Friday, February 9, 2007

The Best of Both Worlds

Sometimes I think I have the best of both worlds being a prior active duty/current reserve wife and a civilian wife. Sometimes I think it gives me a well-rounded perspective as I've been on both sides of the fence. Other times I wonder.

Sgt. and I married while he was active duty Marine Corps, but he only had 6 months left and all floats, over seas duty stations, etc. were done with so there was nothing except base life to experience and even that was limited as I was in college and had an apartment so he moved to where I lived, which was about an hour away from base. Even during the time we dated, he never went anywhere other than a few nights in the field. We rarely went to base for anything but our circle of friends was great. A lot of his buddies dated my friends so we were a close knit family. Slowly everyone started to get out, with the exception of a few who chose to go career, and started moving away. No one stayed in our state except for us. It was hard to say good bye but, our circle grew again in our civilian life. While we still hear from some of his buddies that we haven't seen since 1997, I often miss that bond. It's like no other.

In October 2002 Sgt. joined the Navy reserves (with his MOS he would be able to drill closer to home vs. three hours away with the Marine Corps). Everyone thought he was crazy but I didn't. I was proud he wanted to serve again. We had talked about it several times during his IRR period but he finally did it. I tend to have high hopes and grand expectations; I guess, in a sense, I want to see the best in everything. Now, I'm not a Pollyanna who believes in blue skies and picket fences all the time but I do like to give the benefit of the doubt. One of the things I truly try to live by is to go into situations with an open mind and good spirit and I believe I'll come out for the better. Usually I'm right. I had the notion that the reserve wives would be the same as the active duty wives. Let me back up a bit...we live in the town where I graduated high school and the friends we have here are friends from my past that we reincorporated with so he never really had any of "his own" friends here. That being said, I thought it would be a great opportunity for him to meet some guys who shared the same interests, etc. and I would befriend the wives, just like the old days. While we made friends, none were like I was expecting or, I guess I should say, hoping for. Most everyone was prior service and it was all about "my dog is bigger than your dog" they were Navy. We were Marines. I can't tell you the number of times I heard the joke that Marine stand for My Ass Rides In Navy Equipment. It was enough to make it real old, real fast.

On December 16, 2004, Sgt. got the call he was being recalled for active duty service. We initially thought it was a voluntary recall and had "the talk" and he said he needed to go. I said I supported him, call back. He did and 2 months later he left for Iraq. Everyone at his reserve center shook his hand, gave atta-boys and said "Tell the Wife to call us if she needs anything. Anything at all." Normally I wouldn't call anyone for anything, it's just the kind of person I am. The first thing I had to do was get an active duty I.D. card. I called for the appointment, which was set for ONE MONTH OUT. She only does ID cards one day a month from 8:00 - 8:50 a.m. No joke. Once all that was done, Sgt's pay was messed up. Surprise. So, I called the only point of contact I had, his reserve center. After getting nowhere fast, I went up there to talk face to face and was told that I needed to contact the Ombudsman but they couldn't tell me who it was and told me it was up to me to figure it out. (Sgt. was deployed with a unit from a different state.) After crying, I called the base they were training at and just dialed a random number because I didn't know what the right number would be and got someone in the maintenance department who didn't blow me off. He put me on hold and found out who I needed to talk to, gave me name, number, extension and a backup person in case the main contact wasn't available. WOW. So much different than at our reserve center. I would say it's the difference in active duty vs. reserve, and I guess it is to a point. After all, the bitchy PO1 was active duty but was used to dealing with reserve issues from their center and since Sgt. wasn't there anymore, he wasn't her problem, nor was I. I know, it's dragging on. So, we'll fast forward. I stumbled across a wife whose husband just happened to be in the unit Sgt. was assigned to. While she and I were becoming friends, so were they. Amazing. They live 5-1/2 hours from us and the husbands were half a world away. "W" was great. We emailed. We talked. I even went to meet her for my birthday that year so I wouldn't have to be alone. I finally had a wife who was like me. A wife whose husband was proud to serve and who was proud of him. A wife like the friends we had before. But she was so far away. His atta-boy friends magically disappeared shortly after he left. No one called anymore or emailed just to say hi. I did get a sympathy invite to one kid's birthday party and how do I know it was a sympathy invite? The mom told me so. It was sad. The people we ate dinners with on weekends, celebrated holidays with all turned away during what was the most trying times of my life, and Sgt's. So, for the 214 days he was in country, I lived my life as my own with the one wife whose husband was serving with Sgt. and another wife who lived in the northeast, her husband was also Navy but assigned to a terror boat team. Both were women that I needed and longed for in my life. My civilian friends are great but they just don't understand the dynamic of the military and it's not their fault. They just simply haven't experienced it. Sometimes you just gotta have someone on your side who can walk in your shoes, or carry you when you can't walk anymore.

When Sgt. returned home, I set up a dinner for him and sent out invites to his whole reserve center. About 15 came along with a guy who lived a few hours away he worked with in Iraq. Those were the people who gave him a handshake and told him, "job well done." Those who didn't even send an email or call to say hello? Many of them left in January for various deployments. I hope they will understand what their wives will need and I hope they are able to find it. I doubt they will ever think back to me and tell themselves they should have reacted differently. It brought to light those who knew us and those who knew us best...both sides of us. The military side and the civilian side.

I'm the wife who hugs soldiers in the airports when I'm traveling and tell them thank you. I'm the wife who gives the wife at the gym with the bumper sticker that reads, "the other half of my heart is in ____" a smile and lets her know I understand. I'm the wife who boxed up enough care packages and sent off that I should have been on the post office payroll. I'm the wife who rallies for our troops. I'm the wife who sends notes to friends deployed. I'm the wife who still checks in on the hand full of other wives I met during our deployment, who all live at least 5 hours away with the exception of one. I'm the wife I wanted to meet. I'm the wife I wanted to be friends with. I'm the wife I needed for support while Sgt. was gone. I'm also the wife who craves for someone in my life to be like me.

Now Sgt. is with a new unit since the end of last summer. I went to the unit Christmas party and only a handful of people even made eye contact. One is a guy I've blogged about before, the single dad whose wife is a crackhead with custody of his three kids. One was a new grandfather who wanted his 6 week old grandson to smile at BG. One was the Captain. Many of the wives have been through a deployment with them to Iraq and then turned around and then reactivated for a domestic job. None of them spoke. None of them looked at me. None of them acted like they cared a bit.

I care. Maybe I care too much. Support is something I try hard to give because I know what it's like not to get it. I went to a meeting last month and met with a bunch of moms whose kids are deployed. I learned that there is no stronger group of women who supports their kids more than military moms. I'm the only wife in this group but Sgt's mom volunteers for a chapter in her state and there are wives in hers and they have pride and aren't afraid to show it. I guess it's the downside of living in a non-military town (Sgt's mom lives in a military town).

I miss a lot about military life. I miss the bonds, the kinship and the "just knowing" that develops. I like living the civilian life because there are no moves, no major pay issues and I only have to make sure uniforms are clean for one weekend a month and three weeks a year.

Is it really the best of both worlds? Does my experience really give me a well-rounded perspective? I think it does on one level but it also leaves an empty spot in my heart that only milspouses can fill.


HH6 said...

You know, you give a unique perspective of military life from all sides. I was active duty as well, dual military and now I am a military spouse. I think that being former military provided me with that same unique perspective.

I can't imagine what it must be like to be part of a unit that is pulled together with no cohesive support. I think it is a shame that the Military has not done a better job of preparing the families of such units in the same way that they do for Active units. What I do know is that what you do is truely appreciated by those you reach out to, regardless of how others treated you in the past. It sets you aside from others out there, you understand that support comes from many sources, family, friends and strangers.

I am not too far away from joining the ranks of the retired military families (well that is unless my husband changes his mind again, lol) and when that time comes, I believe that although I will be relieved to start that new chapter in our lives that there will be an empty space left in my heart too. One that can only be filled by the kinship provided by those who share the same unique experiences that I have, other military spouses.

Loquita said...

Wow... In my mind it was crappy to be a girlfriend and feel excluded from the organized support group made up of wives. But after reading about your experience with deployment in the reserves, I feel like I need to be better at seeing the positives in my situation.

I'm feeling inspired to call the Key Volunteer's coordinator for the company again and ask if any of the ladies keep in touch through email. I can't really get involved in person since I'm in PA and mostly everyone else in at Camp Lejeune.

This was a really heartfelt post - thanks for sharing.