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.