Today I want to tell you about all the things I loved about our time as a military family. Some of these will more specifically apply to being stationed overseas because that’s where we spent most of our time. I should also add that all these opinions are solely my own. I didn’t even tell my veteran husband I was writing this or show it to him beforehand. Also, I do not claim at all to speak for any other veteran or spouse. If you know one though, I’m sure they’d like to really tell you how they feel about things if you let them!
- The Travel – yep, this part really is great! We weren’t in long enough to get stationed tons of places, but were lucky enough to get stationed in Europe, which was an excellent jumping off place to experience so many wonderful things. It was truly a pleasure to be able to go to France or Switzerland or the Czech Republic over a 4 day weekend. Since I was pregnant or nursing for 3 out of the 4 years we were there, sometimes our travel was a bit limited, but we still got to see and do amazing things. Back stateside, we only lived on two different posts, but we also got to see different parts of our country than we would have otherwise. The moving can be quite a hassle, but the diversity of experiences you get just living in different areas of the country and the world are invaluable. The food could probably be its own thing, but I’ll just put it up here with travel. Eating gelato in Italy, spaetzle in Germany, a Sacher Torte in Vienna, Austria – heavenly. I could go on and on, but I won’t.
- Diversity – I alluded to this above, but I really treasure the time we spent in the military life because of the diversity it brought to my life. I met people from all over the US and the world. I had friends of different races and ethnicities. I hung out with low ranking people and high ranking people (easier as a spouse than as an active duty service member). I knew interracial couples. I went to churches that were of different denominations than what I had grown up with. I currently live in Northern Virginia, which is actually fairly diverse, but still somehow generally only hang out with people who look like me. When you’re in the military overseas, it’s much harder to stay in that bubble. It widened my view of the world in many ways and I’m grateful.
- The Commissary – OMG. I miss the Commissary. That is all.
- AFN – The Armed Forces Network (AFN) holds a dear spot in my heart. The silly commercials, the reruns, all of it just kinda makes me smile. We would get shows months after they first aired (no idea what it’s like now – with so many streaming options, what does AFN even do??). I remember American Idol was just becoming a thing and they had to start putting a banner on the bottom telling people not to call in. This cracked me up because the winner was all over all the tabloids and magazines on the racks at the PX and Commissary, but still people got so wrapped up in the show, they wanted to vote! The radio station was great too, especially overseas. You just sometimes get so desperate to hear English (we lived off post and I spent a fair amount of time hearing/speaking German), that it was wonderful to have an American radio station. This was another spot where diversity was evident. In what other situation would the same radio station play Top 40 music, Rush Limbaugh, All Things Considered, and the Tom Joyner Morning Show??? All on the same day!
- New Skills – I was reminded today of one of the many things I perfected during our time overseas with the military – parallel parking!! Driving overseas is an adventure. Driving an American minivan in a downtown European city and then parking it is a level up. I got pretty good at it. Other things we got down – navigating in countries where we didn’t speak the language, being ok with being somewhat lost, ordering from a menu with only an educated guess at what you might be ordering. We also just learned a lot about being flexible and rolling with the punches. I had my two oldest daughters in Germany at a military hospital. I had zero control over who my doctor was going to be and didn’t actually meet her until we got checked in. With my second, I saw a German doctor the entire pregnancy and then went to the US hospital to deliver. There just weren’t any other choices, so we did what we had to do! Since my husband was so often in the field or deployed, I did my fair share of exploring on my own as well. It gave me such a sense of accomplishment to navigate myself around an unknown part of the city and have a little adventure with just myself and my kids or a friend. I love having those experiences under my belt. I remind myself of them often when things now head a way I didn’t expect. Experiential learning at its best.
- The people – Seriously, this is saving the best for last. Hands down, the best part of our time in the military is the people we met. Military families are just the best. With all the moving around most of them do, they’ve figured out how to skip all the nonsense and just get right down to the business of making and being friends. I had conversations with women the first or second time we met about struggles with infertility, depression, marriage troubles, kid troubles – you name it! There are women I’ve known for years here in civilian life who I couldn’t even tell you which sports team they root for much less anything more personal. They’ll drop everything to help you. When we first moved to Germany, we didn’t have a car. We found a church we wanted to try out, called the number, and a member of the church not only drove us to church that weekend, but drove us around to an apartment to check out before taking us back to the hotel. We got and gave rides to the airport (an hour away). We cheered on friends’ kids at sports events when we didn’t even have children. People in my husband’s units made beautiful baby blankets for our babies even though we had barely even met. Even stateside where the military community is more spread out among the civilian world than overseas, there was an easy camaraderie with people on post. Everyone knows your time is short, so you have to just make the best of it and dig right in. We were in one place for barely 6 months, and yet I would count one of the couples we met there as up there in the top ten of closest friends I’ve ever had.
So, there you go – the things I loved about our time as a military family. I hope you’ll thank a service member or family member today. They walk through our world very differently than the rest of us. Getting to know them better will only serve to enrich your life. Thanks Veterans!! And to all my still currently serving friends – know you’re in my thoughts and prayers often. Keep up the good work; you’re not forgotten.