Joanna has been a military spouse twice, and describes her journey from an abusive first marriage to a successful career in nursing, while finding the “perfect” man the second time around. She is fortunate to enjoy a good fit between her career and military life, now that she is working in the DoD system. Her story begins in the days of her first marriage when she worked part-time as a seamstress to help make ends meet. In order to protect her identity, I am not using Joanna’s real name.
I had my own business as a seamstress. I did uniforms and I had a lot of people that I’ve met and I had contact with. It was really nice because I got to do it out of my house and always had money, which was always nice. Especially when you’re eking between paychecks, it was really nice.
I saw myself number one as the mom and spouse, and number two as the worker. And it was kind of nice being able to contribute to the family income, as well as making sure that my house was nice and my kids were taken care of, and I was not missing anything there.
(But), I was in a very abusive relationship… I picked a day, and I sat him down and I said, “I’m going to leave you and this is the reason why. I can’t deal with this anymore.” My kids saw him hit me. My kids definitely saw him treating me terribly and that’s not who I am. And I let myself get that way. That’s not right. And it’s a shame that more people don’t stand up for themselves. At that point, I’m like, “You know what? Screw you. I’m standing up for myself. I’m done with you.” I put the money away, set up a place to stay, set up a job, and got the hell out of dodge.
I was poor. I tell you, I was dirt poor going through nursing school with three children under the age of five. And my mom even said “Why am I going to help you? You’re going to fail anyway.” But I think she did that to piss me off to the point where I would say, “I’m going to prove you wrong lady!” I proved everybody wrong. I got out of a nursing school with a B average. I aced not just my exit exam, but my boards.
I felt a strong sense of accomplishment and I felt very proud of myself, because that’s a hard thing. If you ever went through nursing school, that’s a bear…And I was able to prove to my kids. I know that they’re young, but I was able to show my kids, “You know what? I don’t have to sit back and collect welfare and collect food stamps, and just be.”
I did something with myself. I got up and I fought.
(Then) I was in the nursing part of the rehab (center) where you’re really doing intense nursing. It was fabulous. I really loved it. It was awesome…I mean it was fabulous because you had that sense of worth. You were worth something. You did something. You accomplished something.
You know, coming from a place where I was told for seven years that I wasn’t worth spit, it’s kind of nice. To actually have that worth and know in my heart that I was worth something. I mean I accomplished three children. I accomplished raising those children. I accomplished a house. I accomplished all the things that go along with being a military spouse, and helping others, and making friends, and making money and being the best spouse I was able to for that person. But it’s quite an accomplishment when you see it literally on paper. You have a license in your hands. You get to have letters after your name. Nobody can take that from you.
(And then) I met the best guy in the world, to me anyway. He’s awesome… But the decision to marry him was very easy to be honest with you. It was probably one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had in my life, because he was perfect. And he accepted me. And he accepted the package that came along, which were my kids…The decision (to move to Ohio with him) was very easy. I’m not opposed to moving. I feel it’s an adventure.
It was very important for me to work and to bring in money so I can be a contributor to the household.
My husband did make enough, but I felt like a leach if I wasn’t working. I know it sounds really bad, but there’s no reason at all that I would be staying home. What would be the logic behind that when I’m an able-bodied person that is able to go out and do my craft?
And I have this fear of being poor because I was so poor for so long. And looking back, seeing that person that had to sell her jewelry, I never want to get in that position again. So if I’m able-bodied I’m going to go out and work. I like to work. It’s fun. I really enjoy it. So that’s my reasoning.
I took a pay cut. I took a huge pay cut, but I felt it was worth it because I got to be with just an amazing person who’s not just a great husband, but a great father.
I maneuvered enough that I worked two 16-hours and an 8-hour shift in three days. So I was able to do all of that and then be home the whole week with my kids and my family, and take care of what needed to be done, which was nice. So unfortunately, we didn’t do much on the weekends, but Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were the days that I worked, which was nice because it kept the other days free.
What happened with your next move to South Dakota?
Looking for a job actually was very easy. I fell into the job that I had wanted. I started working (at the base hospital) very soon after I got to South Dakota, which was nice.
It’s amazing when you’re that close (to work) how much time you have. I’d be to work at 7:15. I’d leave work at 4:30. I’d be home by 4:33. My kids were home. It was great. I was able to have my little flow and everything worked well. And so I worked there until my husband deployed for a year and change, which was hard, very hard. But we got through it. And I was just exhausted. I was just tired because I didn’t just work. I did Officer’s Spouse Club. I was on the board for that. I ran a support group. I went to school. I volunteered at the thrift store. What else did I do? I took care of the kids. I took care of dogs. We had two dogs at that time. And I was still volunteering as like a quasi-key spouse.
But I loved what I did. I really did. I loved helping the community. I loved the part that I got to help the military community. And not just the active duty, and the dependents, and their children. I got to help the retired people. It was kind of neat seeing the retired people coming through. I said, “Wow, what they’ve seen.” It was very gratifying.
And how were you feeling when you moved to Germany?
I learned German in high school. I took four years in it, and I always wanted to go and live overseas. I think that would be quite an adventure. So, I always think of our moves as little adventures.
Literally, we got here, and within a few days I went to (the hospital) with resume in hand and said, “I’m getting a job.” Had my paperwork and they said, “Where do you want to work?”
When I had worked originally, I had worked with someone I called Salty. That’s the only way to describe her. She was downright mean. I won’t lie to you. I cried every day when I left work. I said, “I just want to quit.” And I had gotten finally into the government system and (my husband) said, “If you quit now, that kills you for the rest of your life for a government job. Just stick it out.” I just was miserable…Eventually Salty got orders and she’s gone now. Thank God, she’s gone.
I see myself a little bit stronger obviously because I survived that really hard first year. That was the hardest. And my husband didn’t cave to me saying, “I am so done.” It’s funny because I go to work every day. I get there before 7:00 in the morning, even though my shift doesn’t start until 7:30. I don’t usually leave until about 5:00 and my shift ends at 4:30. Sometimes I don’t take lunch, because you have somebody who needs help. You’re there and it’s really nice…I’m very proud of what I do.
It’s hard when you have to start from scratch. That’s why I’m happy I’m in the military system now. I can transfer and I’m not going to be at the bottom of the totem pole anymore.
The only thing that is bad about working, I will say, is the fact that a lot of places have this misconception that officers’ spouses shouldn’t work. It’s an old way of thinking. Very depressing way of thinking because what are they going to do?
I’m getting this perception because a lot of things that I wanted to do are catered to women who don’t work. I wanted to join the Officers’ Spouse Club here, (and they said), “We have night-time meetings.” Only one. I can’t take time off to be at your meetings in the morning and I’m sorry, but people do have jobs. I do key spouse. “Well why don’t we have it at lunchtime?” Because I work and sometimes I don’t get lunches. So it’s all of that in my face saying, “Why do you work?”
It really upsets me and I have now boycotted the OSC, which I know I shouldn’t do, but I’m very annoyed with them telling me one thing and doing another. It’s very frustrating for me. There’s people who like to participate who can’t because they work and I’m one of them. I love doing that kind of thing, and I love knowing people who are outside of my work. I love the people I work with but I don’t have any real friends here. And I kind of miss that. I don’t have that anymore because by the time I get home from work, and doing everything I need to do, run around the kids. I’m tired. But the thing is if you want to have something that’s supporting the military and supporting the spouses, why don’t you make it so everybody can attend and not just a select few? That’s the thing that upsets me.
How does being a military spouse influence you?
My dad being in the military, growing up that way, having him going away. That’s all I know and I don’t know any different. It’s odd to me if you don’t put a uniform on every day. I guess I’m not normal. I like that I can support my husband and I can support the lifestyle that we do. We have this certain lifestyle and we move and we pick up and make a life in 15 different places. I’d get bored if I had to stay in one spot.
Life is an adventure and I think it’s really cool that I can be married to someone who is helping America stay free.
And growing up, my father was a huge influence on me. My dad was a Vietnam vet and retired from the Air Force reserves a few years ago. And having that patriotic way of thought for something bigger than you is kind of neat. It’s really a neat thing that my husband gets to defend my freedom as well as a lot of people’s freedoms and be part of something bigger than I am. And the funny thing is he can go and get a job wherever in the States, get paid double the amount, but he chooses to be in the military because he likes it.