Military Spouse Appreciation Day is celebrated annually in May as part of National Military Appreciation Month. This holiday serves as a reminder to honor the special ways military spouses serve. Military spouses support Service members and nurture families amid many challenges that come with military life. I had the honor of connecting with military spouse and oncology pharmacist, Julie Anne Waterfield. Julie Anne’s spouse recently retired after 22 years of service in the U.S. Army, and her story is a testament to the sacrifice and commitment of military spouses.
When I connected with Julie Anne, I was curious to know if there were any words or themes that she would use to describe her years of experience as a military spouse. I was hopeful that her personal reflection could provide insight into the meaningful contributions of a military spouse. The words/themes that resonated with her were rewarding, difficult, and unpredictable.
- “Rewarding: The Army has given us the gift of travel, adventure, and making friends from all over the globe. I have gained the ability to adapt to almost any situation and find normalcy in chaotic/unfamiliar situations or places. I can’t say I’ve handled it all gracefully, but I can say each difficult experience matured me and molded me into a much more adaptable version of myself than I was before.”
- “Difficult: The gift of travel I mentioned is not always a gift. The needs of the Army can often take you and/or your spouse away from family, into stressful or dangerous situations, and away from a support system.”
- “Unpredictable: Don’t ever try to make plans! (Kidding/not kidding). You just never know what kind of news or orders your spouse is going to deliver upon walking through your door at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s great news, and sometimes it’s not.”
These themes emphasize the challenges many military spouses endure, as well as the strengths they gain from their service. It is always important to have a strong support system to help you through difficult times, particularly when the military is an integral part of your life. Julie Anne reiterated the importance of building a support system within the military community.
- “Having a spouse that is deployed or on temporary duty (TDY) for a large portion of your time at a duty station can be tough – especially if you’re stationed far from family. To overcome this, you just have to make your military family your new support system. Making friends with neighbors and connecting with other spouses will make or break your experiences.”
Another avenue for building your support system is by making connections to those with whom you work. However, if you are a professional in a specialized field that requires extensive training, it may be difficult finding a job at each of your new permanent change of stations (PCS). Therefore, you may have to put a pause on your career goals to accommodate your military life. Julie Anne’s experience reflects that of many military spouses in professions with higher educational degree requirements.
- “For me, in a profession that requires state licensure, I found it difficult to further my career as much as I would have liked, given the time constraints of a job search and licensing requirements/ testing versus the short time at a duty station (usually 2 years or less in our experience). I wish it had been easier for spouses with specialized careers to find jobs on post.”
As Julie Anne alluded, life doesn’t always go as planned, and spouses may be required to take on many new roles and responsibilities to support their families. What does this look like? Well, it could require them to not work in their desired field, or not work at all, and, possibly, become the sole caretaker of their children due to their spouse’s deployment. Because of this, Julie Anne points out the need for others to provide non-judgmental support and understanding to military spouses.
- “There is no training to be a military spouse. The military members receive training to deal with the various stresses of military life. The spouses, however, are just winging it. Also, people may not know the reason a lot of military spouses don’t work. They may be providing childcare or may not have the time or resources to f ind a fitting job or further themselves professionally during the short time they are stationed somewhere before it is time to PCS again.”
Military life can be tough, but like Julie Anne mentioned before, it is rewarding. Sometimes you just have to find the right helpful tips to continue pushing forward. Julie Anne wanted to share a few useful tips for fellow military spouses that have helped her out. They include practical travel advice and words of encouragement. We hope you can utilize and benefit from the practical advice she offers below:
- “American Express Platinum fees are waived for military members.”
- “Alaska Airlines flies dogs the cheapest.”
- “Delta Airlines gives free bottles of vodka to moms flying solo with kids while their husbands are overseas.”
- “Try to enjoy and find the good in each stage of your spouse’s career, even the hard stuff. Bloom where you are planted. One day you’ll miss it.”
Military REACH would like to give a special thanks to Julie Anne and the Waterf ield family for their service to our country and willingness to share.