Not all women marry into the military — some enlist in it. Across the country, brave women answer the call of duty and make the choice to serve our country. It is safe to say that some aspects of their commitment were expected, such as physical challenges and a demanding lifestyle. What they may not have expected was that they would find a husband.
The Milspouses Who Served series takes a look at women who have made the selfless decision to serve. We honor their bravery, sacrifices and choices to support our nation both in uniform and on the homefront.
I Was a Sailor
Nicole Midkiff served in the Navy for four years as a Cryptologic Technical Interpretive — Hebrew. “Essentially I worked in intel as a translator. It’s not nearly as interesting as it sounds, trust me,” she laughs.
Nicole was stationed at a new command in Georgia and was invited to a barbecue to meet her new colleagues. She overheard others raving about a guy named Ben who had just returned from a tour in Iraq. Fresh out of a relationship, Nicole recalls, “When he walked in, I thought, ‘Yep, that’s him, that’s the guy.’ I knew I was going to marry him. He still doesn’t believe me that it could have been like that, but it really was.” She laughs that Ben’s reaction was a quiet thought of “Huh, nothing’s wrong with her!”
The two flirted all night and once the beer ran out, Ben asked if Nicole wanted a White Russian. She called the drink a “Caucasian,” playfully referencing the film “The Big Lebowski.” Unbeknownst to Nicole and as chance may have it, it was one of Ben’s favorite films. “That was the moment he realized he liked me,” recalls Nicole.
After a whirlwind courtship, the two moved in together. “Everyone thought we were a flash in the pan because we were so intense so quickly, but that was eight years ago and we’ve never taken a break. The only separation we’ve gone through has been due to the military,” Nicole explains.
The entire time she was with Ben, Nicole was on shore duty. He spent the first two years on sea duty and deployed after they’d been together for about four months. The couple made the most of their time together by doing PT and running together.
Although Ben was passionate about his work, Nicole felt unfulfilled and depressed. The military was never a good fit, and her work environment was abusive. “One of the biggest problems was that there was no mobility. Once you got to your job, that’s where you were. They didn’t have a way to advance. It was a very stagnant time in my life.”
She decided to apply for early separation and attend school. When it was time for her next weigh in, she was 1% over. Nicole made a choice, “I didn’t fight it. I didn’t gain weight to get out, I’ve always struggled with being overweight. I knew I wasn’t going to reenlist, and it just got me out a year earlier.”
After leaving the Navy, Nicole enrolled in school. She explains, “I knew I wanted to own my own business, and in order to do that, I needed to get some sort of a degree in small business management or accounting.”
Once in school, Nicole grew frustrated with young students lacking accountability or responsibility. “In response to that, I actually started my school’s Student Veteran’s Association, just to get to meet other non-traditional and more mature students,” she shares.
Life as a Milspouse
Nicole’s greatest hurdle was establishing an identity outside of Sailor. “I wasn’t working, I was just a student and a housewife now, I wasn’t really contributing to our household financially. I’d had a job since I was fifteen and suddenly I was unemployed.”
She further articulates the impact on her relationship, “Redefining my marriage was another issue because of this. I had to figure out how to feel like I was an equal partner while not working, but still not feel like everything in the house was only my responsibility. It took a little while. I’d say it was at least a year to feel comfortable using “his” money for myself, or even to look at his money as our money.” She believes this change forced effective marital communication, which was a positive outcome.
Nicole has a certain understanding of military life. She accepts the challenging schedule, frequent deployments and the sudden changes with little notice. She also understands that her husband doesn’t want to spend extra hours at work, but sometimes he simply has to. “He wants to be a good Chief, which means taking care of Sailors 24/7. When my husband gets those calls in the middle of the night, or when we’re at the park with our son, I can take a step back and put myself in the Sailors’ shoes. Sometimes I find myself getting frustrated, but I think it’s easier to really see it from the Sailors’ perspective than it would be if I’d never served.”
She also reminds that some work topics are simply off limits. Nicole explains, “These things are, by and large, not that interesting. Seriously. If you ask your spouse about their day and they just can’t tell you, try really hard to think of it as something boring that wouldn’t really interest you anyway.”
Nicole recommends that spouses utilize available resources. “I’m much more familiar with those resources and have a better understanding of the fact that I can and should ask for help when I need it. I feel comfortable dealing with military people, so that’s one less barrier for me.” She recommends that spouses volunteer and get involved with the command, FRG, and spouses clubs. Nicole makes sure the command always has her updated contact information, and signs up for e-newsletters and similar communications.
Although Nicole is happy she served, she is even more happy to be out. Today she spends time with her two-year-old son Jonathan, knits, reads, writes short stories, sews, and enjoys running and lifting weights. Nicole just graduated and landed an accounting job, which will mark new and exciting changes for her family.
She closes with this thought, “It’s very important to be the stability in your family’s life when your spouse deploys a lot. I think that being prior service helps me maintain that stability, and that focus.”
I thank Nicole for sharing her journey and for her service to our country.
A self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children. Follow her on Twitter.
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