If you met me a decade ago, you might have laughed. You see, I was “that” spouse. I was clueless about everything military and this whole life.
As in not one honest idea about the wild ride I was about to begin.
I’m not from a military family. And I didn’t grow up anywhere near a military base or community. To me, military action was in the history books. Even after the start of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was mostly theoretical.
Until I met my now-husband. Then I was dropped head first into the deep end of military life.
Right after we got married (for the second time because military), he left for a year. When I say right after, there was a little lull in the operational tempo. It was just long enough for me to find a few friends, move on-post and adopt our pup.
Then he left and I was alone on the West Coast, thousands of miles from everything and everyone I had ever known.
Let’s just say the first few months of deployment were a hot mess and leave it at that.
Until I connected with some seasoned spouses in my FRG. They showed me the light and a way to thrive in the military community.
Every New MilSpouse Needs a Seasoned Mentor and Here’s Why
That first year as a military spouse was transformative for me. Really, the credit goes to the seasoned spouses who took me under their wings and helped me limp through.
You see, I was drowning in a sea of self-pity, only held afloat with cartons of ice cream and tubs of cookie dough. Not pretty or productive. I also had no idea what I needed to do to survive, alone, in this strange new world.
A few neighbors down the street came knocking one day and dragged me out of my house by the strings of my three-day-old sweatpants.
We went to lunch and they told me their war stories. Giving birth, alone and in a foreign country. PCSing while heavily pregnant. Remembering the days before reliable internet connections, when a satellite phone and snail mail was as good as it got.
Having more experienced spouses tell me everything helped my own situation to not seem so bleak. I wasn’t pregnant or planning to acquire children during this deployment. I had the freedom to explore and get comfy being an adult all on my own. albeit with incredible support systems.
They were also good for fresh baked cookies and showing me how to make other spouses feel welcome in our community. My mom friends were there for me with comfort and compassion when I needed it most. Plus, they would let me snuggle their sweet babies. I’m sure having a quick break while I stepped into child duty was a blessing for them, too.
The first time I ever walked into the commissary checkout line I about fainted. I saw the signs about tipping baggers and I’m sure some looks swept across my face.
“Bagger? What’s a bagger? And I TIP them? How much? Oh no…I don’t have any cash.”
Luckily, someone from my FRG happened to be just ahead of me in line. I’m sure she chuckled a little watching my face go from confusion to curiosity to abject horror that I was about to break a military rule. She circled back around after she went through her line and walked me through the process. She might have even slipped me a few ones for the tip.
Over that first year and first duty station, I called and emailed my friend more times that I can remember. I asked every question under the sun, from ball gowns to salutes to what to call the military members of the FRG committee. She had answers for everything. And she was always right.
Having a pro to turn to has saved me from some embarrassing slipups. I might have started to salute someone once before I saw her furious gestures. Then I oh-so-smoothly patted my hair and greeted the person like a normal non-military human.
At our first duty station, we happened to live on post in a neighborhood quite close to the top brass.
Picture it: me, flushed and frustrated, cursing the moving box as I slide it across the garage floor. The dog is losing his mind in the backyard. Suddenly, my husband snaps to attention.
I look around but there’s only a sweet looking lady on a bike cruising our way.
“I just stopped by to say hello and welcome,” she says.
My husband nearly trips over himself to ma’am her and pass his regards to her husband…who happens to be one of the biggest big dogs in the entire service.
Here’s the thing: she was normal and kind and sweet. This amazing lady, who I’m hoping doesn’t remember the sweating and swearing me from 10 years ago, showed me class and grace under fire over and over again. She was always calm, cool and collected.
I learned what it meant to be a seasoned spouse from watching how she interacted with all of us newer spouses.
Mentors Made Me a Better MilSpouse
Without these amazing seasoned military spouses to observe and learn from, my first few years would have been so much messier. I made plenty of mistakes, and still commit some goofs each day.
But I learned ways to live the military life that made things easier. I understood how to fold new neighbors into our community because of how my mom friends treated me. I saw a way to guide another spouse to a solution from the pro who showed me the path. Watching a milspouse icon be sweet and kind, no matter what rank her spouse wore, showed me that we are all just trying our best to get by. And that when I have pull, I need to use it for the common good.
Now, a decade on and hopefully ten years wiser, I think I’m finally almost at the point where I know what I’m doing in this military life. I certainly wouldn’t be the (mostly) calm, cool and collected person I am today without my seasoned spouse mentors!
How has connecting with a seasoned spouse mentor helped you on the military journey? Shout out your mentors in the comments and tag them when you share this post!
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