March marked one year that our family has been with the Army, although I just seem to be processing it now! I blame it on Jay’s stormy period that began around then 😉
So here we are, one year down, at least two to go… maybe 19+ more if we go “all the way.” I have a few thoughts on how it’s been so far, although I expect the second and third years to be quite different as we’ll be with Tyler’s unit (10th Mountain) instead of temporary training units. I’m also reflecting as a spouse instead of a soldier, so keep in mind that some of Tyler’s experiences are pretty different.
Community. We lived off-post in Columbus for a couple months while Tyler was waiting for his security clearance to come through. It was fine… I guess. We made the best of a bad situation since we didn’t qualify for on-post housing yet. You need formal orders to apply for housing so that they know you’re actually stationed at Fort Benning, and Tyler couldn’t get those until he was commissioned/graduated from OCS. In January, after he had graduated and we had the orders in hand, we moved on-post and it has been AMAZING.
We are pretty frequent dog park and pool goers, and almost every time we’re there I’m struck by how friendly and open people are to getting to know you: a perfect stranger. This is coming from the girl that grew up in the Midwest! It’s so easy to strike up a conversation just by saying, “so what are you here for?” since almost everyone stationed at Ft. Benning is here for some sort of training or school. The fact that assignments are generally short-term means that people are willing to make friends quickly. Spouses and significant others have a lot in common with one another because of the crazy, similar training schedules, and I feel like I’ve made more meaningful friends more quickly here than any other time in my (short!!) adult life. Nothing brings people together like the uncommon & the frustrating! 😉
Perks. I was mildly dubious about all the benefits being as good as were touted to us before Tyler signed on, but they are! We’ve had nothing but good experiences with the health care, retirement packages, housing, and countless resources they offer families. Actually, there was one service that fell flat. We tried to meet with a free financial adviser that the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) department provides, but he never got back to us after taking our initial questions and profile. A bummer, but I guess sometimes you do get what you pay for. I know benefits differ a bit across different posts, ranks, and marital statuses, but in my experience, the Army tries pretty hard to provide their people with a high quality of life.
Which brings me to…
Army before EVERYTHING. While “The Army” in general has a lot to offer families, the lifestyle itself isn’t usually very family friendly. I’m unsure as to whether that’s because we’ve only experienced training units and not a permanent duty station or whether that’s truly the nature of the beast. The cadre (people in command) call the shots, and everyone, spouses and kids included, is at the mercy of their decisions. You have a wedding you’d like to attend as a family but your soldier will be in the field until Friday at 10 PM? Sorry, looks like you’ll just have to go without him or fly out on a red-eye. You’re having a baby and your soldier just started OCS? Looks like you’ll have to wait for the next long weekend for your husband to meet your child. To be fair, flexibility has increased as training has gotten more specialized. There was no flexibility in Basic training, a small amount in OCS, and a bit more with IBOLC. But they WILL return your soldier to you at the end of the week sleep-deprived, poison ivy ridden, and with homework to get done for Monday. 8 hour passes during Ranger school are not for families…they’re for the soldiers to do laundry, shop to restock supplies, sleep, and eat. As a family-oriented person with quality time as my love language, this has been really tough for me. I’ve lowered my expectations and learned to make the most of the time we get, but I’m really praying that Fort Drum will lend a bit more in the way of family time.
Sacrifice. Memorial Day was this past Monday and it got me thinking about sacrifice and the forms it takes. There’s the ultimate sacrifice that the service members can give, God rest their souls, and a million different small ways. It was a surprise to me to discover how much we collectively have already been called to give. I accepted that Tyler would be serving our country but didn’t expect our family to have to do so as readily.
There are plenty of nights when I resent this call to give: when I’ve solo-parented for weeks with few breaks, had Tyler yanked away at the last minute from attending a special event with us, celebrated an anniversary or birth without him and any form of communication, cooked another dinner for one, etc. SO much we’ve offered the security & ongoing freedom of the United States. Most days, though, I try to see this not only as supporting my husband’s vocation but also embracing what God is clearly calling me to through this career. It has been the most humbling year of my life. While I am often brought to my knees, I have to think that it is perhaps exactly where I need to be. Life is richer for the struggle, truly.
I am so excited to get through the Ranger school phase so we can get integrated into the community and have a bit more normalcy… as much as you can have with a new baby, that is! While I won’t be sorry to see this training phase go, it has undoubtedly strengthened our young marriage. We will be better for having had it. Hooah.