Remote Duty Station Survival
It was a quiet Tuesday morning after Christmas when we got the call. “Congratulations, SSgt. You’ve been accepted to the commissioning program. We’ll see you at the college in the fall.” That was the beginning of four years of remote duty-ness. We were attached to a non-traditional unit. On paper, we were a name in the larger system. We didn’t have unit functions. Our unit had three families, and only one other couple had kids. It was lonely, and weird, and different from anything I had known in military life. It also made clear how dependent I’d become on military services—how much I felt I needed them.
During that time, my kids were just starting preschool and kindergarten, I was working, daycare prices were through the roof (at least on our salary), and we had to learn a new way to make it—in the civilian community. Fast forward eight years and we’re still standing, and we are safely insulated by military life once again. But I do remember feeling alone, like the military had forgotten about us, and like we couldn’t do it alone. But we did. Here are some of the things we did to make it through.
Work was my friend. I chose to work when we were stationed remotely, for a couple of reasons:
- It gave me some much-needed adult interaction.
- It gave me a tremendous feeling of self-worth.
I didn’t work right away. I was worried about leaving the kids in daycare and “leaving the nest” myself. But I decided my need for sanity would actually help all of us in the long run. The decision to stay home or go to work is very personal. This was what worked best for me.
I volunteered. A lot. Volunteering was a great way for me to feel part of the community. I met some wonderful friends at our events and I quickly felt invested in the community.
I cut coupons. No doubt that living remotely was more expensive because we had no commissary, and as you know, those puppies save you about thirty percent on average. I know that cutting coupons must seem like an arduous task to some, but it is, in fact, worth it. Just the other day, I took three seconds to virtually clip and then print twenty or so coupons and I saved twenty bucks at the commissary. It’s worth it.
We embraced our surroundings. While we were there, one of our main focuses was exploring. We explored on weekends, in the evenings, and everywhere in between. On long weekends, we went away. Yes, we stayed in some dives. Yes, we got really creative and found cheap ways to have fun. But part of the fun was the adventure. One of the coolest things about being a military family is that you get to go places you never imagined you’d be. Embrace it. Learn about the area where you live. After all, you’re stuck there. Why not? 😉
I ran a marathon. It helped to have a goal during our time away from the operating forces. Through searching for something to do, I discovered my love for running. I also used running as a way for me to explore where we lived. There is something to be said for getting to know the streets on foot.
What I discovered through this process was that we, as military families, are extremely fortunate to have the services we have. I know, first hand, how hard our military supporters work to secure these great services for us, and that it can feel super lonely when you’re pulled away from the safety net of military life.
I looked at our remote duty station as an opportunity to explore what life is like for the vast majority of Americans. I sought services available through the state, county, and larger federal agencies (side note: I found them by calling Military OneSource). It was a hard time for us, but it gave us a chance to be financially creative and to evaluate needs vs. wants. It also gave us a much-needed mental break from the operating forces.
Being stationed remotely is not the end of the world, but it can feel like that if you aren’t prepared. Military OneSource can help. It’s your military connection when you’re away from “home.” Call them. Ask about services in your area. Take advantage of their website. They have articles on everything from budgeting to finding resources to neighborhood and school information. Remember, even when stationed remotely, you are never truly alone.