The Naked Truth: Katie’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Employment Stories - Katie's Story

Katie is a pilot’s wife and former athletic trainer, who now calls herself a “married single mom.” Although she believes her role as a mom is important, she acknowledges that losing the professional part of herself has been a painful sacrifice. The following excerpt is from my interview with Katie in Germany.

I lived, breathed, and ate athletic training. My goal was to try to get the athletes as healthy as possible and keep them healthy. It was a high school setting, yet they were my kids. I took them underneath my wing and just made sure that they were okay. So it was neat. If my kids got hurt, I was hurt. It was rewarding to know the athletes could step on the field and know that they are sound.

I knew I was marrying into the Air Force. So I knew what I was kind of getting into. And he knew my job schedule. Because if it was cross country season I’d get up at 5:00 in the morning, be at school at 5:30 and I’d come home at 7:30 or 8:00pm depending on if basketball or football was going on. So I had long days as well. We kind of knew he had long days and I had long days. So it kind of meshed, it worked.

And that’s when September 11th happened and I was like, “Okay, my job is not as important as my husband.”

For three days I couldn’t get in touch with him. Finally he got a hold of me and told me to meet him at the house that weekend and we would pack. And then he would be gone.

At that time, while I was working at (the high school), the principal’s husband was prior military. So she sat down and talked to me a little bit about what it meant to be a military spouse. She said it’s a hard life and there are lots of sacrifices on the spouse. I kind of knew that, but I thought it wouldn’t be that hard because I had my own life. I still have my job, all the teams I take care of. I was like, “Okay I can do this.

I thought it would be pretty easy, which it kind of was, until you have a child. When we got to Charleston, I thought, “As soon as she is born I’ll get her into a school, a preschool, or some kind of daycare, and then I’ll go back to work.” But because of what happened September 11th, he was gone 2 weeks and then home for maybe 1 or 2 days crew rest, and then he’d turn around and go again for 2 weeks. So there was never an opportunity for me to put my feet back into that world. But you know I maintained my credentials. I maintained the CEU’s and I still have a passion for it.

My career got put on the backside.

I went up to the athletic training room there at Centenary College. And I would help out. I would volunteer but I didn’t get paid for it. It was so weird because I’ve never just sat. I’m always constantly going and then all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh, it’s too quiet. I need to go do something.” So that’s when I would just go up and volunteer at the school. I did that for a couple of months, and then my husband was picked up for pilot training.

He said, “I’m going to become a pilot and I’m going to be gone. But you know you can still work.” I thought I would always get back in it because it’s a passion. I know there’s a few women who do it. My sister works and her husband works, but he comes home at night. He’s there on the weekends. We don’t always have that luxury.  With his unpredictable schedule it’s hard for me to work. It’s a challenge, and I haven’t gotten back into it.

My mom stayed home with us. And it was like, “What do you do mom? You stay home and take care of us. That’s not a big job.” But now that I’m a mom I look back and go, “Wow that was a huge job she did for us and a sacrifice as well.” Now I’m looking at my daughter and I’m like, “Oh, you think your mom is a slacker because she doesn’t work as well.” She doesn’t quite get it but she does get to some extent that moms do work.

It’s like I’m a married, single mom.

That’s the term I always use. I’m married, but I’m a single mom because he’s always gone. So I have to raise the two kids by myself. At first it was shock, total shock. And then I didn’t want to leave my children. The gears started switching. I didn’t want to go back to work because I didn’t want to leave this baby for somebody else to raise. So that’s when I told my husband I’ll stay home a year and then I’ll get back to work. And then the pace did not stop. It got to be where he was also deploying, so it went from 45 days to 90 days, and then 3 week TDYs. And then he’d come home for 2 or 3 days and then he’d go again. So my priorities are slipping, yet the desire was still there. I was like, “Okay, one day I can still do this.” That’s what I kept telling myself, “One day…” But when is this one day coming? (It feels like) it was a sacrifice, one worth making, but it was a sacrifice.

I lost a part of myself as a person.

Because that’s how I identified myself, that part of me I thought I was supposed to be, and that’s what I worked hard to do. And I do mean blood, sweat and tears. I worked so hard for that. So it is a very painful sacrifice. But then look what I gained. I lost that part of me but I gained two children. Two beautiful healthy children, and I have a wonderful husband. So I’m like, “Okay God, this is good. If this is where you want me, okay. But still can I have a little bit of that?”

My job, my career does not exist. My career is being an Air Force wife.

My career is being that spouse that is behind my husband taking care of the kids on the sideline, and making sure that when he comes home everything is taken care of, and there’s really nothing for him to do, except balance the checkbook. I cannot balance a checkbook to save my life. But I can do everything else. So that’s what my role is now. And it’s one I do not mind. I’m proud of my husband, and I’m proud of the military and what they’re doing. So it’s a small sacrifice that I can do for them.

I thought I was a strong individual, but it has made me stronger. Knowing that I can take care of a house, and all the things that break on it with my husband being gone. I can take care of issues that I never thought I would have to take care of by myself. There’s independence there, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword.

The Naked Truth: Isabelle’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Employment Stories - Isabelle's Story

Isabelle has an established contracting career in the GS system, and is a newly married military spouse. Saying the “grass in not always greener,” she talks about her decision to keep working even though she used to long for the opportunity to stay home when she was a single parent. Although she used the military spouse hiring preference to obtain her current position, she dislikes being seen as a “stopper” and thinks she will get a job “on her own” next time. The following excerpt is from my interview with Isabelle in Germany.

I married my husband right before we moved here. So this is our first duty station together. I met my husband about two weeks after I finished my masters’ degree, and prior to that had no time to date or do anything because I was working on my degree. I was a single parent. I was also doing what I do now. I’m a contract specialist for the government. At that time I was working for a DOD agency. And we met, got engaged very quickly and then he got orders to come here. I was looking for opportunities outside of the organization I was working at because I had finished my masters’ degree and was looking for something else.

So it was very quick. He got his orders in December. I decided in January to go with him. And then we were gone in February. So I didn’t have time to look for a job. And as a matter of fact, I was kind of looking forward to not having a job for a while, because I had not done that. I had my daughter when I was 20 and worked every day since then. And I was thinking, “Oh this is going to be nice to have a break!” So we got here and we went to the newcomers briefing, and Civilian Personnel had a table set up. My husband went over and he was talking to them about what I do. And they said, “Oh we have so many vacancies for that. Are you interested in starting to work?” And I thought, “I know how it is with the government employment process.” I thought, “Yeah okay,” knowing that it would take a while. But I got an offer two days later.

Well, I may have to start a little further back than that. Before I had my daughter, I was going to school to be a psychologist. That’s what I wanted to do and then got pregnant. So I got the first job that I could get that was going to make me any kind of money. And that was in contracting with the government. It was an internship. So time just went by. I got more experience in it, was being looked at as knowing what I was doing, and got promotions and it kept going and going. And I still hadn’t finished my degree. So when I had the time to go back to school, I really had to think did I want to start over entry level in what I wanted to do or keep going with what I was doing. And that was kind of an easy choice because as a single parent you don’t really get to make those decisions based on what you want to do.

So now that I have my masters’ degree, I thought maybe I can move into a different career, something similar, still something with business, not psychology, but maybe something a little bit more me. So I was putting in for jobs across the country, even across the world still thinking it’s just me and my daughter. But then we got married and came over here. I guess I could have not worked or waited to find the perfect job but I don’t think there’s a lot of perfect jobs at my level in the GS system. So I got into contracting again.

If I didn’t accept that job I could not use my military spousal preference again all year, so I took it. It wasn’t necessarily what I would have chosen on my own if I was the one picking where I want to work or what I want to do.

What was it like in those first few weeks before you started working again?

I had the idea of not working because since my daughter was born, I’ve worked full time.

And I thought, “Oh, this is going to be great. I’ll take her to school in the morning and then I’ll come home. I’ll make her snacks and I’ll pick her up from the bus stop.” I was very excited about that stay-at-home mom aspect that I’ve never gotten to do. And then when I started doing that I thought, “This really isn’t for me.” She’d come home and I’d have her cute little snack that I worked all day on and she’d say, “Can I go play over at my friend’s house?” And I’d be like, “Okay, bye.” So it wasn’t what I envisioned it was going to be.

(I thought) that we would spend time together and go for walks and we would bake. Just those things that you want to do with your children when you’re stuck at work and you think, “Oh, if I was at home this is what I’d be doing.” But the reality of it was she was at school all day. My husband was working very long hours and when we first moved here we only had the one car. So he would take the car and I’d be stuck unpacking boxes all day long, no TV, nothing to do, no friends. She’d come home, “Mom, I want to go play with my friends down the street.” And I could have been at work interacting with people. I guess that’s what I thought I was going to be doing at home. Instead of interacting with customers and people, I’d have my family to interact with. But I didn’t even have that.

I think I really realized who I am and who I’m not.

I had eight years wishing that my life was different, that I could stay home. And I think that really helped me realize that the grass isn’t always greener. That’s not who I am. It’s not like you see on TV where you’re in the kitchen with your daughter and you guys are baking and having fun. It’s not that way. So it really helped me to go back to work and not be wishing that I was at home. But that didn’t last long, because when I have bad days at work I think, “Gosh, if I was at home right now…”

Later on, I took an entire summer off because my son was born in the beginning of the summer. And for the first month I was like, “Oh, I want to do this. I don’t want to go back to work.” And then it got to that third month and I was deciding every day whether I should bathe. And my daughter is still wanting to go hang out with her friends. And I love my son, but all day long it’s just me and him, and I thought, “Yeah, this isn’t it. I need more interaction.”

It’s not like I need to be around people all the time, but I need to be around people sometimes. I need to have some adult interaction. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if my husband was not working such late hours or TDY all the time. But I would go three or four days and realize I haven’t spoken to an adult. And I need that on a daily basis. I need to have motivation to get up in the morning and bathe and brush my teeth and have a plan. And I think left to my own devices I would not do those things. If I didn’t have a reason, I would probably sit in my living room and play with my baby all day long, and slowly get fat and not bathe. I need motivation to do something.

I feel for the most part I’m accomplishing things (at work), and I think everyone needs to feel like at the end of the day.

I need to look back and say, “This is what I did today. This is who I helped today.” If I have a day where I think I didn’t do anything or accomplish anything, it’s kind of sad for me. So when I’m working, I feel like at the end of the day I have a story to tell my daughter at the dining room table, something funny to tell my husband. Otherwise you spend the day at home and it’s like, what do you have to talk about? Nothing, I did laundry today. So it’s a sense of accomplishment I guess.

It’s just that long term, if that were my life plan to stay home, I just don’t think I would feel like I accomplished much. Of course I would be raising my children and spending all day with them. And I hate to make it sound like I don’t want to do that. I absolutely enjoy the time that I spend with them. But I think going to work and spending the day not with them, means the time that I do have with them is quality time. Because when I would spend all day with them, it’s kind of like, “Well, we have all day to fit in all the fun stuff we could do.” And now we have three hours. So I make it a point to do what I can do with my daughter in that time or on the weekends. We make sure that we pack it full of fun things so that it’s quality time since we don’t have the quantity of time.

How do you think being a military spouse is going to affect your career in the future?

Well it definitely it changes how I take ownership of my own future and even my current situation.

When you know that you’re short term, that I have three years here, for me it really changes what my goals are while I’m here. When I was on my own, getting a promotion was solely based on me and moving to another place was my decision. And now I kind of feel like those decisions are just kind of out of my control. So of course I strive to do the best that I can do on my job, but I don’t have that extra drive that this matters so much because this will change my career. On my own, I had done very well and people looked to me as being an expert. And then I come here and got hired as a spouse. They don’t even look at your resume. They make sure you’re qualified, and then you hit the list, meaning you’re qualified, and then they have to pick you.

Maybe it’s not this way everywhere, but I’ve heard from other spouses that are in the GS system that it’s typical. You come into work and you’re given the lowest duties no matter what your capabilities are because the expectation is

“She’s just a spouse. She’s a stopper. She stopped me from getting the person I really wanted.”

I’m not knocking the effort, because it is great that they make an effort to put a program in place to hire spouses. But knowing my experience here where I came in and had this experience, had this level of appreciation, and was really looked at as an expert in my last place, and then coming here and people don’t ask you a single question about your expertise. They just give you the smallest duty that they could possibly give you so that you won’t mess it up. It didn’t take very long for them to realize I know what I’m doing. But I feel like now every time I move, this is something that I have to prove.

Every time I’ll just have to prove myself and that is really going to impact my ability to promote.

When I came here, I had been a GS-11 for quite awhile in my old agency, and was being looked at for promotions. But I came here as a military spouse preference, GS-11. If I leave here as a GS-11 I’ll get stuck as a GS-11 somewhere else and have to prove myself. By the time I do, it’ll be time to move again, stuck as a GS-11 again. My mom was a spouse and my dad was in the military. She retired as a GS-7 because they moved sometimes every year during his career. And I never understood why it was so hard for her. A lot of times she just didn’t even want to work because she had to start fresh every time. And I get it now. I get it. But now I realize I have to take more ownership of my career. And that’s why I started looking external to my squadron. And hopefully when we move this time we’ll have more notice and I can start putting in for jobs that won’t even know that I’m a spouse. I’ll just have to try to get a job on my own. Honestly, I probably won’t use the spousal preference program again.

I think I’m at a level where I could get a job on my own. It wouldn’t be as easy. It certainly wouldn’t take two days to get an offer. It would take longer. But I would prefer for somebody to hire me looking at my resume and knowing what I’m capable of than to get hired faster just because of the spousal program. I do think that it’s great for entry level spouses because that’s how you’re treated anyway, as an entry level person that doesn’t know anything.

I guess I have a little bit of bitterness because I feel like I’ve already proven myself. I can stand on my own. And now it’s not me. It’s Sergeant X’s wife. That’s who I am now, even in my own career. And that’s so weird to me.

Yes, it’s just weird to me. It’s not a bad thing. I’m very involved in all the spouses’ groups. The second day we were here, I went to a spouse’s meeting and it was the same thing. “What does your husband do?” was the first question. “Who’s your husband?” Not, “What do you do?”

I’m not knocking it, you know. I’m very proud of my husband but it seems like military spouses, at least the one’s I’ve encountered, tie their identity very close to what their husband does, and who he is. But that’s not me. And it certainly doesn’t reflect where I’m at in my career.

(Being a spouse has) really made me question things that I thought I knew about myself, just what my values were.

I always just did put my interests first, my career first. And I’m very surprised at how easy it is not to do those things. People say all the time it’s weird that I’m following him around rather than him following my career, because I’m further into my career. My career is still important, just not as important as I always thought it was. And I know that one of the reasons my career was important was because I needed to keep making money to support my daughter. And it’s not so necessary now that I’m not living on one income.

I think I’ve realized that I’m more flexible than I thought I was. I have always been very much a planner. And now since so much is out of my control, I think a lot of that has been forced upon me, and you just can’t plan. How do you plan when you don’t know? Based on my personality, I thought that I would have had a harder time letting go of that control of my career, my life, my plans. And it’s just been really easy to just give that up.

It feels like a burden has been lifted off of me that I don’t have to make all the decisions. Now I can trust that some things are just going to happen whether you plan for them or not.

The Naked Truth: Heather’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges - Heather's Story

Heather recently achieved her life-long dream of finishing nursing school and becoming a nurse, but can’t find paid work in Germany. She is proud of overcoming the hardship of starting out as a teen mom, but is now frustrated that she isn’t able to work. She wonders if going back to school was a waste of time. The following are excerpts from my interview with Heather, which is not her real name.

I was in the Air Force. I was actually a single mom. I got pregnant at 16, had a baby at 17. And in order for me to join the Air Force I had to give temporary custody to my mom, because you cannot join the Air Force and be a single parent. So I gave temporary custody to my mom with the hopes him coming back with me once I finished tech school. I felt that the Air Force was going to better myself career-wise. I had gotten my certified nursing assistant license and I was a general receptionist for a couple years. I just kind felt like I was going nowhere with my career, so I decided the Air Force was probably the best for me. Plus I needed some discipline, so I joined the Air Force. Then I met my husband, and we knew the chances of us probably getting assigned (together weren’t good). And then it was just too crazy switching the custody back over with my first-born. At that point, I knew (my husband) and I were going to get married, and I just felt that the best interest was for me to get out and not let any of the whole custodial stuff take control. So that’s what I did.

(Being in the Air Force) was definitely a self-esteem booster at the time. But at the same time, I was separated from my son. It was always “service before self,” and I was like, “I’m sorry, but I’m not putting service before my kid.” That is what it kind of came down to. So I was using the Air Force as a stepping stone to further my career. I always knew I wanted to go into the nursing field, but being a single mom and trying to do it was just difficult. I felt like it definitely gave me the self-confidence that I needed though.

I don’t know if it was the discipline. I mean, my dad was retired military with 24 years in the Air Force, and so I was already used to the ways of the military. It just made me feel a little more at home. When I was in high school,that was the longest I had ever lived anywhere because all my life we moved every four or five years. So maybe it just made me feel a little more comfortable and relaxed because it was more structured.

Tell me what happened after you got out of the Air Force and got married.

Actually, I was pregnant and I still knew I wanted to be in the medical field. I always had that desire. So I started looking for work and I found a job at a radiology department in Washington, D.C. I did medical assisting there all the way through my pregnancy. And then, our oldest was five at the time. My husband was only a senior airman, and we lived in D.C. It wasn’t a good area of town, so we were paying for one to go to private school so he wouldn’t go to the horrible schools in D.C. So I was kind of iffy if I wanted to go back to work at that point, but I decided money-wise it wasn’t going be worth it for daycare and private school. I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom anyway so it was like, “You know what? I can put my career on hold and do what I gotta do.” So I never went back to work then at the radiology department after I had my baby.

It was hard at first because I had always been independent.

I mean at the age of 16 I always paid my own car payment, paid my own insurance. I got a job right at 15-1/2, as soon as I could in Virginia. So it was kind of hard for the first time to have somebody pay my bills. You know what I mean? And my husband would be like, “Look, you’re going to have to understand we’re married now and what’s mine is yours and vice versa.” It just was the best thing financially for us. And emotionally I felt good because I’ve always been the independent one, and for once somebody was taking care of me.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but my husband had his career, and was working on getting his Bachelor’s degree. I’m like, “Gosh, if anything were to happen and we would not be together, I don’t really have any skills.” I felt like he was getting his education but I was the one staying home, just with mommy skills. So I think probably right after we were in Okinawa, I said, “Okay, I’ve got to do something with my education. I gotta go back to school.” I don’t want to say it’s a jealousy thing, but maybe I’m envious. You’re envious of their career.

So I started doing my pre-recs for nursing in Okinawa. And that felt good. That was like, “Woo hoo! I’m doing something for me finally.”

I got to do this, and then in Florida I finished the rest of my pre-recs and got accepted into a nursing program there. But the thing you’re worried about the whole time is, “Okay, I hope we don’t get orders, hope we don’t get orders.” And then, before I even finished, this assignment came open in March and my husband was like, “Should we put in for it? It’s my dream job.” We wanted to go back to Germany. He was stationed in Germany before we had met.

I was like, “Well, am I going to be able to get a job?” That was my top priority. I worked my butt off for this. I want to be able to work. And I actually called Landstuhl from the states and inquired and they were like, “Well, it might be tough. You might have to volunteer first, but try to get as much experience there.” So we put in for the assignment with the hopes that we would get it and I just kind of left it in God’s hands and figured if it was meant to be, we would get it. If it wasn’t meant to be then we would stay there until we got another assignment. And then we found out just two weeks later.

So then I graduated and it was like, “Okay, well we don’t leave till September what do I do in the meantime?” So I ended up taking a job and not telling them we were PCS’ing because number one, I needed the experience, and number two, I didn’t know if we were going to get the clearance for our son because of his past medical history. So I figured I’ll take the job because our orders could get canceled.  I had a job at a hospital in Tampa. I was very excited about it. As soon as we definitely got the orders and got the A-Okay, I just let them know and they were fine.

Having that job, that was good. That was the first time I had a paycheck in 10 years.

It had been 10 years since I had worked. I mean, I know that his money is our money but it was like my first paycheck. So it was good. It was definitely rewarding, and ever since I can remember I knew I always wanted to be a nurse. So I was like, “Okay, this is a real thing.”

Now I’m volunteering on the mother-baby unit (in Germany), and it took months to get on there. It just kind of stinks. You have this dream all your life and something you want to do, and we were finally at the location we want to be, and I can’t get a job.

You’re giving all this education and experience for free, but there’s only so long you want to do it (because) you’re not getting paid. I just remember one of the Colonels coming in and saying, “This hospital wouldn’t run without our volunteers, and they save us a hundred and something million a year.” That’s great and all, but they’re in desperate need. They need more nurses to come forward but they don’t have the positions. They don’t have the funding to do it. They would just continue to take volunteers. Somebody said to me the other day, “Well why do you even volunteer? That’s just less of a chance for you to get a job when they’re getting all this free work.” Well, I need the experience. I need the continuing education. So I guess it’s double-sided.

What is it that you want to get out of working? Why is it important to you?

I think self-gratification. It just makes you feel better as a person. You feel like you’ve done your share to help someone else out. I feel bad for my husband too because he makes those little comments like, “I wish I could stay home.” I’m like, “No you don’t! I wish I could work. I’ll trade spots with you. I’ll go in and you stay home for the day.” I want to be able to contribute even though we share everything. I want to be able to have extra money. I want to be able to have a savings account. I want to be able to not live paycheck to paycheck, which is what we’ve done for ten-plus years. And that’s a big thing. And of course, you’re in Europe. You want to be able to travel and go places and do stuff. It’s the chance of a lifetime here. Oh my gosh, I wish I had a job!
I may have to go back to just being a receptionist somewhere. You go to school for all these years to try to finally get your degree, and then it’s like, well there are jobs at the CDC. You feel like you’re almost taking a step down, but what do you do?

It definitely makes me feel like crap, having something and not being able to use it.

You work hard for something and then it just kind of sits there and collects dust, which is what I feel like my education is doing. It’s funny because I remember when I was at orientation, I met a couple girls that said, “If I can’t get a job here I’m just going back to the states and then I’m just going to come see my husband every couple months.” And I’m like, “I’m sorry, but that’s not happening.” Where the Air Force sends my husband is where he sends all of us. We’re going together as a family, and that’s what you have to do. You have to make do and it’s his career. I’m following him around and trying to just kind of fit in where I can.

It stinks. I told my husband joking, “Okay when you retire in the next couple years, you’re going to follow me. I’m going to take jobs all over the United States and you’re going to have to follow me and find a job wherever.” He jokes and says he’ll be a stay-at-home dad.

He’s definitely good and he’s been very supportive. But, yeah, who knows? I’m sure I will be the sole breadwinner in the beginning, once he retires, because he’s still working on his education. I have to give him the little kick in the butt to get this done. And he’s kind of undecided. He’s like, “I’m not like you. I wasn’t five years old and knew I wanted to be a nurse. I’m almost 40 and I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”

How has this experience in Germany impacted you?

It definitely is a blow to your self-esteem once again because you start getting proficient in something and you have confidence, but you can’t do what you set out to do. It definitely makes you feel horrible. (Heather is crying.) You want to do something better with yourself. All my life I’ve always not wanted to be labeled as the teen mom who’s not going to amount to anything. I’ve finally gotten over this huge label and then you really can’t do anything with it. So maybe I shouldn’t even have went to school. Maybe it was just a waste.

The Naked Truth: Grace’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges - Grace's Story

Grace is a stay at home mom who says being overseas with the military gave her the freedom not to work without having to justify her decision to her family or anyone else. At the same time, with an MBA and successful corporate career in her past, she still believes it’s important for her to be a professional role model for her daughters. The following are excerpts from my interview with Grace, which is not her real name.

When we got married, my husband had just been accepted to medical school. So he did medical school through the military. So really there was a great benefit because we had an income during medical school. But I wasn’t a real military spouse until after his medical school. And after medical school our first assignment was at Beale Air Force Base.

My first impression of the military was, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

We arrived at Beale Air Force Base, and it’s brown and empty. And I’m like, “What have we done? Oh my God. I can’t believe we’re doing this.” There’s nothing here, and I’m a city girl. I’m going to shoot myself here. But, quickly I met some wonderful Air Force wives. One in particular shaped my experience as an Air Force spouse. She had met my husband the first day there, and she called me on the phone and said, “You have never met me. You don’t know who I am. But I met your husband during startup. Do you guys want to go to dinner?” And I was amazed. I was flabbergasted. I was like, “I can’t believe this. Who is this nut who is inviting me out to dinner? I mean how cool, but this is insane.” And it turns out that we’ve been friends ever since.

So we got friends right away, which was really nice. And then the rest of the time I worked like crazy. (Working for Hewlett Packard) was my first job after my MBA. I was earning more money. And I said, “Well, I can do this.” I proved to myself that I can be successful. And I had a cubicle mate who worked close to me. He was retired military. And he came over to me and said, “I can’t believe you’re in the military.” I said, “Why?” He says, “I have never met a military spouse like you.” And I said, “Really?” “Yes, I’ve never met an officer’s wife like you.””Well, what do you mean?” “Well, officer’s wives don’t work. They don’t have careers. They don’t do what you’re doing.”  I’m like, “Oh, well, I’m different.”

I felt mixed (about that), because at that time I’d never really been a military spouse. I mean I never really lived on base. I never shopped on base. I never went to military functions. I didn’t have military friends except for that lady who called me up and other physicians’ spouses, who were working, too. So, sometimes I kind of felt proud because I’m like, “Yeah, I’m not what outsiders think of as a military spouse, some lady who stays at home and is fat and wears an ‘I love the Navy’ t-shirt.” So I felt good at that time of not being the typical military spouse. But I kind of felt that (what my co-worker said) was kind of an unfair shot, you know, stereotyping officer’s wives. Because I knew plenty of officer’s wives that weren’t snobby or stuck up.

I was but I wasn’t a military spouse because I didn’t do anything with the military.

I rarely went to base. I guess I must have gone three times a year to the base to visit my husband at the hospital. Where other military wives would take them lunch or take them dinner. But I commuted so long that I would get home at 7:00 during the week, and there’s just no way that I could go all the way to his office. A lot of the wives helped their husbands with the out-processing. And I just couldn’t…there’s just no way. And my husband at one point said, “These other wives are helping them do this and this.” And I said to him, “You know what, if HP was moving me to Europe, would you come and do my paperwork at my job?” He’s like, “No.” I said, “So why am I going to go and do your paperwork at your job?” But there is an expectation that was there.

“Tell me what happened when you moved to Italy.”

My husband and I love to travel. And that was one of the reasons that we wanted to go overseas, so we were very excited. And really, work was a secondary thought. Then my boss said, “Okay, just take the job with you.” So it wasn’t really much of a thought.

Initially it was fine. And I didn’t know I was pregnant yet, so that wasn’t really a consideration. It was just, “Oh, cool. I can work during the day, and then we can travel during the weekends and things like that.” So it was quite comforting to be able to take the work with me. You know pack up my boxes, and they paid for everything, which was really nice. HP sent everything out of my office to my new home. But that was stressful taking my job with me because in Italy, it’s like going from 100 miles an hour down to 10 miles an hour. And you’ve got an internet hook up, but no data going through. Since I work in finance you just can’t send those kind of files over the Internet. So yeah, I was kind of frustrated.

It was really difficult, you know. The electricity, for example, you couldn’t have three things going at the same time. You couldn’t have the dryer going with the computer going with the oven going. All your breakers would pop. So you can’t multi-task. And, you know, working in the States is multi-tasking, severely multi-tasking. So I just couldn’t multitask, and that was very frustrating. Getting used to that and going to Italian speed, that was hard actually.

I do have to say my boss was very disappointed (when I quit), because he bent over backwards to get me set up and help the military out and to continue my job. When I sent everything back it was an expense for the company, and it was disappointing for him because it just didn’t work out. And so I did feel guilty because you’re breaking some kind of trust, you know. But in the end you’re like, “Okay, I’m in Italy now. Have fun.” And I found out I was pregnant, so it was going to work out. And working on base never even really seriously crossed my mind because I didn’t feel at that time that there would be anything available that I would want to do on base, at a level I would want to work at.

I really don’t regret stopping working.

It was my choice. So it was actually kind of liberating, because I don’t have any pressure to keep on working and put my kids in daycare. I don’t have to justify that to anybody. And in the States, there’s a lot of working moms who look down on stay at home moms. I didn’t feel I had to justify that to anybody and that was really nice.

I know maybe this sounds strange but it’s easier to justify not working (overseas).

There’s really the mentality in the United States, or at least in San Diego, that everybody works. And there are very few stay at home moms. At least I didn’t know any really. So, I didn’t have to justify it to my mother. I didn’t have to justify it to the rest of my family and tell them why I wasn’t working, why I wasn’t sticking my kids in daycare. And would I have felt strongly enough or guilty enough to go back to work even if I didn’t want to? I don’t know. That’s not a question I ever had to face. I might have. But then I went to Japan. And then we went to Ramstein.

And it’s only until now, where my kids are bigger, that I’m thinking, “What am I going to do now?” I’ve decided I’m not going to go back to corporate America because I would minimally be gone 7am to 7pm. So I’m going to do something else. I’m going to do a third career. I haven’t decided quite yet. I’m looking into teaching. But I’m not sold on it yet, so I’m still thinking what I should do.

“What would you get out of going back to work?”

I think feeling good about myself, a little bit more, again. Also being a role model for my girls. Having a mom who works is good as a role model. But I just have to be careful. I want to balance. I don’t want to just go back to work to earn money. I want to go back to do something that I will like.

Sometimes staying at home is boring, you know? Housework is just absolutely boring. You know housework and doing the same routine things, and then driving kids around as a taxi service all the time. At the end of the day you say, “Oh my God, I have done absolutely nothing today.” Though if you’re with me I’m always in the car. I’m always doing something. I’m always doing something else, but I feel at the end of the day like I’ve done nothing.

And making your own money is always nice. When I stopped working I was very clear with my husband. I said, “I’m not going to be working, but the minute that you make me feel bad about not earning money that is the day I will go back to work and put your kids in daycare.” So since then he’s like, “No problem.” And he is 100% behind what I’m doing. So that has never been an issue. And I always say, “My money is my money and your money is my money.” That’s always been our motto in our life. And he’s been really cool and supportive about it.

I think just getting out of the house would be nice, spending time for myself with other people who are not children, and talk about different things. That would be really nice. Maybe it’s nostalgic. Perhaps, I don’t know. Maybe when I get to work I’ll be like, “I don’t want to talk to any of you guys. I want to go home with my family.”

“You mentioned wanting to be a role model for your girls…”

Well, I think it stems from the fact my mom has always worked. She has a PhD and a couple of Masters, and I think she associates a lot of value to education and that status. So if I’m not working, some of that role modeling isn’t there for the kids. If they choose not to work that’s fine. But I want them to have that role model of going to the university and not feeling bad about being a corporate person if they want to do it, or a doctor or a whatever, and have that as something normal. Not thinking like, “I should stay at home or be a mom or not go to school because I just want to stay home.” I think it’s really important to be able to choose, because I see a lot of wives that have children before they finish their education. They’re kind of stuck and they don’t have education.

So I want to make sure that (my daughters) are prepared for that. I think that seeing your mom work or study is a good thing, because it’s a good pattern. It’s good role modeling. And just seeing me cook and clean and shuttle kids back and forth at this age, it’s not something that I want them to do and not have the opportunity to do anything else.

Well, I have to say I do feel now like a real “military wife” because of not working and being in the military.

I do feel like our family right now is a military family. So, you look back at the comment that my co-worker made, and it fits me. I don’t work. Hopefully I’m not stuck up, but I don’t work.

 

The Naked Truth: Roberta’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges - Roberta's Story

Roberta was a midwife for 10 years when she married her Air Force husband. Unable to work in Germany, she is enjoying a break but also feeling “irrelevant.” She has been surprised that other spouses don’t ask about her career, and that her friends and family back home expected her to stop working. As a new military spouse, she is just beginning to make sense of her situation. The following are excerpts from my interview with Roberta, which is not her real name.

It was definitely fulfilling to do birth and patient care, and be with women and families. But the hours were definitely long and (I was) up a lot of nights. I think I spent more time complaining about how tired I was than enjoying the job. But I can honestly say looking back on it now that I enjoyed being a midwife. And I liked the family and birth parts of it. I felt like midwifery is a profession, not just an occupation. It’s something I studied a long time for, and at the 10-year mark I felt like I was finally doing it, and feeling like a professional midwife.

It felt like I was making a difference.

I was using my (Masters in Nursing) degree. I was finally at a point where half my loans were paid off. So I wasn’t struggling to just pay for my education, but rather feeling like I was also making a good salary, and just feeling like I was an accomplished single person. And then I was thinking about how to apply that further, education-wise and so forth.

I’m a very goal-oriented person, and how I feel about myself as a person is wrapped up in the accomplishments that I have made through school and work.

So when (my husband and I) met I definitely felt like my job was very important. If I were to put it on a linear scale, I would say it was probably an 8 or a 9 out of 10, you know, because it just sort of defined me. And like I said, with midwifery people see you as that profession, instead of just your job.

I saw it as a stepping-stone to the next thing, however. I want to continue to do birth throughout my life. But I definitely saw it as a jumping off point to the next thing, whether that was going to school or doing something else in healthcare. That was going to be sort of the ground work and then from there it would be the jumping off point. So I felt good about it. I felt very strong in my role. I felt like it was a good lead up to the next big jump, the career change (to) health policy, public health. I’m actually starting a program in the fall for my Masters in Public Health to be more of a policy analyst and seeing the big picture instead of just doing clinical care. Although I still want to do clinical care.

(At first), I think I was very excited about getting married and the process of us being together and moving. So that excitement I think overshadowed my ability to think through it. So I don’t think I had a concept of what it was really going to be like, to have to leave a job and say goodbye to people you’ve been working with for a long time. I can remember doing my last birth and being like, “I don’t know if I’m going to do this again. You know, this may never happen again. I don’t know.” And I think I was really sad when I had that moment, that realization.

I think I just wanted to continue to have that important role. It’s one of the most important events in people’s lives, and I get to be right there, doing it. I get to be a helper in the process of it and it’s really amazing. It can be a magical experience, a very spiritual experience, it’s just a strong life defining experience. I get to, even on my worst days, have this amazing experience. So, yeah, it was sad.

It felt like giving up something I really worked for.

I don’t think I fully understood it, and then I had to start thinking, “Okay, where is my next job going to come from?” (Then) it occurred to me that my possibilities in that field would be limited. Because I’m limited to whatever military hospital we are near, if you are near one that has midwives. So, when that occurred to me, it was like, “Oh, you know, I think I’ll be okay, and this will be rough but I think I can still do this.” It wasn’t until getting to Germany that I realized that it’s quite a competitive process. It’s one hospital with three midwives. You know, they need a person or they don’t. I think that was sort of a humbling experience. Because until that point I had pretty much gotten every job I had applied for. I wouldn’t say things have been easy. It’s always been hard work, but suddenly I was in a position where, it just felt like you’re not really that needed.

So here was my sort of naïve thought. I thought I would take a month off in September, and then in October I would start looking, sending out résumés, getting online and going through the process, making contacts and finding other people that worked at the hospital, that sort of thing. So that’s what I did, and it immediately began to be a very hard job hunt. And then it’s sort of weird, once you realize also how it’s sort of a blessing to also be able to not have to work. To be presented with this opportunity to do other things, whether it’s school or travel or have a baby or those sorts of things. Once I realized that it was an amazing opportunity, after a few months I stopped being so stressed about it. I just sort of accepted that it’s going to be hard to find a job, that I would keep looking but I wouldn’t be so stressed about it. So it’s been five or six months. (There’s) all this stuff I could have been doing and enjoying, (but) in the back of my mind I’m constantly thinking “I need a job right now, I need to pay my student loans, I need to do this…”

I felt sort of stressed. I felt like other people at home didn’t really understand, because they’re like “Well, yeah, you moved to Germany and now you’re following (your husband) around the world. Isn’t this what you thought it was going to be?” Their idea of what they thought I should be thinking was totally different than what I was thinking. And then it occurred to me, “Wow, they totally got it.” They knew that I will leave my job and now I’m with my husband and basically I’m on his career path. I didn’t get that until people were reflecting this back to me. I was like, “Oh, okay.” It just felt like they weren’t quite understanding my need to feel relevant. I wanted to feel like my job was still important, that my goals were still important, and I could do it. I could have this life as a military spouse but simultaneously have my career. Which I still think is possible. I just think it means changing certain concepts around in my head.

It was actually shocking to me when I first got here. And this sounds terrible, because it makes it sound like I always need to be validated, or I need to have people ask about my job, which is not how I feel. But, I did immediately notice (when) meeting with other spouses, people always asking “What does your husband do? What does your husband fly?” Never, “What do you do?” And that’s okay, but is it because the assumption is I don’t have (a job)? Or is the assumption because I don’t want to (work) or I’m not supposed to (work)? I don’t know.

I just felt sad. It just felt like I wasn’t important, like I just didn’t matter.

Like I said before, I don’t think it’s all bad, because I think it’s an amazing opportunity to find other things you’re interested in, a jumping off point for education. Had I not done this, I probably would not be in a Master’s program in the fall. And hopefully, when we leave here I’ll be prepared for the next career move, if it’s in the States or wherever we go. So I wouldn’t have had that, had I not quit my job. So it can go either way.

I don’t know if I can really pinpoint exactly what it was that made me have a change in mindset. I realized there were other things I could do. I just recently started (dog walking). It’s funny, my dad makes fun of me. I have a Master’s degree and I’m doing dog walking for people. I just decided to do other things with my time and also to feel like I’m contributing to the household. My husband doesn’t have a problem with me not working, and we’re fine on income and there’s no issue there. But I feel like I want to contribute to our household, or to paying my student loans, or whatever it is.

I feel like my self-esteem is such that I don’t feel like lesser of a person. I don’t feel any depression about myself as a person. But I definitely feel a little bit lost, like there’s no set structure to the day. I think I understand now what people say when they go into retirement, “Oh I really looked forward to it.” And then you get to it and you’re a little isolated. I don’t feel lesser of a person, but I definitely am experiencing emotions that I didn’t have before when I had a job and a structured life.

So that lends to a feeling of a little bit of laziness. I think the more you isolate yourself the more you tend to want to isolate. So if I’m having a day where I feel blah, I think I’m more inclined then to curl up and watch a movie on Lifetime. Also feeling sort of like a child that’s been locked in the house all day. And then your spouse comes home and has a completely different emotion, which is “I just got off of work and I want to sit here and do what you have been doing all day long.” So it’s just sort of this up and down rollercoaster of emotion. Mostly I think for me it’s coming from lack of structure, really wanting to contribute to our household and contribute to the world, and be relevant. I think as a person, you find other ways to do that. So for instance, volunteering at a hospital, I’ll be starting in a couple of months in that role. I never thought I’d do midwifery for free, but at least (I’d be) doing that same job. The salary I’ve found is not as important. I mean it would be nice, like I said, to contribute to our household, but I need to be doing what I’ve been trained to do, what my vocation is. To keep my brain stimulated and have a structure, and so I’ll be doing that and going to school. So you find other ways to feel like you’re continuing on the path you’re supposed to be on.

The way I see it, it will probably be a rough seven or eight years if I am working as a midwife, because I’ll be a new person wherever it is that we go to…You never get to gain a sense of seniority in one place.

I think you have to be flexible.

You have to take what you get and mold it to what your goals are, and be able to bend them a little bit…So to me it means flexibility. It also means you have to be motivated too. Which sometimes, given you’re circumstances in life, may not be easy. You can sort of think ahead, about having a baby, and that becomes your priority, and then you might be less motivated to find this job that’s already incredibly hard to find. So, yeah, it means being flexible, motivated, finding other opportunities. If it’s not something that’s exactly what you want, to look for something similar and being open to those opportunities that hopefully can lead to something good.

Yeah, like I said, I don’t feel less about myself. I just feel like I’m sort of floating out there, not really doing a whole lot. What’s the right word I’m looking for? Lazy comes to mind, but lazy is something you can control. This is something that’s sort of out of your control, so I guess I’m not exactly sure what the word would be for that. I just feel irrelevant in the professional world, not irrelevant in my life or other people’s lives, or anything like that. Just professionally. Like, I don’t really matter that much. This is my first experience. I’m only nine or ten months into it, so I’m sure that that could change as the years go by. But it is what you make of it too.

The Naked Truth: Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges – Nicole’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges - Nicole's Story

Nicole has been a federal employee for 13 years, currently on leave without pay. She has steadily climbed the ladder, to the point where she began to turn down management jobs that were too stressful for her and her family. She’s enjoying a break in Germany, but is also at loose ends wondering if she can continue to advance while being a military spouse. The following are excerpts from our interview. In order to protect her identity Nicole is not her real name

I was an investigator with the federal government. So, I’d already been a federal employee for almost five years when we met. I loved it and enjoyed it. I was really thankful to have the job and my husband was very supportive. When we got our orders to go to Alaska I was a little apprehensive because right away I knew we didn’t have a field office in Alaska. So I started thinking, “Okay, am I going to have a job?”

Then of course when we got to Alaska, I thought, “Oh wow, just our luck, right?” But that turned out to be a really great career experience and professional growth for me, which is what facilitated my promotion down to Monterey. I went to our agency and said “Hey, look. We’re moving up there. I know you guys send TDY support.” I did a “points paper” explaining and justifying why we needed a field office up there. And with management support they allowed that. We moved up there and I opened up the field office.

I felt like okay great, I’m making a difference. I was really contributing to the overall mission DOD-wide because of the nature of what we do. And so, yes, it was great. I loved it. And sad to go, but then I got a promotion (with the move to Monterey).

I will say though that being a spouse, you make a lot of sacrifices.

I feel that you make a lot of sacrifices because my husband didn’t have a lot of flexibility with his job (in Alaska). Both our sons were born up there, and he was definitely able to help with dropping off and picking up at daycare. But I realized how much his career came first because he didn’t have the flexibility being active duty to say, “Here are my work hours.” The Air Force bottom line is you work when they need you to work, based on mission requirements. And I totally understand that. But thank goodness that I had the flexibility I did. So the thought went through my mind, “What if we were someplace else and I wasn’t able to take off?” That would be another challenge that we would have to address just because he didn’t have the flexibility. And he wasn’t in a position to say, “Well I’m just not going to go to work.” I mean as a squadron commander you just can’t do that.

For me, it’s a tough reality to swallow. It really is. Because that means his job is more important than mine.

And I know that he doesn’t feel that way, but the reality is he’s the one that’s in the Air Force. He’s the one that’s making a career out of it. And we even talked about did I want him to get out and then I would be the breadwinner and he would find a job elsewhere. But I said, “No.” No, I’m comfortable with the way things are. I don’t want to be the sole breadwinner. I’m independent, driven and ambitious, but at the same time I wasn’t ready to say, “Okay, yes. Let’s focus on my career first and then you can get a job that’s based around my career.” I’m also very old fashioned and like to let the man make the money.

(When my kids were born), I did not take a break with the exception of my three months’ maternity leave. And I’ll have to tell you, it was very, very emotional.

With my oldest, I probably cried the first month. I had twelve weeks with him and I thought, “I don’t know if I want to go back to work.” I really surprised myself, because I thought for sure I’d want to go back to work. But I cried that first month dropping him off and picking him up thinking, “Man, I don’t know that this is the right decision.”

But then I realized that I wasn’t really ready to give up my job. And seeing him thrive in that daycare setting, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on any parts of his life. I didn’t work really long hours and I was nursing him, so every day for lunch I went and nursed him. Also, my job was really great with me because I told them I don’t want to travel this first year. They were very accommodating. So that made it hard too, that professional commitment and pride. And I thought, “Okay, they’re willing to work with me so I don’t want to just quit.” And that’s what I felt like I’d be doing is just quitting on my job and my career. And I felt like I had worked hard to get to where I was. I was really enjoying it. So weighing all of that I felt okay. I’m going to move forward and this is going to be fine and, and I did. And it was. But it was tough. I tried to go part-time actually but they said, “No.”

I felt almost guilty putting my work first. And then some of the spouses in the spouses’ group were openly against women working outside of the home. So there was, “Well I wouldn’t leave my son or daughter in daycare.” And that’s what I had to hear. I thought, “God, am I a bad mother for choosing work over my son or for putting him in a daycare?” But no, I wasn’t. It was the right decision. It was a good decision. And I’m happy about that. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it any differently at all. And I don’t feel any less close to him because of that time.

I feel like I’m a better mother because I have a professional outlet. I have something that’s mine.

Emotionally, professionally, I feel very fulfilled. And I think having that outlet helps me to be a better mother.  Now I went from being career professional to being career professional and a wife, then being career professional, wife and mom. And really it’s, mom, wife career professional, in that order. So I’d like to say I put my husband first but I think he and I both put our children first. And emotionally it was at times very challenging to fill all of those roles. Because sometimes I was just drained from work or travel or the boys maybe had a tough day. And then my husband came home and wanted attention as well, and I’m thinking, “I’m just so tired. I really just have no energy left to talk. I just want to go to bed.”

I think the biggest thing is either way my husband supported me.

He’s like, “If you don’t want to go to work anymore and you want to be a stay-at-home mom, you go ahead.” But then at the same time he said “You really want to think about that because knowing the way I know you, you may regret not working.” So knowing I had the option to stay at home or not was wonderful. At the same time he made an effort to get away from work when he could to make dinner or help with the housework. He’s always been very good at that. So that’s been great. And then the times when I went TDY, he was there taking care of the kids and trying to arrange his schedule so that he could do the drop-off and the pick-up, and just doing everything for the couple of days that I was gone. I don’t take that for granted. So that was another example of how he was just supportive.

So then my agency asked, “Would you mind stepping up and being the Acting Field Office Chief just for a temporary period?” Not that I was afraid of the challenge, but there was an hour and a half drive (to the field office).  So I thought, “Okay, I’ll bite the bullet and do this, because who knows where we’re going to move to next.”  I thought this would be another great opportunity.

I felt very confident I could do the job. But logistically it didn’t work.

I didn’t want to have to do that commute every single day. I just didn’t want to do it. I was worn out. I was pretty exhausted physically and emotionally and not feeling good about myself. I had gained weight, sitting in the car, eating whatever. I wasn’t eating healthy. And then I had a lot of time away from my kids. Sometimes I didn’t get home until 7:30 at night. My kids were already going to bed if not already in bed. And I hadn’t seen them in the morning because I was leaving the house at 5:00 to miss traffic. So I said, “No, I can’t do it anymore.”

I knew it was the right decision, but I was very disappointed because I essentially missed out on a really good opportunity to be a Field Office Chief, to be a manager. And during that time, my husband did everything. I would not have been able to do the job for even the four months I did had it not been for his love and support. He was the one that picked up and dropped off the kids, cooked dinner, cleaned house. He did all of that. And that was because at the time, he really had an eight to five job. So, I would not have been able to do that without his support.

(Then we found out we were going to Germany), and I wanted to go overseas. I really did. And quite truthfully I was so burned out from my job it was an easy out for me. I don’t have to make the choice, because there’s no overseas’ office. I want a break. I need a break. Yay! Let’s go.

But, getting back to the emotional side, I think I miss that professional fulfillment now.

I really do. I really miss working with great people. I really miss contributing to a mission. I really miss the challenges and the rewards. And then I have nearly thirteen years vested with the government. So my professional goal at this stage would be to get twenty. I’m on leave without pay, and I do want to continue working for the federal government. Ideally I’d like to stay with my agency. But if that doesn’t come to fruition, I’d better start applying now because the process can take a little while. In July my leave without pay is up, my one year.

Overall it’s been great and it’s been a much-needed break, absolutely. I’m very thankful. I’m very thankful that I didn’t have to work, and that my agency didn’t call me and say “Can you work now?”

Now I’m missing work, now that I feel like we’ve settled into a routine, and I know the boys are going to be in school next year every day. So now I’m focusing more on my job again. And I’m starting to worry about what I am going to do. So that’s kind of where I am now. And some days I’m like, “Well, what’s meant to be will happen.” And other days I’m like, “Man, I can’t believe after all this time and I’m going to have to swallow my pride and apply for a GS 9 or a 7.”

My hope is that I can stay with the federal government and maintain my grade, even a GS 11 or 12 would be fine. My hope is that I can maintain that and work to get my twenty years in. And based on where we are at that point in our life, and how the boys are doing especially, then I’ll determine whether or not I want to keep working or not. So that’s what my hope is, to have a fulfilling job where I can maintain my pay grade, while also being a great mom and making sure that the boys are developmentally and academically where they need to be in their life and are having the opportunities I had when I was that age.

Every day is just kind of an emotional roller coaster because some days I thank God I’m not working.

I really love this break. I really love all my time. I love being able to have lunch with my girlfriends and go to the gym and just be carefree. It’s like woo-hoo! I never had this before. But then other days I’m like, “I don’t want to go to lunch. I’m tired of the gym. I can work out on the weekends. I want to work.” So it’s been emotional that way, yes. And my husband continues to be supportive. He’s like, “Well, if you want to go back to work, great. But if you don’t that’s fine, too.” At the same he’s like, “You’re not going to apply for a GS 9 are you? You’re a GS 13. You don’t need to go back.”

To have a career, not just a job is something that’s very challenging as a military spouse.

There’s what you would like and then there’s here’s what the reality is and what you can get. And a lot of times those two things don’t jive. So, I feel like I’m stuck settling. I’m stuck settling for what’s available versus what I really want.

It’s a tough reality, but it’s certainly one that I expected, because when we met and when we married, I knew that was going to happen. I really did. But knowing it and experiencing it are two different things.

Knowing what I did back then, I would still do it all over again. It’s worth the sacrifice. It really is. It sucks some days, for lack of a better term, but overall I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel like my husband will finish at twenty and then at that point in time I would like to go to a place where my career can soar. And I know he would be supportive of that. So you know what? If I have to put my career on hold right now I will. Now that won’t stop me from trying to move forward. But if it doesn’t work out, then it just doesn’t work out. It’s not meant to be then that’s just the way it is.

The Naked Truth: Dee’s Story

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Career Challenges - Dee's Story

Dee is a recent high school graduate, newly married to her Air Force husband. She feels lucky to have the opportunity to be in Europe and enjoys working at the Exchange so she can keep busy and have people to talk to. Dee is also in school, and would like to be a teacher someday. The following are excerpts from our interview in Germany. I have not used her real name.

We were high school sweethearts and then he decided to enlist in the Air Force. It basically started from there. We graduated in May and he left in June. I went to see him graduate in August where he proposed to me.

Actually the reason why we got married was a personal family situation. In August, I got kicked out of my house by my father and my husband felt bad for me, but it was kind of like a win-win situation. I kind of wanted to get out of there. So when he came home for Christmas break in December we went to the courthouse and got married, but eventually we’re going to have a real wedding. I still have my dress. We got married and he left for Germany in December and then I had to stay back because we had to get the sponsorship paperwork done.

I went to college for two semesters right after high school, summer and fall semester. And then I had to stop to get ready to come here. I had a part-time job at Dollar General for about a month and a half.

When he left it was very stressful for me. I was living with his parents which would be my in-laws. I was living with them when he was in basic training, so it was a really stressful environment because his mom was there and she had all those mixed feelings of a mom.

I also had no idea about the Air Force, and it was just totally new to me.

My eyes were wide open for the whole entire time. It was an exciting time because of all the stuff that was happening and graduation too.

(Without the military) I wouldn’t be in Germany. I mean a lot of people don’t have those kinds of opportunities in life. That’s just what I think about all the time. So, I mean it’s exciting.

The first day he told me that I was going to be able to come here, I went to the post office and got my passport that day. I was really excited. I’d never been out of Ohio for my 19 years of living, so I was just really excited.

We had nothing, like absolutely nothing when we started out so I was making lists and trying to get everything together. Trying to go to garage sales to get everything we could. And I mean we had nothing, so it was just trying to work and trying to get all the money I could so we could try to start.

It was exciting (when I first got here) because I hadn’t seen him in six months. Same thing with graduating from tech school and from basic training, you get used to not being able to see him.

But I didn’t have my driver’s license at that time and I really had no idea what I was going to be doing. So I was sitting at home with nothing to do for probably a good three, four months because I really didn’t have anything to do. And I didn’t have any friends yet.

I felt alone and I was really getting angry.

Not really angry, but stressed out because I guess those were the couple months that I was aggravated with him. And I was still trying to understanding the Air Force. We had a couple fights and I wasn’t used to his schedule yet. Their shop is open 24/7, seven days a week so it’s one of those rotating things. Sometimes you’re on night shift. Sometimes you’re on day shift.

I really didn’t get to see him that much. Obviously in the Air Force you don’t. But I didn’t know that at the time. So I guess I was missing him.

Right now we’re fine because I have a job and he has a job.

So we’re getting along great. We pass each other sometimes, but it keeps you busy. You don’t have to think about it that much.

I really wanted a job so I could help out and pay for bills and. And he was like, “Go ahead and do what you want.” We have two cars now so we have to try to make that work with bills. So I tried and tried for three months and then finally I was like, “I just need a job.” So I went to the BX and I really didn’t care what kind of job I got. But I enjoy my job. We make it work. Our days off are not on the same days at all, but I like it because it keeps us both busy. I don’t have to sit at home anymore and think about all the things that are going on around me.

And then I started school in January. I’m feeling better about myself because I have a lot of things to do. I feel like I have a purpose because I’m pursuing a degree I’ve always wanted to pursue, and I’m able to contribute to our bills and everything, and I’m able to help out basically now.

I’m around people all the time. This is going to sound weird, but I was excited to get my job because I didn’t really have anybody else to talk to at home except for my husband. I was excited to get the job because I’d have people to talk to when you’re working. I could talk to somebody about what’s going on in my life instead of just keeping it all to myself, because I like to talk. I like to be around people.

This is going to sound weird too, but I like to be around kids and I see kids on a daily basis, working in the infant’s department. I mean it’s not exactly being around kids but I can get that feel for it I guess. I enjoy it.

I would like to teach in an elementary school environment, K through fourth grade or fifth grade, but no higher than that. Because little kids, they don’t know anything when they come to school. And you have the opportunity as a teacher to teach them something new, and they always have a smile on their face when they learn that piece of information. It’s just exciting, seeing them learn.

We’ve talked about (what he wants to do). We’ve only got as far as extending a year in Germany, so we really don’t know where it’s going to take us. He’s talked about if he gets his school done in the time he’s in the Air Force, then he might not be in any more. But that’s up in the air right now.

I think it would be interesting if I could teach for DoD schools on base. I guess it’s a totally different environment because you have to be lenient on them because they’re moving a lot.

If he continues in the military, that would be great. We’d have more opportunities to travel. That’s one of the positive things in the Air Force. Meeting new people that are in the same environment, I guess you could say.

People say on the news that Air Force wives have a very big impact on the country. I guess they’re serving too because they’re living in a high stress environment too.

It feels for myself that I am making a contribution to my country in a small way.

 

The Naked Truth: Serena’s Story

The Naked Truth: Military spouse Serena shares her career challenges. via Whole Spouse

Serena is a young newlywed, whose husband enlisted in the Air Force for financial stability. She is relieved that they are no longer struggling, although frustrated that she is not realizing her goal of working as an editor. At times she is uncomfortable that she is letting her husband “take care of her,” but then says she is realizing she can find other ways to contribute to their family. The following excerpts are from my interview with Serena, which is not her real name. Her story begins when she and her husband are fresh out of college, working multiple minimum wage jobs just to get by.

Union Mart is a gas station, and I worked there for eight hours on weekends. I didn’t really like that either. But I ended up (dropping) Union Mart, because I had the library job by then, and then I kept the bookstore (job). So then I was down to two jobs and that’s all I kept. And then my boyfriend (now husband) had the pizza job and a library job. So we had four jobs together just to make ends meet. We were barely making it at that point. So that’s one of the huge reasons he decided to join the Air Force because we knew it was just a lot more secure.

(I wanted) more security because part-time you don’t have any benefits, no health benefits or anything like that. So it was hard. I didn’t really go to the doctor because then you had to pay out of pocket. (I just wanted) to have a little bit more money so we could have more than $100 left over for the month, to live comfortably. I mean that’s the majority of what I was looking for.

I guess it was a little bit frustrating because I wanted one job. I wanted a 9 to 5 job, come home, relax, and not have to worry about your job. But I was also really, really too busy to do anything. So I didn’t have a lot of free time either, even on the weekends when I was working at Union Mart. It was frustrating because I couldn’t go home and spend time with my boyfriend. I had to work. And we didn’t have a car at the time. It’s 10 miles from where we were working, so you had to take the bus. But the bus system wasn’t that great. There were only specific times you could go, so he would go sleep over at his brother’s house sometimes during the week so he could work at the pizza shop. So there was a lot of time we couldn’t spend together. I didn’t like that. So it was a little bit frustrating having way too many jobs.

When I went to college, I thought, “Hey, I’ll actually find an editing job when I get out of school.” No. I was just happy not to be working at McDonald’s. I mean I wasn’t quite happy, and I definitely wasn’t content, but I was okay with working in the library at the time because I thought eventually I’ll get to where I want to go. I haven’t quite gotten there yet. And at this point I’m not even sure I want to be an editor anymore, but at least I was doing some freelance. At least I was doing something.

I never really wanted to be a military wife.

I didn’t grow up in the military or anything like that, but my mom moved a lot when we were kids, I didn’t really want that for my kids. I guess by then I was okay with moving because I’d done it so much, but I just wanted my kids to stay in one place, make lifetime friends, something stable.

I was in love with him, and I’m not going to break up with him because he joined the military. That’s just silly. So I was okay with him joining. I supported him either way that he went. And actually it was a very smart decision, and I’m completely okay with it now.

I don’t have to worry about my health now. Before he joined the military, we had no coverage. Now I don’t have to worry about not calling the doctor because I don’t have money, which is a huge relief. And he makes enough money to support both of us. We don’t have to work four or five part-time jobs together to get $100 left over a month. So I’m not worried about food. I’m not worried about anything like that, which again is a huge relief because I’m no longer stressed about it. The only thing I worried about was finding a job, which I don’t even have to now. So, I feel like I’m getting to be lazy.

(When we got to Germany) I looked for at least six months trying to find jobs. I mean, it is really important for me, because I’m used to being independent.

I’m not used to relying on anybody, and it was actually hard to sit at home as a housewife and not work.I feel like I should contribute somehow.

Because my mom, she took care of her four kids all by herself. She worked to support us, and it’s just weird to rely on him. I’m getting used to it now. I know you can do it now. But to begin with it was just like, “I need to work. I need to help contribute.”

Being independent was important (to me). My mom taught me to be independent. She also hasn’t had the greatest luck with men, so it was new to be married. I’m not used to a man taking care of me. I need to take care of myself. So I wanted to work, and then it took a while for me to be okay with him supporting me, which he is now. So at the time I was like, “I really need a job. I really want to work and have more money so that we can travel and stuff like that.”

It was nice but at the same time, I wasn’t comfortable with it. I was used to fending for myself. Like even in college I paid my way for college. I mean I’m still paying my way for college because of loans and stuff like that. I didn’t have any help. So it’s nice to be able to rely on somebody, but at the same time it was weird.

The whole (job search) is frustrating. I looked at USA jobs. There’s actually not a lot there. At this point I started even looking for a library job here. But every time I’d go, it wouldn’t be on there and they never had anything with editing or writing or communications. It was always secretary, which I guess I could be okay with, but it mostly was retail at the BX. I mean, I don’t view it below me. I don’t. I just don’t like to work in retail. I’ve had the experience. I didn’t like to work with food. And I definitely didn’t like waitressing.

Yeah, I mean, this is stuff I would definitely do it if we didn’t have the money. I would definitely work there. But I knew that he could support me and I really wanted to work in a job that I would enjoy. Because if I worked in a job I don’t enjoy I wouldn’t be so happy and it wouldn’t be good. So I kept on looking at those places thinking, oh, maybe something will pop up. Never popped up. And then I just don’t really know where to look for my career field here. So it is very frustrating. I started looking online just for more freelance (jobs) and I applied to a few. I didn’t really get them. And then after a while, I just stopped looking. It’s just frustrating. Every now and then I’ll go to the library (and ask), “Are you hiring yet?” I guess it hasn’t become as important to work now as it was, but I still would like to if I can.

Well, I’m okay now with him supporting me.

Before, I felt guilty for not working because he’s supporting me. But I’ve gone through that, and I talked to him about it. And he’s okay with me not working because we’re not struggling. Whereas before I had to work the part-time jobs, before we got in the Air Force because we were struggling. So he’s okay with me not working and I got used to being at home. And we’re planning on having kids soon and I know that I want to be at home for my kids. I don’t really want to have them in daycare while I’m at work for eight hours or whatever like that. So that’s why I was kind of looking more for freelance too so I could be at home and do it. But we’re still not having kids yet, so I could still work. But it’s not as important because I know my life’s going to be changing towards children and stuff like that.

If he wasn’t okay with me not working, I probably would still be very adamant about looking for a job.

I still want to be independent but marriage isn’t really about the separate people.

It’s like you working together, so it’s not like I’m not contributing in my own way. I mean I still contribute at the house and in our relationship so I don’t have to work to make it a contribution. So I’m just growing up.

I think part of the problem is I don’t really know what I want to do anymore. I was looking so long for an editing job. I actually want to edit fiction (for a) publishing company. I edited manuscripts and it was okay, but it’s not what I really liked, and I wanted to get into fiction. But right now I don’t really know what I want to do. I had a goal, but I don’t know anymore. Do I still want to be an editor? Do I want to go back to school? I enjoyed accounting, but I don’t want to spend another $30,000 to change my career field. And at the same time I’m getting back into writing, and I’m enjoying that.

I think the problem here is I don’t know where to go to find my specific career field. I don’t know what website to look at or where to go to find these type of jobs. And that’s the biggest problem. If I was in the States, there are so many different websites you can go to find stateside jobs. But here I only knew of two websites, and neither one of them had my career. So I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know where to look, so I don’t look anymore.

I think it’s probably a little bit more difficult to be in the Air Force looking for my job. I mean, for writing, if I can get the freelance (work), it wouldn’t make a difference if I was in the United States, Germany, wherever they take us. If you can get freelance jobs it doesn’t matter where you are. But if you’re trying to find an actual location, work in an actual company, it’s more difficult because you’re constantly moving. I mean we haven’t moved yet, but I know it’s coming.

Well, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Because originally I didn’t really want to be a military wife, but there are some perks and there are some downsides. And I think the perks probably outweigh it, you know? It’s not a bad way to live. It’s not like I thought it would be originally.

I feel like I’m getting to be lazy. Because I’m not working anymore, and he was deployed for six months and I don’t drive. It mostly comes down to not being able to drive. It’s not as easy to go out. So I’m just staying at home and playing on the computer. And I read a lot. I have been getting into writing lately, which is good, so it’s getting a little bit better. But I’m just not doing as much, so I feel lazy.

(I feel) stir crazy, stuck in the house, and I just want to go out and do something, even volunteer work. Some of the volunteer work here seems like it should actually be a job. The post office and the commissary, the baggers, I mean I am very grateful for them volunteering but at the same time…I guess if I could find some more volunteer work I’d probably do that too, even if I can’t work.

The Naked Truth: Kendra’s Story

The Naked Truth: Military spouse Kendra shares her career challenges. via Whole Spouse

Kendra is an Air Force veteran trying to make sense of her troubling military experience as well as her current role as a “dependent” military spouse. Kendra begins her story by talking about her experience enlisting in the Air Force when she was 19. The following are excerpts from my interview with Kendra.
I really enjoyed (the Air Force) until the war started, and then I wanted out. Because, I guess when you’re 19 you don’t think about joining the military as there might be a war. I didn’t anyways. I just thought of it as a job. And then when the war started and we were loading bombs and loading food, and then downloading bodies. For me it was just too much, at the age of 19, to handle emotionally.

I had a really hard time with it actually, I went to therapy and struggled really bad and tried to get out. But it didn’t work because we were in war, and I had a 6-year enlistment. I think it made me need my husband more, because you don’t have family or anybody else do deal with the emotions. And I think at that age it was just too much to handle. And I was in a male-oriented job, which is not necessarily easy either, so it just made you feel kind of confused. Because why were we helping people and then hurting them? Just confusion I guess for that young of an age.

Even when it wasn’t fun, the thing that I liked the most about the military was the camaraderie, the friendship of it. I grew up a military brat, so I was used to that way of life. People moving, people from different areas, it just felt normal. But, long hours and too much grown up issues when you’re 19 was the hard part.

(Also), in our career field in the military, there are three types of women. There’s the lesbians, there’s the women who sleep with everybody and then there’s the bitches. And I was considered the bitch because I was married. I didn’t flirt with anybody and I worked hard and believed in the rules and tried to make everybody follow the rules, so it didn’t go over so good. Because there was the boys club and I wasn’t part of that. It made work difficult.

I was like the outcast girl.

They would tell the other airmen that they don’t have to listen to me, but yet they would put me in charge. How am I supposed to be in charge if you’re telling them they don’t have to listen to me? So that was a big push to get out. I don’t know…I really don’t think women belong in the military. That’s bad to say but…

It’s such a boys club, if you’re not one of those three types…. I mean that’s pretty much the only role you can be in. If you’re the hard worker, you’re not going to get anywhere. Either you have to be flirting to make the guys happy or be like one of the guys. There’s no room to be a secure strong woman and not be flirting with the guys. And this is a perspective from a male-oriented job. I don’t know what it’s like to work medical or MPF in the offices or something. Because we had a shop of 90 people and they were four girls. There either needs to be more women mixed in there or a men-only career field. Because we would be out on the flight line for 12 hours a day and you would call over the radio saying you have to go to the bathroom. And because the guys would just go in the woods they wouldn’t let you come back. Or if you did come back, you’d get yelled at, so it was a big mess.

What happened when you got out of the military and PCS’ed to New Jersey with your husband?

It was pretty stressful and lonely because my husband was on grave shift. So if I was home in the apartment during the day I had to be super quiet and I couldn’t really go too many places because I had the two dogs and it was summer time and I couldn’t leave them in the car. But I couldn’t leave them at home because they might wake him up. So, I would go for walks and stuff, but, just he kept saying, “Oh enjoy your time. You don’t have to work, and you’re free. You can do whatever you want,” And I’m like, I have no friends. I have no way to meet friends, because when you PCS if you’re active duty, you automatically know people when you go somewhere. Because you go to your shop and you get introduced to everybody. But when you’re the spouse, this is my first PCS as a spouse, you know your husband and you don’t know anybody else. I get jealous of people who have children because at least you have your kids to take with you to the store or something. So it was pretty lonely. It sucked.

It went to be being like you didn’t matter anymore.

Because after using your social security number for 6 years, then all of a sudden your social security number doesn’t count. It’s his social security number. And then not being able to do anything on your own without him. You go and try to do something and they’re like “Well you need your sponsor.” I’m like, “What do you mean I need my sponsor? I’m right here and he’s on grave shift. Why can’t I do it without him?” Like if you needed your ID card renewed or if you needed to get your car registered. It takes your identity away and puts it on him…I’d been the military spouse, but I’d never been the military dependent spouse.

(It was frustrating) because he didn’t understand. My husband was like, “Oh you have all this free time and you can do whatever you want.” And you’re like, “Well I want a job, that’s what I want to do.” And then they’re like “Oh, why do you have to go to work? You don’t have to go to work.” Like, I’m gonna sit in the apartment all day?

I’ve been on my own since I was 16 and I’ve had a job since I was 12, so I’ve always supported myself. To just sit at home and have him support me, that’s not what I want for myself. He doesn’t understand that because he’s more than happy to support me. But that’s not how I fulfill myself I guess. I need to have a job.

Kendra is crying now…

I’ve taken care of myself for so long that it’s scary to let someone else do it. And it’s my job to do it. It’s not his job to do it. If you don’t have a job and he decides you’re not important and leaves, then what? It’s easier to take care of yourself. Always take care of yourself. Good grief. I’m a big crybaby too.

I felt lost for a while, just trying to find which direction I wanted to go. It made things between me and my husband weird, because he expected a wife now. Because before, I worked more hours than he did. So he did the laundry and the dishes and the cooking. Now the roles were reversing and I’m not a stay at home wife. I don’t like doing that kind of stuff. And now he expected that because he did it when I was busy. Now it’s my turn, but that’s not what I want to do. I’d rather be out of the house and working and bringing home the money. Let someone else do that.

It wasn’t fun. There was a lot of fighting and the PCS was a lot more stressful than when we were both in. Because he would go to the in-processing briefings and doing the claims for the broken stuff. And he would come home and I’d ask, “What did they say? Well what about this? Did you ask this?” Because normally I would do that stuff because I’m much more detail-oriented and I ask a million questions. And he’s like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And it caused tension between us because he wasn’t doing it the way I would do it and I couldn’t do it anymore. That was definitely weird.

Kendra held a few jobs during the assignment in New Jersey, including dog training and retail. She was “really excited” when she found out her husband got order to Germany, returning to the base where they first met.

I wanted to get a job, but it wasn’t as important as when I was in the states because I don’t mind traveling around by myself, going places. So I didn’t need the friendship factor. This was familiar. Going to New Jersey was not familiar. For me, going to Germany was coming home. So, there were no nerves or anxiousness. I was just ready to come back. I figured I’d just travel around and wait till I got a job.

(I started teaching with) the Head Start program for the Army. You teach them the basics of Germany, like how to ask for something to drink, and where’s the bathroom. And then on Friday’s you do the field trip down to Kaiserslautern and give them a little tour around. I really liked it, and I’m pretty sure I was good at it.

I discovered I really like teaching.

I really like to see them progressing. I have a weird obsession, passion with Germany and I like to share the positive influence of that because a lot of people don’t want to come here. And I think that it’s really important that the first impression you get (is positive). For some people that can make or break their tour. If they know the best places to get coffee and where to buy groceries and cool places to take their kids, I think it makes it easier for a lot of people to transition. So, I basically got to teach German and talk about how cool Germany was. But unfortunately I stopped doing that.

It was just getting in the way of trying to travel and making plans with my husband. And then they needed an education counselor for the Army. And I had subbed for them a couple of times to try to make up more money. I had enjoyed it, going in there and helping people pick colleges and figuring out their life plan. I thought that I would be making a difference for the Army guys and helping them out. So then a full-time job came open, and I thought, “At least I’ll know my schedule and still be doing something that I enjoy.” Maybe not as much, but I’ll still be doing something I enjoy.

But then it just got… Okay, before I say anything bad…my Daddy’s Army but the Army is definitely a different breed than the Air Force. They’re very open with what they’re going to tell you and their language is not appropriate for speaking to strangers sometimes. We had to call a few first sergeants in and tell them, “We’re afraid this guy’s going to come back and hurt us.” This guy came back from Iraq after a year and his dad had passed away, and the way he was screaming at us, we’re like “We’re just education counselors.” But he was so angry and yelling and cussing over something. Between that and sitting in an office, there would be 8 hours a day I would just sit there and stare at a computer. And I’m not an office person. So no interaction with people. And if you did, it was someone coming in to yell at you because their stuff was messed up. You get a few of the nice guys that are maybe going for their bachelor’s or master’s and they are understanding and nice about it. But the bad out-numbered the good in that job. So that’s when I started looking for something else to do.

(I applied to go back and do) the same thing I was doing in the military. I liked the job that I did in the military. It was just the military aspect at that age was not ok for me. And come to find out, I have anxiety issues and all this stuff that I discovered now that I’m older. Maybe had I known that when I was younger, I could have handled the situations better. So I found that job, applied, got the interview, got the job. That was four months ago.

I’m just kind of in that limbo not knowing when I start, feeling frustrated because I quit my…I still could be making money and have more time on my resume for the other job. Now I’m just staying home again, waiting.

I’m nervous because I’m a job person. When I got the GS job people said, “Oh you’re set for life, a career and you’re good.” And I’m like “Oh God, I think I’m stuck.” Like I already felt stuck just from the saying “You’re going to have a career.”

But I think I’m over that now, because in three years we’ll PCS and if I don’t want to go back to a GS job I don’t have to. I can do something else.

I think because I’m such an indecisive person and I’ve moved around my whole life, I’m used to every two or three years it’s gotta change. So, we were in Jersey for four years but I had two different jobs. I changed my degree three times. It’s just that I don’t like it to stay the same. I’m so used to change that I don’t want (one career). I don’t know, it just feels stuck. Which most people are like, “Oh I’ve been friends with this person for 20 years.” I’ve been friends with my husband, but that’s the longest friendship (I’ve had).

When you move every 2 or 3 years I get to experience new people, new things and new jobs. I like that.

I’m also excited because now that I’m older…guys (at work) can’t intimidate me the way they used to, and the rank structure doesn’t matter because I’m a civilian. As long as I do a good job, they can’t do anything to me. They can’t talk to me the way they used because I’ll be like, “Oh no, I don’t think so.” And I don’t know if it’s because I’m not military anymore and the rank structure doesn’t matter, or if it’s just me being older. Like “Nope, not gonna let you do that.” I think it’ll be good. (Kendra begins to cry again.)

It seems like you’re still kind of emotional about it.

Yeah, because I’m scared that it will be the same. Because it’s still the military, it’s still the guys’ club and everything. But, it always seems like the civilians get to be different. You don’t have to be in that club because you don’t need their approval to progress in the ranks or get the good shift or not have to suck the poop out of the plane, you know. You just do your job, and as long as you do your job, you’re good. And someone might actually see that you do a good job and you might actually get promoted, as opposed to the military, you just get more work if you do a good job.

I hope it brings back that feeling of doing something, making a difference, helping people get on to the next duty station. I love when people come back from TDY’s and you work in the PAX terminal. You get to see the families reunite. That’s my favorite part because you helped bring them back to their family and you get to see that. But it’s also hard to watch the goodbyes. It’s a reminder so you don’t forget the war and the people that are down there.

There’s still so many people that are deployed and fighting, and people don’t think about it. Even military people don’t think about it. Depending on what their job is, you know, if they’re working MPF or at the dental clinic, why would they be thinking about those guys that are still going down there? Especially Air Force, because we don’t go as often, or they don’t go as often. Working with the Army was a big eye opener that their way their life is completely different. I have a good friend, and her husband was gone for training for 6 months, came home for two weeks and was gone a year. That’s crazy. We complain about 6 months.

What’s important to you about having this job?

I think it gives me self-worth I guess, which I’m not sure if that’s okay or not. Without a job, because I don’t have kids and I don’t like playing the stay at home wife role. So it kind of defines me, gives me something to get up for. Because without the job, I can clean the house, but if you’re home every day and there’s no kids to mess it up, it’s clean every time you wake up, you’re like “Okay, clean the house and walk the dogs and did everything and it’s only 9am.” So it gives you something to get up for. You make friends at work and you have that camaraderie and I think that’s important, especially when you’re overseas because you don’t have the family or the life-long friends. But at work you have that. And since everybody’s so transient all the time, you get closer faster I think it’s good to have those relationships.

I try to fill my time, but it’s like I don’t fit in with the moms because I don’t have any children. I don’t have anything to input, like “Oh my kid did this or this” and I’m like “I went for a walk with my dogs.” So at least with the people at work, you have work to talk about. So you have that commonality, and I don’t know, it’s easier to fit in. Right now, I feel like I don’t fit anywhere.

I think that’s difficult for women because you’re supposed to have the kid part. And if you don’t have the kid part, what do you think you’re going to do? You know, one mom was like “Oh, I wish I had free time or whatever like you do,” and I’m like, “Everybody says that until they have the free time. If you didn’t have your kids and you were just sitting at home what would you do? You have to feed three people every day, you have to clean up after three people. To have one person, it gets really boring.”

How do you think being a military spouse has impacted you?

If I was working and my husband was working normal jobs I think I would get really bored, just because it would be the same. Same thing day after day and year after year, you maybe get your one vacation a year or whatever. But here, every weekend you get to travel, you get to go somewhere and see something new.

But I know it causes some strife between me and my husband and he perceives it too. My job isn’t as important as his job because I don’t have to work. He makes enough money that we could live comfortably with me not working. So, I think he does get probably jealous sometimes of the guys whose wives do stay at home and just cook and clean and be that wife and be content with that. I would love it if he stayed at home, and cooked and cleaned and did everything. But I wouldn’t expect that.

The Naked Truth: Lisa’s Story

The Naked Truth: Military spouse Lisa shares her career challenges. via Whole Spouse

An aspiring pilot from the UK, Lisa met her husband in flight school when she was 19. Since then, she has moved 7 times during her 12 year marriage, making significant career compromises along the way, but never giving up on her dream to fly. The following are excerpts from my interview with Lisa in Germany.

I was 19 when we moved and I got married, so I probably wasn’t thinking a great deal at all in some ways. But my career plan at the time was to fly commercially. So one of the attractions was really to finish my licenses, qualify and fly for a living. And my husband had this expectation that he’d do another 10 years or so and then he’d retire and I’d be making enough money to keep both of us. Of course that really didn’t work out. When I arrived in California, I couldn’t work. I didn’t have the paperwork, the work permit and that sort of thing. I spent most of the time that I was there was focused on the training, looking towards being qualified to fly for a living.

I think we’d been there about eight months when I got the work permit. And as I started looking around there wasn’t (much). I could have worked just to have some money. It would have been retail, that sort of thing. Also knowing that we were at least half way through the time we were going to spend there. We were only there for 18 months.

It was hard in the sense of independence.

I’ve never liked the idea of not working and therefore being dependent for money, for things for me. My mother’s always worked. My grandmother always worked. It’s just something that I’ve got a mental block about. I’ve never really been comfortable with it so that was difficult. We didn’t need money to maintain a household or anything like that. But it’s an independence thing. I’ve always had an issue with not being able to work at the times that I couldn’t.

I went back to school, and that helped because that was me doing something constructive with my time rather than just sitting at home really doing nothing very much but keeping house, which is fine. I don’t have any issues with people that choose to do that. It just doesn’t work for me. And I felt I’m just sitting in a house all day and not sitting and watching television all day but I just didn’t feel like I was being productive.

I grew up in quite a socialist background. So I feel that if I’m going to be getting something from the Air Force…you get all your medical care and everything like that taken care of…that I ought to be putting something back in some way. And of course if you’re working, whatever you’re doing you’re paying taxes or you are contributing in some way even if it’s not a direct route. You are contributing back into the system.

(When we went to Alabama) I took a job bar tending in a restaurant, which I loved. It was a lot of fun. It was very easy. I mean it was not something I had to put a lot of effort into, but I could earn a bit of money. If I decided I wanted a new pair of jeans or something I didn’t have to think about it. It gave me that independence to do that. So it was regular bit of income that gave me something to do while I was still studying at home in between. It was a little bit strange when my husband’s colleagues came in. An officer’s wife bar tending is probably a little bit strange to some people. But I was enjoying myself and that was more important. While we were there I did actually finish my commercial licenses for the FAA. And I did start flying for money, but it was (only) four or five hours a week.

(When we got to Florida), I started flying full-time. We could be gone from 6am on a Monday morning to 10pm on a Friday night, and we’d fly every day in between. So that was almost the ideal. That was really what I wanted. I mean it was tiring. It was hard work, but the flying itself was fantastic.

I suppose at a very basic level I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of an aircraft without a smile on my face at the end of the day. I suppose some of it’s independence, some of it’s the achievement of a challenge. And it’s just simply fun.

I wasn’t making a lot of money. I suppose by flying hours I was probably just about making minimum wage. But it was another step closer to where we thought we wanted to be. It was an achievement…that I wanted to keep going.

(Then we) left for Paris and we knew it was 18 months. We assumed it was 18 months and back to the States. So, knowing how complicated and expensive and difficult it was, I had decided that I was not going to try and get European licenses and try to fly. So I decided that I would just find something else to do for 18 months until we go back to the States and I’d pick up more or less where I left off. As it turns out, some years later, we are still here (in Europe).

And were you still thinking that your husband would be done in a few years and you would be the breadwinner?

I think that was probably changing a little bit, partly because he wasn’t showing that many signs of wanting to retire and get out. And I wasn’t progressing in experience quite fast enough to be in that position for him to be able to retire completely and do nothing, if he wanted to do that.

(Flying) was still something I always thought I would go back to one way or another. But I was prepared to supplement with a second career or a parallel career at the same time to supplement. I suppose I was realizing that it wasn’t going to be absolutely everything in one career forever. It wasn’t a dramatic thing, it was sort of a slow realization. So I don’t think it was a huge impact emotionally. It was just sort of an acceptance that things don’t always go the way you planned when you were 19 or 20 years old, and life puts other challenges in the way. And you sort of deal with everything as it comes along and adapt with it.

After the Paris assignment, Lisa’s husband deploys for a year and she returns home to the UK. Then they moved to Belgium. She describes the employment she found with an aviation contractor in Belgium.

I suppose I saw it as a little bit of a compromise. It wasn’t flying but it was still in the right field, so it was still experience, and it was still relevant. So it wasn’t quite real, but it was close enough. It was still something that was interesting. I suppose in many ways it was the first job that was a genuine salary. We actually did live off my salary because (I was paid in Euros) and then you didn’t get into the issues of converting dollars into Euros.

That was a real achievement. It sounds ridiculous, but at 28 or 29, that felt grown up, I suppose. That was real independence and productivity, being grown up and adult work that wasn’t just part-time. It wasn’t working for minimum wage. It wasn’t working just for expenses. This was for real. And that was good. It really was. It was a real contribution to things.

Being just the stay at home wife, housekeeper, potentially mother was never, ever going to be an option for me. I just couldn’t do it. So in some ways that never changed, and this filled that in probably the biggest way than anything else had because as I say it was a real salary. It was real full-time work, 8-5, Monday to Friday, every day. So that really did feel like a proper achievement.
When we (got the Germany assignment), my husband came down to Ramstein first. My husband moved down here in March. And we agreed that he would move. I would leave our house in Brussels and take a small apartment, and I would basically commute weekly to start with. And we would try that for that for a year to see out the end of my contract year.

Well, I was okay with it. He was not.

We’d given it a good shot and decided it just wasn’t worth the stress. I was driving back up Sunday nights. And so I didn’t even have a whole weekend down here. I was leaving before five in the evening to get back up there. And so we just decided it’s not worth it for us to go through that. And so I simply resigned.

I didn’t want to do it. I loved the job. I loved the people. Again it was sort of facing reality. It didn’t quite come down to it’s the marriage or the job, but there was a potential that it was going to go that way, that it was just not sustainable. It was easier for me possibly because my parents did it when I was growing up. My father was gone four days a week. So for me it was fairly normal. But my husband was adamant. “I did not marry you to live in two separate cities for four or five days every week. That’s not what I wanted this life to be.” I didn’t really want to do it but it was, again it was sort of pragmatism and facing reality.

But my team boss came back to me the next day and she said, “If we can rewrite the contract to allow you to work from home, will you stay?” And I said, “Right, I’ll stay! You just tell me what you need from me to rewrite the contract and I’ll take it.” So she called the company and said this is what we’re proposing and they said, “Great, fine.” So now I drive up there four days a month. I do two days every two weeks and just work the rest from home. And that was the deal we came to and it’s worked fantastically for…a little over a year it’s been.

Looking back on all this, how do you think being a military spouse has impacted you and your career?

You are very much on your own if you want a career. Maybe it’s easier if you teach or you’re a nurse or something that’s easily transferable. I don’t know. It’s been a challenge. I would like to have been further on in a career. I probably would have been if we hadn’t moved, but that’s reality. And if you marry into the military, to a point you just have to accept it. You can fight the system but the system is not going to change for just a few people…If you marry into the military, it’s not a stable life.