husband gets a free lunch paid for by someone who appreciates the sacrifices soldiers make. But no one has ever offered me that honor. (Spouses should get a special uniform or badge or something so people could identify us and offer to pay for groceries, I think.)

None of these benefits really makes up for the time lost with my husband. We’ve been married for a little over five years but probably spent only about three and half years together in the same location. Extra cash in the bank can’t make up for that lost time. I’m not counting the one weekend a month he spends at drill. I like that time to myself. But the trainings and the deployments are a struggle. There’s just no avoiding that truth.

I’m not sure how it affects our marriage. The initial deployment for HabMoo was immediately after we got married so we were still a little giddy from all that and we’d never lived together. So neither of us had married life to miss. Now that’s different. He’s away and I miss him terribly on weekend mornings, on garbage day, at bedtime, around dinner time, when I spot cardinals in the bushes, when the truck needs to be washed, when I visit his folks, when I’m grocery shopping, when I’m excited and when I’m lonely. There’s something similar to grieving that I go through when he’s gone for more than six weeks.

I never wanted to marry a soldier. Like I said, I’m not attracted to men in uniforms and I don’t really get a charge from being married to a man who is defending freedom and the American Way. I wanted to marry HabMoo. Sometimes I can’t help but ask myself if he’s worth the worry, loss, frustrations, and hassles of the soldier stuff that comes along with him. I’d honestly prefer that he not be in the National Guard. I’m proud of him, but I’m also selfish and would rather not share him.

Would it be easier if he just had a mistress? This is the first time I’ve asked myself that. If he had a mistress he’d probably be home more often. I’d have a chance of winning him back or taking her out. Any anger I had would be justified in other people’s eyes. It would just make more sense and be more satisfying to hate another woman than to hate Fort Gordon. I’d better understand what he was getting out of the situation and I’d know just who it was I was hating and fighting. I can’t really fight the Department of Defense. I suppose I’d worry about him leaving me for her, like I worry about his next deployment.

So today I wish my husband was a computer geek working for some big company that was just trying to run his life. I’d prefer him not to be a soldier. But I still like being married to the guy. The excitement I feel when I get his evening calls still pays off for me.

Nov 11

Veteran’s Day

Posted on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 in Army wife

My husband, father, brother, and uncles all served in the military. Yet it’s hard for me to identify much with Veteran’s Day. Hab Moo has the day off and that’s all the celebrating we’re doing. I don’t recall anyone in the family making a big deal of it. The holiday has always seemed like a day just for old men who missed their identity as soldiers.

It should amount to more. Serving in the military isn’t anything I’d want to do, but nations do need defensive and offensive capabilities. So I’m glad someone is willing to do it. Probably the best way to celebrate the day is to give quick, reliable and friendly service to all those so used to waiting around, and getting one set of direction to be replaced by a new set to be replaced again by yet another set of orders. And soldiers are always willing to accept a thank you for their service.

I’m having a hard time writing this post. I have conflicted feelings about the military. I hate the fact that it jerks my husband around. I hate the fact that they require him to be away from home so often. But I’m glad they have separation pay. And they are making my lack of full-time employment a lot easier on us. I like watching friends and family talk to Hab Moo about his experiences. It’s great that people buy him lunch every so often when he’s in uniform. But it’s still uncomfortable somehow.

I think I may have picked up some of my father’s messed up emotions about serving in WWII. He didn’t talk much about it, but when he was dying he talked about how he still resented not getting a promised promotion. I think he was proud of the work he did and he believed in what he was doing. He also lost companions, missed out on time with two kids and a wife, and endured a lot of physical discomfort. I think he just wanted to put it all behind him. I knew not to ask him much about his experiences.

Then my husband goes to war and we chat online every day and he suffers through sitting around and from a short-term lack of onion rings. I know that in other wars, some soldiers served their time away from the front lines and danger, but those stories never got told in books or film so it’s as if they didn’t exist. I feel like there’s no real story for soldiers today. The wars are too complicated or maybe the stories can’t be told until the conflicts are over or resolved somehow. Except for getting married two days before Hab Hoo left for his deployment, I don’t feel like we have any real story either.

I don’t even feel like the nation knows that their are men and women serving overseas. Maybe it’s because I’m in Minnesota, far from any large bases. I only know a small handful of others with loved ones serving. No one is growing a victory garden. Very few people are protesting. It’s like soldiers are custodians that are easily ignored. It’s not pleasant to think about the person who is going to clean the toilet you just used and it’s not pleasant to think of the person in Afghanistan trying to clean up that mess either.

The only times I’ve really seen veterans honored has been at pow-wows and rodeos. Then I have to fight back tears.

At all other times I’d rather not pay attention even though I know several people currently in Iraq or who have had at least one deployment. I’d rather talk with them about their cars than about their service. It’s awkward. If they weren’t in the shit then what is there to talk about. And if they were in the shit, then that’s too uncomfortable to talk about.

So I guess I’ll end by just saying that I do appreciate soldier’s service. And I appreciate what those left at home go through. I have no clue what it’s like to lose a loved one to a recent war or conflict, but I do grieve for such loses until the point I think about the soldiers I know and then I rush away from that grief.

I think I will refrain from apologizing for celebrating by doing nothing more than going to a Veteran’s Day sale. I mean that’s partially why we fight, right? To keep the American way of life and what’s more American than shopping at a chain store? Soldiers fight for those who are oblivious as well as for those who are actively engaged.

One more thing, though. I’m linking to an article written by a Gold Star Mother who challenges us all to pay more attention and take real action on this day: Veterans Day: Not for Sale. You should pay more attention to her than to this confused woman.

Feb 2

Shoot!

Posted on Monday, February 2, 2009 in Army wife, fears, Me

I think there’s a myth that children like to do things to scare themselves. I’m not so sure. Yes, I jumped off roofs, played chicken with cars, and listened to ghost stories, but only to prove how tough I was. It was not to scare myself. But as an adult I’m trying to do a few things that frighten me or take me out of my comfort zone. Last week I went to a professional group’s mixer and talked with people I didn’t know. But a few months ago I did something much scarier. I took a defensive handgun class.

Now I’m not a fan of guns. I recall, correctly or not, my grandmother telling me in hushed tones that she had another brother who they didn’t talk about. He had died. Her older brother had shot him when they were both little kids and if you said his name the older brother would walk out of the room. That made an impression. There were guns in my house when I was growing up. I think. I never saw them, but I did see a holster my father hand-tooled in leather. I played with cap guns. But only if we playing Big Valley and I got to be Audra who carried a little deringer. It was really more of a fashion statement than a weapon.

Then I grew up and married a gun nut. I’d be quite happy if no one was allowed to own guns. Then I welcomed this man into my bedroom and all his arms into a closet with a new lock on it. The guns make me nervous. They symbolize violence and death to me. These are scary concepts now made visible in my home.

I realized that I might, if threatened, decide to take hold of one of these weapons. (In the past I’ve tended to arm myself with pens or butter knives when investigating an unknown noise downstairs.) If I didn’t want to be holding something in my hand that scared me as much or more than an intruder, I should learn how to shoot the thing. So, for that reason, and because I wanted to scare myself by doing something out of my comfort zone, and because I knew it would make HabMoo very happy, I told him I wanted to take a class.

The first thing I had to do was go to a sheriff’s office to get some sort of credentials. I didn’t pay  much attention. I gave up a fingerprint and $10 and received a form after they ran a background check of some sort. That and a handgun, lots of ammo, magazines, eye and ear protection, and some lunch was all I needed. I let HabMoo take care of all of it except the lunch.

I was nervous driving out to the range. I had discovered that all my jeans come all the way up to the waist and a holster up that high might make it uncomfortable to draw. Which turned out to be true. I had shot a few times before, but unless I was shooting something I hated (like an old DVD player) or something that produced a few special effects (like a jug full of colored water) it didn’t really capture my interest. So ahead of me was 8 hours–yes a full day–of shooting at a paper target.

We drove up to what looked to me like an abandoned gravel pit/newly created junk yard. There were some old drums full of garbage, a couple of folding chairs, and other refuse. It didn’t really inspire confidencee. A few other vehicles drove up and it did appear that we were in the right place. And, no suprise, I was the only woman. And the toilet was basically among the small bushes and grass behind where we all parked. So far, so good. I could deal with all of this.

But I had no idea what culture I was in. What were the norms? What would be considered appropriate behavior? I put on the belt and holster and gun. It did not feel comfortable. But no one stared at that. HabMoo took my photo. Everyone was friendly and talked about nothing in particular. The instructors began and we had to introduce ourselves and our weapon. I had asked HabMoo to tell me what kind of gun I would be shooting before we got there. So the first round of questioning posed no problems. I aced it. (Don’t ask me today what I shot, however. I have no idea.) And the first part of the course was going to be lecture. Not a problem. I could calm down.

I didn’t receive any range safety information, but I did learn a lot more about what people who have carry permits worry about. We discussed how to transport your weapon, what might set off alarms in a police officer, when it might be legal to shoot, when it might not be, and why. My concerns with personal safety have always been along the lines of how to not look like an easy mark for a bad pick-up line or a purse snatching. I look inside my car before I get in it and I know how to do the testicular jerk. I’ve never worried about riots or someone entering my home with a weapon or having my family threatened.

After the lecture/discussion came some real shooting and then my nerves kicked into action. I had to load a magazine. This I need way more practice in. Or more finger muscles or something. Thankfully HabMoo brought along some little device that made it much easier for me. But I was still the last one to get loaded. And now I had a loaded gun in my holster on my hip. And so did all these other guys. I was walking along with armed men. That is scary even if I couldn’t imagine them all using me for target practice. I could trust these strange men that much.

I told myself that the only thing I had to do to make this a sucessful day was to make it through the day. I didn’t expect to be able to shoot well. I would even allow myself to take the dumb girl role if needed. (Act like the blonde stereotype and giggle at everything as if it were a joke.) And I didn’t shoot well. But I was able to press the tringger and I was able to produce holes in my target. The fact the one instructor seemed to devote himself entirely to my instruction could be seen as kind of flattering. Right?

We took breaks to reload and rest. I really needed the rest. My shoulder started hurting after maybe 20 minutes of shooting and we  had the rest of the morning and all afternoon ahead of us. The guys seemed to really be enjoying themselves. One seemed a little concerned with his abilities and equipment, but I was there so he didn’t have to worry about being the lowest common denominator. We all chatted and no one showed surprise about HabMoo and I being married. (With some regularity people first assume that I’m his mother. But I’m sure it’s uncommon for sons and mothers to attend handgun classes together outside of Texas.) They expressed their approval of the reasons why I was taking the class and I relaxed my well developed social anxiety muscles.

Then came more shooting followed by lunch in the junkyard portion of the site. I was the only person there eating a vegetarian lunch and drinking carob soy milk. I felt like a cultural envoy.

More shooting followed. It was determined that I had a terrible flinch, because I anticipated every shot and recoiled from it a bit. Well, yes. I was shooting bullets. A part of me was still recoiling just from that fact. I had twice violated range safety and received only a gentle redirecting of my gun by the instructor or the marksman next to me. If someone had slapped me for it, I would have accepted that as appropriate punishment. I was unsure of myself, still scared of the gun’s potential uses, and experiencing pain in my shoulder. For the entire afternoon I shot with blanks interspersed with regular bullets so I wouldn’t know when I’d have a live round and when I wouldn’t. To build my confidence perhaps, the instructors reminded us that it wasn’t necessary to hit the head of the target. Hitting anywhere on the body would tend to discourage an assailant. Hitting a real person with a real bullet really wasn’t what I wanted to be thinking about.

We were all assured that we would pass the final test of shooting our targets from various distances. I didn’t care if I passed or not. I just didn’t want to pass out.

I passed. I was in pain and I had the fewest holes in my target, but I passed. I was disappointed that there was no written exam. I’m sure I could have outscored someone in a written test. Certificates were handed out and we headed for home.

This was the best part of the experience. Since HabMoo and I don’t agree on issues of handguns, or many political issues, we don’t often discuss them. Now we talked all the way home. Neither of us had had an experience to change our opinions, but we’d had a shared experience. We could begin the discuss from that point. I complained about the lack of safety issues covered, and he talked what he thought of their advice on what a citizen’s reaction to the police should be following a lethal force incident. I can’t even imagine that scenario (or use that language), let alone argue what the proper reaction should be. But listening to each other was transformative. I hadn’t expected this marriage enrighment side effect.

The outcome for me? I felt proud of doing something scary and not falling into the stupid girl role. I felt that while I had married a nut, he’s a nut who is comfortable with me disagreeing with him, and I love him. And I decided that I did want to carry. I decided to carry a flashlight.