When James and I got engaged the questions began. “Wait, you’re moving?” “You’ll only be there for how long?” “What will you do for work?” “Will he go to Iraq/Afghanistan?” “What is his job?” After hearing these over and over again I started getting frustrated. I realize that the military life that I knew about because of family members and from many discussions with James was an abstract concept to a lot of my friends. It was then that I started to think, I need to give them a cheat sheet, and so here it is finally.
You’re moving?!? Yes, as servicemembers move up the ranks of the Army they generally move to a new Post or Base. This usually happens for major promotions. James is a 2nd Lieutenant, so we probably won’t move when he makes 1st Lieutenant in the next year or so but we will when he becomes a Captain (more on ranks in a bit). It is a promotion so just like you may move to a new company, or to the corner office, members of the military move to a new unit to assume a new position. This typically translates to moving every 2-3 years. This isn’t always the case, I have a cousin that has been stationed at the same base for many years and through many promotions but he has moved between units at the base, which is huge.
Rank? Unit? We live in a world of ranks that designate a lot about your life, mainly job duty but of course also pay and where you live on post. Ranks vary based on what you do within the Army (Infantry, Intelligence, Military Police, lawyers) of course but for a general sense, check out Grunt’s Military. Rank is separated into officers and enlisted/non-commissioned officers and are slightly different based on your branch (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard.). Units: I honestly use that term loosely. From the bottom up it goes squad (about 10 people)–platoon (about 50 people)–company (about 200 people)–battalion (up to 1,000, more like 800-900)–brigade (up to 5,000).
So what are the benefits? Well, there are quite a few. We get a housing stipend to help pay for wherever we choose to live, be it on-post or off-post. That changes depending on where you live and how big your family is. If you live on post you will live in a neighborhood with people around your rank. I also get full benefits, just like any health care plan for employees and their families. I do also get access to the military installation. I can shop at the Commissary and PX which are both tax-free, although the Commissary charges a 5% surcharge to help pay for their overhead costs. There are a lot of great programs offered on the installation, like gyms, childcare (which we obvi don’t need yet), group trips, discounted tickets to sporting events and even financial advisors. We also get the chance to potentially live around the world, like Germany, Japan or England. Pretty sweet right?
What about your career? Leaving NYC was not only a tough choice for me personally but also professionally. I could see myself working in magazines based in NYC for the rest of my career, but being with James/being happily married trumped that. I know that sounds old fashioned but I knew that we were meant to be. Fortunately I have a career field that is super transferable. Being a journalist I have an opportunity to work for local and regional publications. I can freelance write for those same magazines in NYC. I’m hoping that more companies across the country really help veterans and their families gain jobs. The military makes us move but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have skills, also you don’t have to pay my relocation costs, the Army has that covered. Maybe I should start putting “I’m an Army wife” in my cover letters, at least next time we move, but I do want to be hired because of my skills, that is the truth. A friend asked me if I feel like my career would be second to James’ (or in general if a spouses career comes second) and I’d say not entirely. James encourages me to work and find a job in my field, we’re so lucky I found a newspaper job in Washington when we moved up here. Sure for now my career goes where he goes but when he’s no longer in the Army that could very easily change. I think the key is being flexible and thinking outside of the box for how to move up in your career, and working for companies that understand, even a little bit, about the moving and such that comes with military life. I hope that Joining Forces, an organization led by Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, will help more people understand and hire more veterans and spouses.
Will he be deployed? Yes. He’s actually leaving in a few months. I don’t know the details nor could I post them here if I wanted to for safety/security reasons. I can say that he’s being deployed soonish and yes I am scared and stressed about it. But it’s his job and his duty to go. I’m really proud of him and knew that this day would come long before I married him. I’m not excited to be husbandless for almost a year but I’m fortunately in a community going through the same thing, or have been through it, or are just great friends. I hope my friends come visit me too from around the country. It’ll be a blast! Things James will miss: lots of weddings, I’ll be going to those stag but I may need to get an iPad so he can Skype into one or two and say hi. The Army (and other branches for that matter) have a lot of programs in place to not only build community on the installation but also to keep families informed during deployments. I just met some of the other spouses from James’ battalion and they are such fun women and I can’t wait to hang out with them more.
So how’s it working out? So far so good. I’ve met some really nice people, everyone has been welcoming and supportive. I think that they’ve all been there, first duty station, new to the area, willing to share the best restaurants, doctors and salons. It’s nice having people that are so welcoming nearby, at work and in our social circles. There are obviously hiccups in moving–we are still waiting on our couch (that’s because we ordered a brand new one that had to be built…should be here soon), me not knowing some things I needed to do upon moving to keep my healthcare up to date (must go into the office, won’t work online) and really making the time to see friends in the area. That being said, Washington is beautiful, we are lucky to have some great people at work and in the community already and to have each other. A marriage is a partnership but when you move frequently you really count on the other person to make sure that you get out of the house, find a great place to live and have everything that you need.
I think that covered the basics and I really hope that you find this helpful. BUT if you have any other questions let me know! If I don’t know the answer then I’ll try to find it out.
[After the fact thought: a lot of military boyfriends/girlfriends/fiancees have some of the same questions I’m sure. While they don’t get the benefits until they’re married, it’s important to remember that they are part of the whole scheme of things too. Sorry I forgot to post that originally!
[One other note: I should have said that James is Active Duty, but there are also National Guard and Reservists, who serve on weekends and also are deployed and serve in many capacities, at the border and during local emergencies. So, gist of this note I guess is this is my life as an Active Duty spouse, but let’s not forget all that everyone else does too and goes through.]