Funny how things turn out…

One day I was reminiscing and it hit me how I was almost an Army wife to another soldier many many years ago. My high school sweetheart proposed to me when I was 19 years old (just a month before my 20th birthday)…. after he decided to enlist. I was in Statesboro attending Georgia Southern and he was at home working full time and going to school when he decided to join the military. He came to visit me one weekend, told me of his plans and popped the question. I said yes despite feeling it was too soon.

Fast forward a few months…. he was in basic training getting ready to graduate and I of course was still in school. He would call when he could and we wrote each other about every week. With graduation approaching he wanted to know if I would be able to attend and initially I’d hoped to be able to go, but I couldn’t miss that many days of class. He was constantly calling and asking if I was going to come with his parents and I even got a call from one of the officers asking would I be coming and when would we be setting a date for the wedding.

Setting a wedding date was the furthest thing from my mind at that point because like I said I was 20 years old. During one of our weekly phone calls I told him so. When we talked about marriage prior to the engagement we agreed to wait until my senior year to get engaged and planned to get married some time after graduation and to me it seemed he was trying to accelerate those plans. Unfortunately, me being a chronic people pleaser did me no favors in this situation. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings so I would always put him off, but during this particular conversation he was determined. He pressed me for a timeline and he also wanted to know if I was going to move to where ever he was stationed after graduation. I told him that IF I could find a job I would but I couldn’t see myself following him around with no job and being dependent on him. He said ok, but I knew he was disappointed. About a week later he wrote a letter breaking it off… a day or two after the letter arrived he called apologizing and wanting to make up. A part of me wanted to accept his apology and stay with him, but the other side of me was so relieved!

We continued to write each other and promised to see each other when he came home in August. In the meantime I got to live!! Really live and not worry about anyone but myself. During that first year and a half while I was in college he tried to give me a curfew and screen my friends  from 200 miles away. I was suffocating!  Finally when I saw him in August the thrill was gone… which was actually a good thing because he proposed to some chick 2 months later! LOL!!!

I am not sure why this randomly came to me, but I had to chuckle at the memory, because here I am doing exactly what he wanted me to do with someone else. I guess it was my destiny to be an Army wife after all just not his….

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The choices we make

I am a wife. This one fact does not totally define me, but in a sense it does. My husband is in the Army and he has been for 13 years. We’ve been together 9 years and married for 6. In our six years as a “legal” couple we’ve moved twice, which I think is pretty good in terms of Army life. As an Army wife I had to decide early on if I was going to be the wife that accepted my husband’s orders as my own and relocate with him OR if I was going to move to one place and stay there seeing my husband when he could get away for weekends or long holidays. I can’t say I thought long and hard about it because I didn’t. We’ve lived through 3 deployments and countless out-of-state trainings that separated our family so making the decision to pack up my life when he did seemed like a no-brainer. There are several military families that choose to settle down and find their “home” while the military spouse travels from place to place and they are able to make it work quite successfully, but at this time I don’t think it is the move for us. In a few years when the kids are older we are definitely considering finding a home base and staying there while he finishes up his last few years of service.

Growing up I watched my dad travel constantly for work and although he and my mom weren’t together we used to see each other quite often until he was promoted. After he started moving up he began to travel almost weekly even now when I call him I never know where he will be.  As I got older I started to consider his wife and I wondered how she felt with her husband being gone all the time and  I thought I wouldn’t want to live like that… funny how life turns out though.

Probably the most difficult part of being an Army wife (besides the obvious things like deployments, etc) is job hunting  when we move. I realize when I decided to move with my husband I also made the decision to put his career first.  I can’t say that was a conscious decision, but clearly I made a choice. Unfortunately, I do not have a “portable career’ so pretty much it has been back to square one. I have a Masters in Public Health and my heart is definitely in the field so at times it is hard to find just the right job. It took some time, but eventually I found a position in Columbia and I am hoping to do the same here in El Paso.

Recently, a Soror and fellow Army Wife told me about the Priority Placement Program with the federal government which helps military spouses find federal employment IF they had to leave their previous job due to a PCS move. All this time I’d been thinking checking the military spouse box on the USAJobs applications was enough!!!! HR specialists review your resume and determine which job codes (up to 5) you qualify for and they notify you of job openings on post. Not only will they notify you of the position your name is also placed on a list of candidates to consider which is sent to the hiring officials. It sounds simple enough, but believe me there is a lot more to it and the rules are very strict. One mistake and you are out of the program. On the bright side it  looks promising, because they have already contacted me about a job they wanted me to submit my application packet for and of course I did so immediately.

So while unintentionally that’s how being a wife took precedence over my career. I don’t regret the choices I’ve made thus far and I am looking forward to seeing more of the world at my husband’s side.

 

Just Call Me the LoneStar Peach

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Three years to the day our family moved to South Carolina we moved again…. our final destination being El Paso, TX. In the midst of our travels we made a pitstop in Georgia to say goodbye to our families and also because The Girl and I were in my sister’s New Year’s Eve wedding. We spent Jan 1 laying around so that we could hop on the road bright eyed and bushy-tailed  the next day.

True to fashion I’d done my research so I knew what to expect in terms of mileage, but NOTHING could have prepared me for the actual trip. El Paso, Texas is about 1600 miles from my mother’s house in South Georgia and roughly 1 day and 1 hour away according to Google Maps. I have NEVER EVER been a long road trip person… in fact anything over 2.5 hours drives me insane so to think I was going to be in the car for roughly 2 or 3 days traveling with 2 kids was enough to make me consider getting a prescription for Valium. Day one the hubs drove while I alternated reading and harassing him for bathroom breaks. We made great time. We stopped for the night in Baton Rouge, LA and we even got to sample a local restaurant, Parrain’s, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Day 2 it was my turn behind the wheel…. all was well at first. I got us out of Louisiana and into Texas. I was checking the navigation every few minutes to note our progress. I thought we were making good time especially when I saw that we only had 150 miles until we reached San Antonio… or so I thought… apparently we had 150 miles to travel to the next highway once I realized my mistake I felt so deflated. I literally could have cried. I drove 6 hours until we reached Katy, Texas where we stopped for lunch and then once again the hubs took over…. he didn’t let me forget it either!!!!  We rode for another 3 hours and settled for the night in Boerne. We got on the road around 9 or 10 the next morning and made it to El Paso around 4 pm Mountain Time. 

It took a few days to get used to seeing everything in English and Spanish everywhere, but now I rarely notice.  The biggest adjustment was to the 2 hour time difference. Strangely enough it wasn’t that I was going to sleep early I couldn’t fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning. Someone suggested I try melatonin and it worked; however it causes the strangest dreams!

So far our new city seems to be ok… I am definitely enjoying the scenery… the mountains are beautiful and there is a Super Target maybe a half a mile from our apartment (for those who know me they know I am in HEAVEN).

 

 

Some people just don’t get it

I sit here watching CNN and the headline reads OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD. I don’t want to celebrate the death of another human being, but just thinking about the people who have died because of his orders  and the enormity/significance of this announcement is just…….WHOA

Yes, people we know there is still work to be done….

Yes, we know the war is not over….

BUT how about you stop with your comments. Its rude and disrespectful to those people who lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks.  Allow those husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers this one moment before you start telling them that there will be retaliation and there is someone else waiting in the wings.

As the wife of a soldier who has been deployed 3 times and as the sister of a soldier who has been deployed once and is preparing to leave again in less than 90 days…. if you’ve NEVER waited by the phone, watched CNN constantly, explained to your children why Daddy is not home… please just for once in your life be silent.

To the members of the military I salute you.  President Obama I salute you. Thank you for your efforts.

The Mocha Manual to Military Life: Q&A With Author Pamela McBride

Dating and ultimately marrying a member of the military is not easy, especially if you are not in the armed forces as well. They have their own set of unique rules and standards that should be followed not only by the service members, but their families as well. Of course you hope your spouse will be able teach you how to navigate through this new world and they will as best they can, but sometimes duty calls. Luckily, Pamela McBride recognized a need and filled it; together with Kimberly Seals-Allers they have created The Mocha Manual to Military Life: A Savvy Guide for Wives, Girlfriends, and Female Service Members.   This book has EVERYTHING you need to start learning the basics and more about military life.  I’ve been an Army wife for 5 years and I’ve been with my husband for 8 and you would think I knew a lot about the military lifestyle, but there is still a lot I do not know. The Mocha Manual to Military Life is definitely helping me to become a more informed spouse!

Recently I was able to ask Pamela, a seasoned military spouse, a few questions submitted by military wives and girlfriends and she has offered her expert advice.

1.  What is the best way to be supportive of a military spouse or significant other?

 

I think this really requires being supportive to each other. And so, both of you should:

√  Understand and accept the military for what it is…there is much hierarchy and tradition, and therefore it has lots of potential for bureaucracy. However, it is also a source of pride and we should always maintain our composure not matter how frustrating it becomes. (pg. 26)

√  Understand the rank and structure of the military. But, know that it isn’t the end of the world if you make a mistake. Page 24 has the funniest story about a big faux pas I made early in our career, a REALLY big one. Other spouses shared theirs throughout the book and believe me, you’ll probably have one too.

√  Understand each other and communicate openly. Successfully marriages, military or not, require love, patience, understanding, and hard work from both parties. Check out my recent blog post for Making Military Love Work. These same things are what make it possible to get through even the worst times, like trying to resolve conflicts while you’re away from your honey.

√  Finally, allow growth as individuals and as a couple. “One of my favorite and most vivid memories of our wedding ceremony was when we raised two lit candles that represented each one of us and used those candles to light the flame of a bigger candle. That symbolizes one of the ways we have made love work for the past 21 years. We have been committed to nurturing who we are as individuals and who we are as a couple.”

2.  What is the most difficult part of being a military spouse and how do you deal with it?

 

I don’t think there is one most difficult thing to deal with, but there are some specific situations that will present challenges. They are: separation and deployment; understanding the structure and tradition of the military; navigating the social landscape; frequent relocation (which leads to other challenges like establishing and maintaining a career or moving our children from school to school, for example).

However, regardless of the challenges that come or when they come, there are some strategies for dealing with them.

√  Make important decisions as a couple. (pgs 17-21)

√  Build support systems around you rather than going it alone. (pgs 277-285)

√  Know where to find help instead trying to learn everything about everything (the whole darn book!)

√  When the challenges arise, make a plan and address them immediately.

3. What are we really entitled to when it comes to PCS entitlements? I get so many conflicting stories for stateside and overseas.  People say there are certain things that you can get but if you don’t know to ask then they won’t offer.

While I am certainly not the expert on moving entitlements, I would consider myself an expert on moving since I moved about 6 times in the first 14 years. Chapter five discusses the ins and outs of mastering the military move. My general tips would be:

√  Understand the big picture by sitting down with someone in the housing office to learn about the entitlements and to help you compare the different kinds of moves available to you.

√  Get a list of moving terms and what they mean, to include the types of allowances available. Start with the charts on pages. 143, 156 and refer to the Guide to Military Acronyms in the appendix to get a sampling. But remember, entitlements and allowances will vary based on so many situations, so anyone who insists they have THE answer, is misleading you. Every move is likely to be different and the information is constantly updated.

√  Once you determine the type of move you will do, hone in on exactly what process, paperwork, and help is needed. A little planning and preparation will go a long way to getting close to everything you deserve, but a lot of attention to details and follow-up will get you even closer. Check out the invaluable advice about

  • Deciding to live on- or off-post (pg. 139)
  • Planning your move (pg. 141)
  • Watching your [moving] weight (pgs. 141-144 and 150-151)
  • Protecting your belongings (pgs. 149-150)

 

4. What is the “correct” attire for balls?

The short answer: Think: prom wear and then adjust based on the locality.

The longer explanation follows. Most invitations for any military event will have the attire noted in the bottom right-hand corner. You can avoid the stress of preparing for it and of embarrassing moments by using the guidelines listed on pg. 133. For example, it notes

Semiformal indicates service dress for the military member. Non-military men would wear a dark suit and tie and women would wear an evening gown with heels or flats.

Formal means military personnel wear service dress uniform or a military tuxedo. Civilian men wear tuxedos and women wear evening gowns with comfortable heels or flats.

However, please know that this can vary based on where you are in the world. Some places are very formal and others are more relaxed. It is always a good idea to check around with people whose advice you trust.

5. Do you recommend joining the FRG especially when moving to a new post?

 

Yes. The Family Readiness Group is a critical tool for commanders to communicate with family members about important information, especially during the deployment cycle. Also, it is a great way to meet new people and learn about the local area when you arrive at a new post. Even Guard and Reserve Family members have Virtual FRG since they don’t live on an installation.

However, like any other group, there can be complications simply because it is made up of people, for example cliquish environments or more drama than you are willing to bear. And if that is the case, avoid getting involved beyond the important stuff. Whatever you do, don’t make assumptions that they are all the same.  Some FRG thrive, provide great social outlets and meet the intent of providing critical information and help. Some don’t, and it really is just that simple.

6. My husband would like for me and our children to find a place to live and settle there instead of continuing to move especially since he’s close to retirement. Any suggestions on how to handle a prolonged long-distance marriage?

 

First, let me say that I personally think this is very feasible! And, in some ways this can be easier than separation due to training or deployment because the stress of knowing your honey is in danger can be ‘a bear”. I believe that both parties need to be 100% onboard with the idea.

Come up with all the challenges this could bring, big and small, and discuss how you will address them. For example, how often is feasible and acceptable for getting the family together (the more often, the better, but understanding that depends upon how far apart you live).

Then, ask other couples who are doing the same. I know for a fact that this strategy has really grown in the past few years.  Create a list of questions to ask different people and use the responses to create a situation that works for your family instead of replicating someone else’s.

Also, leverage technology. Email, cell phones, Skype, FaceTime, FaceBook, and other countless tools can keep you completely connected. Pages 239-241 in the chapter that discusses Parenting in the Military Lifestyle has great tips for keeping the family connected during deployment and they can certainly apply in this situation, too.

Finally, there will be some things you won’t think of and they will catch you off guard, but so what, that’s what military life has been about all along, right? You can do it and do it well.

7. What is one piece of advice you would give to a new military wife?

Well, I have two pieces of advice…

First, pay attention to all the wonderful things military life has to offer instead of dwelling on the difficulties that are bound to come along. I am not saying you have to ignore the difficult things, just approach them with a positive attitude, as a team, and knowing where to get help if you need it. Every single experience I have had has made me who I am today. Good or bad, all experiences help us grow. In fact, as has become a pretty common mantra among military spouses these days, I would say: Bloom where you are planted!

Then, let’s do this together! You can reach me through my Work-Life Diva blog (please subscribe), Twitter: @PamelaMMcBride, Facebook: WorkingItMilitaryLifeStyle, or email pamela@pamelamcbride.net and together, we can become the Work-Life Divas we were meant to be!

Both of my books, The Mocha Manual to Military Life and Work It, Girl (a guide for professional success) are available on Amazon.com. And, don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on my Virtual Book Tour.

Here Today….. Y’all Know The Rest

Time flies when you’re having fun…. Truer words have never been spoken. The hubs came home on 3/16 and now he’s gone again, this time to Ft. Leonard Wood for more training. It seems as if time was dragging while he was gone, but once he got home the days zipped by at lightning speed.  Unfortunately, this separation will be much longer than the first, because he won’t be home until early August.  Luckily The Girl and The Boy are at my mom’s for the week so I don’t have to deal with the issues that come from missing daddy just yet.  I think The Girl will be easier to deal with because she is old enough to have some sort of understanding but The Boy is going to be a different story all together.  He turned two right before The Hubs came home so with that birthday seemed to come more awareness of his surroundings. For him it was an out of sight out of mind type of situation, but now that he’s seen his dad I don’t know how that is going to work when he gets home this weekend and daddy isn’t there.

Well there’s no time for moping and complaining! Summer’s around the corner I guess I need to start planning some fun activities for the kiddos to keep their minds off daddy not being home.  I probably should also start being a bit more hardcore with my workouts just in case we hit the beach AND so I’ll have enough energy to keep up with those two!

 

You’re In The Army Now…Sorta… My Life As An Army Wife (Part 2)

Thank God that year of deployment passed quickly and shortly after his return we were married. Our little family was complete. Getting married was the easy part. The hard part was getting acclimated to my new role as an Army Wife and mom. We were stationed at Ft. Stewart in Hinesville, GA home of the 3rd Infantry Division. We did not live on post so subsequently I didn’t know many other wives. That first year I was pretty much oblivious to the military life although I was a part of it.

We bought our first house, moved in, and I got to try my hand at decorating. It was an exciting time. Soon we were celebrating our one year anniversary and the very next day he went back to Iraq. Driving away from the post was heartbreaking. I remember calling my mom and sobbing “He just left.” She talked to me for a few minutes and calmed me down and I slowly drove home.
The girl child was 18 months old when he deployed for the 3rd time and every bit of a daddy’s girl. Initially I was able to answer her question of where’s daddy with daddy’s working, but soon even her young mind began to grasp that daddy had a very different job.

I kept myself busy by participating in activities with my Sorors and attending meetings in Statesboro once a month. Luckily my mom and in-laws were only two hours away so if things got too hectic they were only a short drive and we could go home as often as we liked. My mom and mother-in-law definitely helped get us through that 15 month separation.
Life went on while the Hubs was gone. I started a new job and graduate school. I tried my best to keep the girl child and myself busy. Unfortunately, while he was gone I lost my grandmother. We tried to request emergency leave for him through the Red Cross, but since she was my grandmother and not considered a close relation he was not allowed to come home to attend the funeral with me. My maternal grandmother passed away when I was 15 so losing my dad’s mother hit me hard. I wasn’t able to grieve long because I had a daughter to look after and a household to manage so like always life went on.

The hardest part of this deployment for me was people telling me how grateful they were for my husband’s service and how brave they thought I was! Me and brave in the same sentence. That was certainly not something I was used to be called. I didn’t feel brave either. More often than not I felt very afraid and helpless, but if I haven’t learned anything else from my husband I learned how to suck it up and move forward.

The hubs came home for 18 days of R&R and it was pure bliss. The girl and I were so happy to have those few weeks with him, but again it was torture seeing him go. The rest of his deployment passed quickly. We frequently called and chatted via the computer so it wasn’t as difficult this time around. Before I knew it he was coming home! At the end of May 2008 he returned.

Just when we thought that the Hubs coming home was the best thing happening to us we found out (36 days after his return) that we were expecting! Talk about a pleasant surprise! True to form though, things were anything but normal. While deployed he was promoted to E6 which meant he was now an NCO which brought forth more responsibilities and sometimes longer hours. If that wasn’t enough we were on orders to PCS in December so there was much to be done in a short amount of time!
Luckily we were only moving to Columbia, SC so it wasn’t terribly far but trying to coordinate a move while pregnant was definitely interesting to say the least!