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.

 

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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.

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!

Stay Tuned…….

I am extremely excited to announce on Saturday April 9th I will be posting a Q&A session with author and 21+ year military spouse Pamela McBride. Pamela is the author of The Mocha Manual to Military Life which is a must have for any military spouse, girlfriend, or new female service member. Pamela will be sharing her vast knowledge about navigating through the maze that is military life.

BIO:

Pamela McBride, the creator of The Work-Life Diva Blog (http://pamelamcbride.net/blog)  and author of Work It, Girl! (http://pamelamcbride.net/workitgirl.htm)

and The Mocha Manual to Military Life, (http://pamelamcbride.net/mochamanual.htm) is passionate about coaching people to use their talents, skills, and abilities to get what they want. With more than 20 years experience as a career and personal development expert and a military family life expert, this 21+ year military wife knows the difference between working and working it.  She provides timely advice and a fresh approach to every audience, every time, and on many topics, including: self-assessment, career planning, job search techniques, networking & interview coaching, resume & cover letter writing, and workplace effectiveness.

Pamela shares her insight and advice through personal coaching, nationwide guest speaking engagements, seminars, extensive freelance writing online and in print, and television and radio appearances. She has written extensively for Operation Homefront Online, Essence Magazine, The Black Collegian, Upscale, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps Times and has several other advice columns. She is the owner of P.M. McBride Enterpises, LLC and the Military Spouse Job Search Expert at for Job-Hunt.org.

Although Pamela doesn’t consider herself a social media maven, she interacts with her readers, event participants, and clients, through Twitter (@PamelaMMcBride), on her Facebook Work It Girl Fan Page (http://www.facebook.com/workitgril) and her Working It Military Life Style Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/WorkingItMilitaryLifeStyle)  Pamela’s website is at www.pamelamcbride.net

No One Told Me it Would Be Easy….. My Life As An Army Wife (Part 1)

My grandfather served in World War II, my uncle in Vietnam, and my cousin in Operation Desert Storm. Despite having more than a few family members in the armed forces nothing prepared me for dating and marrying a soldier. Being in a relationship with a member of the military is unique and presents its own set of challenges in addition to those experienced by a “civilian” couple.

Just a few short weeks after my honey and I officially became a couple he was deployed for the first time to Iraq. He was there for 2 months before the war began. I spent every waking moment either worrying or writing him letters. At that time I was in school and I had difficulty concentrating because I was so focused on what he was doing. At this time phone calls and emails were few and far between. I carried my cell phone with me at all times I even slept with it so I wouldn’t miss him. I recall there was a period right after the war started that he didn’t call and my nerves were frazzled. I am normally looking for the positive side in every situation, but for some reason I was extremely tense and waiting to hear some sort of bad news. I prayed every night he would be okay, but I had no idea what to expect.

I didn’t know any other women dating a man in the military so there was no one who I could really talk to that understood my situation. It was difficult dealing with the questions from friends, especially when I had no answers. I was obsessed with watching CNN. I think that year I watched CNN more than I’ve ever watched it in my life. After a number of sleepless nights and waiting till the last minute to finish school work I gave myself a little pep talk that basically amounted to me telling myself to snap out of it. The only thing that kept me sane was writing those letters and sending care packages. Imagining his reaction to his gifts and hoping that he knew how much I loved him gave me so much hope.

I thought once he came home that would be the end of all of my anxiety; however I had no idea what dealing with a soldier after war would entail. Let’s just say the next year was an emotional rollercoaster. I had no idea what to say or do to help him and honestly because I wasn’t there I couldn’t begin to relate to his experience besides he didn’t share it with me either. By the time we got our footing and seemed to be on the right track I was 4 weeks pregnant and he was getting ready to deploy again!

He still makes me blush

My husband is not the most emotionally expressive person by any means. I would definitely describe him as a man of action, so when he takes the time to express his feelings I feel doubly blessed. Today he simply stated how much he appreciates me and I swear I felt as if I was lifted 2o feet into the air. I could not stop smiling! Such simple words but they meant so much!

Our 5 year wedding anniversary is fast approaching and I want to do something special to show him how much I appreciate him as well. I have a few things in mind but I want this gift/gesture to be unique especially since 2 days before our anniversary he’ll become an officer which is a dream come true. What can I give him that says I love you, I’m proud of you and most importantly you are my hero????