I spent the first 21 years of my life wearing the title of “military brat” proudly. Fast forward a few years, and I’ve traded in that title for a new one – “military spouse.” When I was a child, I moved 12 times. This meant a dozen new addresses to memorize, a dozen new sets of friends while learning my way around a new school and setting up a dozen different bedrooms, all before I even went to college.
My husband’s family, on the other hand, had very little experience with the military world. When he told them about his plans to join the Army, their curiosity and concern sparked questions I had never heard before. Topics that were brand new to them had become second nature to me. “Why is it you move so much?” “What kinds of things do they have at the PX?” “When will we know if he can come visit?” “What are the different uniforms for?” I answered their questions and expanded on the subjects, with an ease that only comes when talking about your childhood, while welcoming my in-laws into this special world.
My childhood was an absolute blessing, and I was armed with knowledge (along with the best packing list on the planet) to make our first PCS – to Fort Benning, Georgia – a smooth and organized one. When it came time for me to join my brand-new husband, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the role the Army played in my life as a child would be wildly different than the role it would play as a spouse. With all the time I spent watching my mom effortlessly wrangling four kids and three dogs while also commanding the attention of movers, I thought I was ready for my first PCS and would handle it with grace. The truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know. For example, while I was busy making up my new room as a kid, the movers had dropped our washer and dryer off the back of the truck, placed our grill on top of a white sofa, rolled our hot tub down a hill and jumped on an antique mirror. Every military family has a similar “you’re not going to believe this” story, and it turned out that no amount of moves as an adolescent would prepare me for my first PCS as a spouse. Delayed drivers, lost boxes of wedding shower gifts and broken furniture were all topics of conversation the first time I called home to tell my mom that this “pro” wasn’t doing so hot. Her advice: Every move will prepare you better for the next. If it is special or sentimental, move it in the car with you, and get in the mindset that everything else is just stuff. Most importantly, lots of takeout, at least one new friend and a bottle of wine help pass the time while waiting for your goods.
There is no circumstance, no childhood and no handbook that will prepare anyone to be a military spouse. Each day is different and every story is unique. Being a military brat doesn’t prepare you to be a military wife, but it was a great learning experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. While I may understand the nuances of moving and the recurring “goodbye” to those you love, there are unexpected obstacles that will always catch you off guard, no matter how prepared you think you are. My milspouse advice: Adaptability and a great support network are the keys to success in a world where no road map will ever be provided.