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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.