To be perfectly honest, the military lifestyle is a confusing mess. Even those of us who married into it have a hard time making heads or tails of it, so we don’t expect you to have it all figured out either. However, there are a few important things we REALLY want you to know.
1. No, my housing isn’t free.
Because of the way the military pay structure works, a lot of people are under the misconception that our housing is free. But that is definitely not the case, as nice as it would be! A military paycheck is like a pie that has been sliced into a bunch of different size pieces, and the army labels each piece of the pie with what they recommend we use it for. One slice is labeled for food, one is labeled for clothing, one is labeled for housing, etc. If we live in military housing, the housing slice of each paycheck is automatically deducted at the beginning of every month. If we live in civilian housing, we receive the full paycheck then pay our rent/mortgage from there just like you would. The only real difference between a military paycheck and a civilian one is that when we move (which is often) the housing portion of the pie increases or decreases depending on the cost of living at the new base. People stationed in Hawaii will have a larger housing amount than people stationed in Kentucky, because housing in Honolulu is obviously much more expensive than a small town in middle-America. By adjusting the housing portion of the pay, the military ensures each family maintains the same standard of living from base to base. This also makes it so soldiers of the same rank are able to pocket about the same each month, regardless of where they are stationed. Otherwise soldiers would find themselves at a huge financial advantage or disadvantage every couple of years.
2. We don’t get much (any) say in where we move.
It doesn’t matter the job, or the rank, or where we already were, or who we know. We don’t get much say at all in where we go. Sometimes HRC (Human Resources Command) will send out a list with some available assignments and ask the soldier to select rank the choices. But the soldiers that actually get what they select are few and far between. Soldiers can try getting BNRs (by name requests) from senior ranking officers at specific bases, but even those requests don’t always make a difference. Hence why we are in western Louisiana, and not living it up on the Emerald Coast. There are a million flaming hoops we can jump through to try and get what we want, but at the end of the day the army is going to send us where the army wants us. And if the army wants us to be where we want to be, it’s nothing more than a coincidence. So please don’t ask me over and over to move to a specific place, because I have zero say. Please don’t ask when or where we are going to move, because we probably won’t find out until a few weeks before we need to be there. And please, for the love of all that is good, don’t get upset or offended if we don’t end up where you want us.
3. Please don’t make me travel even more.
This is very near and dear to my heart, because for five straight years we have lived over a thousand miles away from our family and friends. Going home to visit is a time consuming and expensive trip that typically uses every second of my vacation time. The last thing I want to do after driving 22 hours is drive another hour to your house. Then drive another hour to see a different person. Then a half hour to someone else. See where I am going with this? If I have already driven 1,452 miles to see you, in comparison it doesn’t seem like much for you to drive a 20-30 miles to see me. If you don’t value our friendship enough to make the short trip, then that’s fine. But don’t ask me to go out of my way to see you when I am clearly at the bottom of your list of priorities.
4. You don’t know exactly what I am going through.
This is in no way meant to invalidate your life experiences, merely to point out that they are different from mine. So please don’t say that what we are going through is exactly the same. Moving is always hard, so feel free to vent to me all day and all night about it. It sucks! But usually when civilians move, it’s because they want to. Because you got a new job, or want a larger house, or want to be closer to (or further from) family. I move because I have no other choice. It is always difficult being away from your spouse, so I will totally lend a listening ear when you need to vent that your husbands 4 day business trip was extended to a week. But please realize that experience is not the same as when my spouse is deployed for 9 months in a Middle Eastern combat zone, I only get to communicate with him once a month, one of his soldiers was shot, and the deployment will probably be extended to a full year. It’s a totally different can of worms. I am not at all saying you can’t talk to me about your life, or that you can’t try to relate to me. I love you, care about you, and appreciate you empathizing with me. But please don’t act like moving down the street is the same thing as moving to Korea, or that a week-long business trip is the same thing as a year long combat tour.
5. Don’t tell me I knew what I “signed up for.”
There is no faster way to lose the friendship of a military spouse than saying “you knew what you signed up for.” Yes, I was aware my spouse would probably deploy. Yes, I was aware we would move often. But knowing these things would happen doesn’t somehow make it easy or enjoyable, and it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to be upset when things are tough. You knew before you got married that husbands and wives have disagreements and sometimes finances get tight. How would you feel if I told you not to complain because you knew what you signed up for? Or you knew before taking a job that someday layoffs might happen. And because you knew that was a possibility, you’re not allowed to be upset if you lose your job. Raising kids is no easy task, but don’t you dare vent to me when the kids get sick or you’re unable to travel because of their school schedule, or when your teenagers are sassing you. Because you knew what you signed up for. Make sense? Don’t act like my struggles are less valid than yours because mine are different. If you genuinely believe I don’t have the right to experience emotions the same way you do, then you’re not someone I want in my life.