I’ve never known what it’s like to be married to someone in the military. The closest I came were the times I went out with a former Marine.
I’ve never had a child in the military either, although several of my daughter’s friends have joined and Celeste is now dating her own former Marine.
Both my dad and Don’s served in the army, my dad as a paratrooper. Celeste’s paternal grandfather was an army paratrooper as well. But that part of their lives predated us, so our awareness of what military life entails is minimal.
Even so, the little I know garners such respect and admiration, not only for those who serve, but for those in their orbit.
When my daughter was small, I was friends with a self-proclaimed military brat. Her family moved so many times, both in the U.S. and abroad, that she had trouble recalling them all. She then went on to marry a career military man herself. Although we lost touch after they were sent to Okinawa, the complications of the life she knowingly signed on for left a lasting impression.
Through her, I learned how often moves happened, occasionally with little notice. With them, it might’ve been more because of her husband’s area of expertise, but I recall they once learned on a Monday they had to be gone by the next. Seven days to pack up two little boys and a home in December, after they’d already decorated for Christmas.
But she was an expert on moving. She could rattle off PCS (Permanent Change of Station) rules and entitlements like someone who personally crafted each one. She told me she’d never once shopped for furniture she actually liked, but merely stuff that would be light and easy to move — or cheap enough it was easy to leave behind.
She could disassemble and reassemble a home so quickly it was like watching a pit crew at work, and I recall wondering how someone who’d not been raised in that life could survive it.
At a previous job, I was processing paperwork for a new hire’s background check that required the woman to provide her address history for the past several years. Her husband had been in the military, and they had moved so many times over the course of their marriage there weren’t enough blanks on the form to list them all.
She told me she was frequently unemployed or underemployed during his tour. Few places wanted to invest in a new hire they suspected would be short term, so rather than seek work in her field, she opted for retail or providing home childcare instead.
She said there had been many things she never considered prior to marrying a man who, at the time, had just signed on to serve. Things like how, right when you’ve finally made a few friends, it was time to leave and start over again. That almost every time you went to the doctor, you saw someone new.
For a while, she said they lived in base housing — where they were once fined for having grass a half inch too high and again for too many weeds. The first few times they moved, she said they left behind as much as they took after learning about weight restrictions that would’ve meant being charged for each extra pound.
During the time we worked together (I actually left before her), I remember her saying it wasn’t so hard if you didn’t have kids; that it could be an adventure. It was those with children who faced the most challenges, as the kids often had to give up their place on teams and make new friends and find where they fit at new schools, and being sent overseas could mean having to give up their pets.
There had been so much to learn — the acronyms, the etiquette, the hierarchy. Yet she said she wouldn’t have traded that time for anything. The organizational skills she was forced to adopt were something she likely wouldn’t have otherwise gained, and her husband — who had gone in a bit cocky, with swagger — had come out a disciplined and respectful man.
Hardest of all, I imagine, would be to have your child enlist, especially during times of conflict. To know the dangers they might face would be a bit maddening. I’m not sure I’d be able to breathe the whole time.
It’s fitting we have a day set aside to say thanks to all those who serve and have served.
But to their partners, parents and children — thanks for your sacrifice, too.