There was a spark in a moment in 2002 when I was celebrating having taken the GRE. I told the cute guy across from me my plan to go to grad school in Austin. He told me his plan was to join the Air Force and probably end up in San Antonio.
My only experience with the military prior to visiting him on the Fourth of July during Officer Training School in Montgomery, Alabama, might have been a wedding reception at an armory gym when I was a kid. I think someone rolled over a toe with a keg. My family didn't even attend parades. The military seemed alien and intimidating. Soldiers. Guns. Bombs. Rules that couldn't be broken.
He finished navigator training just as I earned my master's. We moved to Omaha, Nebraska together and soon married. Meanwhile, I started my own career and created a life of my own. He deployed; I worked and only visited base to send him off or welcome him home. I didn't feel like I belonged on the base, and my nerves electrified every time I pulled up to the armed guard at the gate. I didn't feel like the spouse group was for me, either.
Those who grew up in military families will think I'm a fool. The military is perfectly natural to them. It has turned them into resilient, resourceful individuals. It's turning me into a resilient, resourceful individual. But for those of us who don't have that background, who just happened to fall in love with someone who decided to join the military? There are plenty of assumptions we can make that spoil the experience.
Here are the top 5 mistakes I made in the early days.
Top 5 New Military Spouse Mistakes
1. Assuming all military spouses are alike, which is to say, not like you. I have met some of the most interesting, passionate people through our military network and the places it has taken us. Artists, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs -- the list goes on. I've met people who share my interests, and people who have shown me how to be open and bring joy anywhere in the world.
2. Being intimidated by gate guards. Perhaps it's my age talking, but they're generally just bored kids. They've been trained how to use their weapons, and you aren't going to do anything so wrong that they'll have to use them.
3. Giving up agency. I used to assume there was someone out there making sure everything was being looked after for us. That everything runs smoothly as an integrated whole. Then we PCSed overseas. If you haven't learned yet, you are the one in charge of making sure everything happens as it should. You are the one to make calls to get the services you want, to ask questions, to look after your paperwork, to find the resources that work best for you or your family.
4. Refusing to accept the network of support that's there. There are dozens of offices and organizations that are designed to help military spouses. They totally get what it's like to be in your situation. Really, even if you rarely go to any of these spaces, you can use them. They're there for you.
5. Waiting for someone to reach out to you. This one is the hardest as an introvert. I kept assuming that if someone really wanted me at an event or an outing, someone would reach out and invite me personally. You guys? It's not that you aren't welcome if you don't receive a personal invitation. Organizers really, truly do want you to show up to the stuff they plan. Everyone there has been the new person before. Everyone there has a tie to the military. You never know who you'll meet if you do show up.