The Naked Truth: Olivia’s Story

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

Olivia’s husband is approaching retirement after a successful 30-year career in the Air Force.  With 11 assignments under her belt, and a new job with each one, Olivia wishes she had been able to have a career rather than a series of jobs.  She reflects on her working life and what it has meant to her. 

I don’t think that I’ve ever had a career.  I have a job and there’s a big difference. I have nothing invested anywhere, except in my family and my marriage.  When my husband gets out of the military he’ll have done 30 years.  He’ll have invested his entire life, his retirement, his everything.  He has a connection there.  I don’t have that.  I have a connection to the military by being (around the) military every single day of my life.  My father was a Marine, then I was Air Force, and then I married him.  But I’ve never had a career.

It wasn’t until later on in our life together did it hit me when I would leave jobs that I really liked, because I’ve had a few.  I can honestly say I’ve been very lucky.  99% of the jobs that I’ve had I really regretted leaving.  There are a couple I was ready to go after a while, but I stayed for the money.  But I’ve been lucky.  I’ve been able to work everywhere I go because I’m so diverse in my skills.  I’ve had to be.  I’ve learned to be.  I don’t have the education though because I left college to go into the Air Force, and I’ve never gone back.

I’d always worked.  Even in high school and college, I’d always worked.  I’d always had that sense of freedom, having my own money, not feeling so dependent.

And I think that was a big thing.  I didn’t have that sense of guilt for being at home sitting there, feeling like I wasn’t doing anything while he’s out working so hard making all the money for the house.  I was able to contribute, knowing that if we go out and we spend money, it’s not putting a strain on our finances because I was contributing too.  And that’s important to me.

When we went to Izmir, I had an 18-month old and a 3-1/2 year old at that point.  I met a lady there and she was a GS employee.  Her husband was Army and they had a 3-1/2 year old who needed a babysitter.  So I said, “Oh, well until I get a job I’ll watch him.”  He was a terror, a holy terror.  He broke our sliding glass window with his head, and it didn’t faze him at all.  That’s when I told my husband, “I can’t do this.  I am so miserable here.  I’m literally stuck in the house with three kids all day long every day.  I can’t do this.”  He said, “First off, you need to quit babysitting him.”  So I did.  They found childcare for him.

And he said, “And then you need to get a job.  You’re happier when you work.”

I didn’t want the girls in daycare because it was way too expensive for two in daycare.  I got a job working at the NCO Club as one of the head cashiers from 5:00 to 9:00 in the evening.  (My husband would) get off at 4:00 and come home.  We’d switch places and he’d take care of the girls in the evening.  He would feed them, bathe them, and get them in bed while I went to work for four hours.  And it seemed to make a world of difference.

I had that sense of independence.  I didn’t feel trapped.

I didn’t feel completely dependent upon him.  I had adult interaction.  I had adult conversation.  I was my own person again.  I took care of the kids during the day and took care of the house, and then I was my own person for those four hours a day.  It made the year and a half we had left there fly by, and it turned out to be a great assignment.  But I was miserable for the first six months.

There is a difference between being a military spouse and a dependent wife.

You picture these women who go to the commissary and they’ll throw a fit about something stupid.  Or they go to the clinic and demand to be seen because of who their husband is or what their status is in the community.  It always seems their entire life was negative, and it all revolved around their husband, their status, their position, and their job.  And it was never about them.  They didn’t seem to have their own identity and I never wanted to be a dependent wife.  I wanted my own identity.  I wanted my own sense of self-worth.  And the first six months in Turkey, even though I was helping another military family take care of their child, I didn’t have a sense of self-worth.

Not that I’m thinking a stay-at-home mom is bad, because there are absolutely wonderful stay-at-home moms.  And their whole purpose in life, or their whole world revolves around their home, their spouse, their children, and that’s perfectly fine for them.  That’s just not fine for me.  And I realize that.  I recognize that and I’m happier when I’m working.

(Olivia later worked as a school secretary and nurse in England.)

In England, it was more something to do, something to keep me occupied so I’m not sitting at home not doing anything.  I can’t do that.  That bothers me.  I think if I didn’t have those jobs, I would’ve felt more useless.  Being at home, especially when the kids were older.  You get up, you clean the house, you make the bed, you do the laundry, and then what?  What’s left?  I don’t have a whole lot of hobbies so to spend all day knitting or spend all day writing a love story… I would literally be sitting there bored stiff.  And I’ve done that a couple times.  Then I went out and got a job.

I don’t think I know anybody who wants to sit there and feel useless.

I mean I’m certain that everybody wants to feel like they have a purpose, like there’s a reason for them to get up every morning.  I just needed something more outside of the house for me, to keep me occupied, to give me a sense of self-worth, and not financial worth.  Everybody wants to feel needed.  I mean once the house is clean and the kids are in school, they don’t need you anymore.

(After several more moves and jobs, Olivia found herself in New Jersey as an empty nester.)

By that time both of my children were gone.  And it was hard for me at first.  I didn’t want to be at home when we went to New Jersey because the day after my youngest went to college, we packed up and moved to New Jersey.  I got a job so I wasn’t sitting at home all the time, so I had something to occupy my time.  And it wasn’t for the money.  It was for something to do.  And within three months I was promoted to one of the managers and got a huge raise.  That was the hardest thing I ever walked away from when we moved here, because I never thought as an uneducated woman I would ever make $50,000 a year.  It was so good!

(Now in Germany, Olivia has an administrative job and explains what work means to her now that her husband is approaching retirement.)

Before, I had something at home to keep me occupied but it wasn’t fulfilling enough.  Now, I don’t want to go back home and sit there and do nothing.  I want to be busy but it’s more important for me, even though I’m not happy in my job, to make the money knowing that in a year we’re going to be retiring.  So right now we live off of my income and we bank his.  And we put money away for a cruise this summer with our girls.  One last trip before my daughter gets married and we’re paying for the wedding. But we have been able to pay for their colleges, both of them, and we’ve paid their cars off, so they’re walking out of college with no debt.  That’s important to us.  So now I’m back to working for the money.  I’m not back to working for the satisfaction of working.

My husband and his career truly are the most important thing to me, because it’s had to be.

He has risen to the highest rank he can rise to an enlisted member.  He has a Master’s degree, and by him getting that I helped pick up the slack at home.  I took care of the kids a little bit more.  I did all the running around.  We sacrificed as a family to get him where he is, but it’s been tough too because I’ve had some really good jobs that I really, really loved.  But I feel that his career has been more important above and beyond anything else.  If he wanted to try a new job, we would go.  There have been times when I’m really happy in my job and I’m having to leave a home that I love, a job that I love, my friends, my church, my family, so he can fulfill his adventure.  That’s been tough.  I think that’s been the hardest.  And maybe that’s a reason why I do work, because I want there to be something else that is just me outside of the home.  Because he has his something else.  He has his career.

I always had my own self, sense of self-worth and my own sense of independence.

And I had my own little work world. I had my own life.  And that was important to me.  I was me.  I was my own person.  I wanted (my girls) to see the importance (of my working) because it taught them a sense of self-independence and a sense of self-worth, and I always taught them you are your own person.  What you do with your life is your choice.  And you can either choose to be with someone or you can choose to be by yourself, but you need to make sure you can take care of you.  Don’t rely on anyone else to take care of you because when you start relying on somebody else to take care of you financially, then you get stuck with somebody that you’re not meant to be with.  And you have no way out.  Always have a way out.

I think it’s hard for me justifying why I work because there are so many women that don’t.

And I don’t look down on them for working, but the higher my husband went in his rank and the more prestigious his position became, some women couldn’t understand why I worked.  Like when he became the command chief, and they introduced me to the president of the enlisted spouses club.  I had never been involved in the spouses club before then, and I was going to be their advisor.  What was I going to advise them on?  I had never, I didn’t even know where the spouses club was, because the military was not my focus.  It just wasn’t.  It was where he worked.  I had a whole other life outside of the military, and I was happy about that.  And she came up to me and she says, “Oh I’ve heard about you.  I hear you work full-time.”  And I’m thinking out of everything they could have told her about me, that was the one thing she focused on.

Just because I work outside the home doesn’t mean I’m not involved in my husband’s career.  When we moved to New Jersey, one of the ladies asked him, “Well, is Olivia going to work when she gets to New Jersey?”  And he said I probably would, because I’d always worked.  And she said, “Well that’s too bad.”  She says, “Maybe it would help your career a little bit more if she didn’t work.”  How much more could I help his career by staying at home waiting for him to come home?

Thank God I have a husband who doesn’t want me to be submissive.

He wants me to be my own person, have my own individuality, because I’m not happy when I don’t feel that.  I feel like there’s something missing in my life, because it’s my own little piece of life.  And if that’s missing I don’t feel whole.  I don’t feel complete.  I feel like I’m not doing what I’m meant to do on this earth.  I needed that and he recognizes that, and he’s tried really hard to make these moves as easy as possible on me.

Sometimes it’s hard.  I always give him the analogy that when you have an assignment change, you pick up your coffee cup on your desk and you set it on the next desk, and you’re there.  I have a house I have to pack up and unpack.  I have children I have to pull out of school and deal with them leaving their friends and the church and leaving everything behind and getting them settled in a new home.  I have to deal with all of that while you go off to your office.  I’m there dealing with all of that.

The Naked Truth: Maria’s Story

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

Maria was an ambitious and successful attorney determined to keep her career going through every PCS.  Currently a stay-at-home mom, she shares the sense of failure she felt when she was unable to sit for her third bar exam.  Ultimately, she says she had to forgive herself and move on, but is critical of the roadblocks military life imposes on professional military spouses.

I was a domestic violence prosecutor in Puerto Rico, and I had a lot of prestige because I was prosecutor.  But because I was in love, and my husband was an American military guy, I had to leave everything behind, my family, my friends, my career and move to Biloxi, Mississippi.  It was a sweet and sour experience because I was a newlywed.  I was so much in love.  But it was tough leaving everything behind.  And I had to focus on perfecting my English, so I started taking English classes on base. It was stressful.

It was a tough decision.  All my family were like, “Are you sure about this?  You’re going to get married and leave everything behind?”  But I was in love.  And I said, “You know what, I’ll find another job.  I’ll pass the bar in the United States.  I’ll do whatever it takes.  This doesn’t mean the end of my career.” Or so I thought.

I didn’t understand what it means to be a military wife at all.  I didn’t understand that I had to move all the time.

The first couple of months, because I was a newlywed, everything was like an adventure.  But it was very difficult for me to accept the fact that I depend on my husband.  Like I was making my own money and I was buying fancy clothing or nice stuff because I could afford it.  And now I felt so guilty that I had to use my husband’s money.

My mom worked all her life so my example was a working mother.

My mom has her own business, a very powerful lady.  So I felt like, “What’s wrong with me?  I live off of my husband.”  So I was focusing on perfecting my English and being (fully) bilingual because I wanted to go back to work as soon as possible. I was afraid I was going to be discriminated against with a Puerto Rican diploma.  So I went back to school for my LLM in health law.

So then we moved to Florida.  And it was a lot of sacrifice once again, but I passed my bar (exam) the first time.  I was very proud of myself.  A lot of people didn’t pass the bar and English is their first language, and I was able to pass the bar and I did very good.  My dad was so proud of me.

I tried to find a job in my line of work, in health law.  And I kept applying, applying and I couldn’t find a job.  And after months and months I found a job in a field that I never even considered, in insurance defense.  But I didn’t like it because insurance defense has nothing to do with family or people.

I wasn’t enjoying my job.  I was miserable.

And my husband said, “Maria, this is not worth it.” I was working seven days a week.  So I quit.  My husband supported me a hundred percent.  But it’s tough because I was making my own money again.

(I decided) I’m going to go back to my roots.  I’m going to go back to family law and domestic violence because I think that’s my calling.  So I started working as a volunteer (for a legal services agency).  And very quickly they were very happy with me.  So the first time they had open a paying job, it was a temporary attorney job, substituting for this lady that needed breast cancer surgery.  So she trained me and I did her job.  It was helping people represent themselves in court.  And it was with the public coming, walk-ins and I loved it.  I loved it.  It was a very good job.  And they were very pleased with me.

Right after that, they had an opening for a family law attorney…yes!  And they wanted a bilingual person.  The problem was my husband had to PCS.  We were hoping to stay in Florida.  But unfortunately it didn’t work out, so we had to go to San Antonio.  So that was bad news.  I cried so much.

I was devastated because I was so happy with my job.

They said, “It’s too bad you have to leave, but we don’t care.  You give us whatever time you can give us and we’ll have you.  And then when you’re leaving then we’ll put out an advertisement to look for somebody else.”  So I loved it.  I was so happy.  I would be singing in the morning going to work.  It’s so hard for a person to find a job that you look forward to go to every morning.

When it was time to say goodbye I cried a lot.  When I arrived in San Antonio I was so depressed.  I stayed a whole week in bed.  I didn’t want to get out.  I said, “No, I don’t want to go anywhere.  I don’t want to see San Antonio.  I don’t want to be here.”  I felt bad for my husband, but it really hurt me so much leaving my job.  And I had to say goodbye and start all over again.

You know the thing is, every time you PCS your life is in pieces and you have to start all over again.

It is very hard to be a military wife.  People don’t understand that but it’s a lot of sacrifice.  That’s why when you see people criticizing benefits to military people I say, “They don’t understand.  This is a lot of sacrifice.  It’s not only the soldiers but also the families.”  Oh, my God.  I’m sorry… (Maria is crying)

I felt so miserable.  I wanted to be an attorney.  But I didn’t have the bar (in Texas) so I couldn’t work as an attorney.  So I decided to take the bar for the third time.  Then I found out I was pregnant.  It was a very tough pregnancy.  Two weeks before the bar I started getting very, very, very sick.  I started having contractions.  And I feared that I was going to lose my baby.  So something told me inside, “Maria, if you keep pushing yourself, and if you keep doing this you’re going to lose your baby.  You’re harming your baby with all this stress.”  So I told my husband, “I’m not going to do this.”  So I postponed it.  I said, “I’m not going to take the bar.  I’m dedicating myself to my baby.”

But it was hard.  I got depressed.  I felt like I failed.

I felt like I couldn’t do it.  It was important for me to have another bar like ooh, I will feel prestigious.  I got really depressed, to the point that I was in bed crying.  And my mom said, “Maria, you have to forgive yourself for not doing this or you’re going to harm your baby, you’re crying so much.”  But I felt defeated.  It took me a while to accept that I didn’t do it.  I couldn’t do it.  But it’s okay. I’m a human.

I felt like I was like a school drop-out.  I was ashamed of myself.  And you always have the fear that if you take a pause in your career then nobody will want to hire you.  I set myself a goal and I didn’t do it.  I had never dealt with failure before in my life, never.  I’ve always been so successful.  I was also worried about other people’s opinion.  I know it’s silly but they’re going to think less of me because I didn’t do the bar.

It took me a while to accept, because I never thought of myself as a stay-at-home mom.

I always looked at myself in the view as a professional.  Every time I saw a lady with children, staying at home, “No.  That’s not going to be me.  I’m going to be the professional.”  So it was hard to accept my fate that I’m going to be a stay at home mom.  It was hard.  It took almost two months to forgive myself and not feel guilty anymore.

All my memories are of my mom working and being dressed up to go to work, with her makeup and her high heels. I always looked at her and admired her so much.  That was the kind of example that I had.  So that’s my role model, my mother.  And that’s what I wanted to be.

Maybe it’s silly of me for thinking like this, but sometimes I’m afraid.

My husband has such a very nice prestigious job.  He does something really, extremely important, saving people’s lives every day.  And he can come home and talk about work and he feels so good about himself.  I can see it in his eyes.  That passion, he loves his job.  He loves it and I cannot share.  I don’t have any input.  And sometimes I’m afraid my husband is not going to find me interesting anymore.  What do I have?  What can I talk about, what I saw on TV or what I talk about with the girls out in coffee?

I never thought it was going to be this hard to the point that I tell girls, “Oh, are you dating a military guy?  End it now before you fall in love.”  I’m sorry, but as I said it’s hard.  If you really love your job and your career you have to think twice.  You have to sacrifice a lot for love, for the love of your husband.  You have to sacrifice practically who you are.

The Naked Truth: Emily’s Story

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

Emily immigrated from Russia at 18 and says that experience prepared her for the adventure of military life. Although moving around has delayed her career progression in the human resources field, she has just landed a GS job that she hopes will put her on a career path she can take with her to future assignments. She says it is like checking the last box, and she is happy that her life feels complete.

When I was working in Montana, I was working as a social worker and I became a good friend with one girl. Her husband and my (now) husband were best friends. So when my husband was stationed in Spokane, they introduced us. I just quit my job to move with my husband, and I wasn’t really planning to work until we moved to a different station because he only had one year left. And then I just became bored, so I applied to the CDC and got a job because it seemed to me this is the easiest job I could have gotten. So I just applied to CDC and worked there for about a year until we PCS’d (to Washington DC).

I started working in downtown DC. That was my first human resources job. I wanted to do something different and human resources was something I was interested in. I loved my job so much. Meeting new people, having this busy schedule, payroll, and the people I worked with. It was just a good environment. It was just perfect. If you describe your perfect job where you feel like you want to go, you want to get up and go, that would be it. That’s why I liked that place. And the boss was great, the president of the company. He was taking care of their employees and my pay was good.

(I felt) good, like I was going up the ladder, a ladder I wanted to start climbing. I felt like I accomplished things.

I was really happy with my job position, the people I was working with, the responsibilities I had to do. Honestly, my husband knows that if he was not in the military I really would like to be professional. I would really love to make a career in human resources. So I was real upset to leave because now I feel like every time I have to start from the bottom. So I didn’t want to go (to Misawa).

I just always wanted a career but, like I said, being married to a military man, you know you have to sacrifice something.

He keeps telling me maybe when he retires I will start my career, but I don’t think I will want to at this age. I mean, it’s not that important. I’m happy where I am, but for your own satisfaction that you did something in life you want to say, “I have a degree and I’m a professional.” That’s important to me. I don’t know why. I think everybody wants to be successful in life.

(Emily goes on to talk about her next assignments in Japan and Turkey, where she had two children and became a stay-at-home mom.)

It was just a different job, staying at home, and I figured I’m still going to try to apply for a GS position. So I was fine. Plus I didn’t trust anybody to take care of my kids when they were that age. Even if I had a job, I don’t think I would be going back to work so soon.

For some reason we have been so lucky with our assignments. Every assignment we’ve been happy about, and every time we were ready to go. We were ready to start from the beginning because we enjoy the change of scenery. Even with my job in DC, we were ready to go. We wanted adventure, especially when we found out we’re going to Japan. We can just travel and enjoy.

I still think I loved my job in D.C. It’s been six years? I still think that was the best employment I had. But I can’t think, “Oh I wish I stayed there.” That’s not what I chose. I chose to be married to a military guy so something better will come up.

Then another thing I was thinking if I get a GS position, I will be able to go up.

(Now in Germany, Emily explains that she has just accepted a job offer as a GS employee in a human resources function.)

I’m excited, but also I was doing good. I mean, I was enjoying it too because I like to exercise. So when I drop my kids I go to exercise. I do some groceries. I do whatever, clean the house. You know, just me time. But I can’t say no to a job in HR. (I can) get that experience, so I can start climbing the ladder in (the) GS (system). At least in the back of my mind I know that I will have preference when I go to a new place to get a job. It will be much easier for me to get a job if I want it. So it just gives that security feeling of, “Okay, that’s it. I’m in.”

What do you think you’ll get out of this job for yourself?

I guess just that fulfillment that I’m back being a career woman. It’s not like I have anything against staying home moms, but I always knew that I’m not going to stay home forever. I always knew that I’m going to start looking for a job and I just want to be busy. I just want to do something besides clean the house and take care of my kids. I love my kids. But it’s my time. I go and I do something. And I still want to go up the ladder.

It makes me happy. I don’t know how to explain it. Like inside of me, it’s like a “check box.”

And now that checks the box in me. The kids are taken care of, and every aspect of my life seems good. We are in Germany, we are enjoying it. So there are all these little check boxes, and then there’s this thing like, “What am I going to do with myself?” And then finally this is like the perfect ending to the story. Just check the box. You are in.

I hear these people talking about their bad days, but to me we are lucky.

We’re lucky on all our assignments. We were lucky that we got our degree before kids. We did that check box. I’m happy with our military career and myself. There’s nowhere to go for me. It’s taken care of.

My husband was my Prince Charming who came and rescued me. He took me out of that hole. No offense to anybody from Montana. He took out me out that hole and just pretty much said, “Here, do whatever you want.” And he has always been supportive of me. That’s important too. He’s always been supportive with me getting an education. He was supporting me not having a job if that’s what I wanted. And he’s happy that I’m happy.

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: 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.

The Naked Truth: Felice’s Story

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

Felice is a newlywed trying to make sense of her two new marriages, one to her husband and one to the military. Her current unemployment weighs heavily on her, and makes her feel “defeated.” She is struggling to find a way to stay positive and keep her own career a priority. In order to protect her identity, I am not using Felice’s real name. The following are excerpts from my interview with Felice in Germany.

I’ve always been the type of person who gets my self-worth or self-fulfillment from achievements… I grew up in a two-parent household where both my parents worked. My mother was a nurse and she ran a hospice. She was the director of a hospice. And my dad worked at a national laboratory, and he did all the budgets. So very highly educated people, very busy. They had five kids and they both had to work. My mother loved her job, absolutely loved her job. And then she came home and raised her five children. And that was something that was instilled in me from such an early age. I’m the youngest of five children, and when I was born she went back to work. My whole childhood, I always saw my mother working. So worthiness for me comes into play because I saw that she did everything, and she loved her job. And there were times that my dad would say, “Well you know, you don’t have to work if you don’t want to.” And she would look at him like he was crazy. “I have to work because this makes me feel good about myself.”

So having that as a mentor…

Worthiness to me is based on achievement.

My mother achieved a lot and still had the family and still had all of that…So I felt like I should always work because if she could do it, then I could too. And always be the best of the best of the best. Because I felt like that’s when you get recognition. Being in such a large family, you get recognition when you stand out.

I’ve always been on a path of high outward achievement, but now I’ve had the time to step back, because I’m not working, and say, “What do I really want?” And to be honest with you, I don’t know. I was very nervous from the work perspective (when I got married), but I decided in my head that it’s okay. You’re going to marry this person. You are not going to pass this up (when) you don’t know what’s next for you in terms of work. So I thought, okay maybe I’ll come here and get a Masters degree so at least I’m furthering myself or doing something. Or maybe it will be amazing. I’ll find a job and all of that. But again, until I’m living it, until I’m in the situation, you can try to warn me and talk to me about it a hundred times. My husband does that very well. Here’s every single situation that could ever happen. And of course, I was listening to him at the time but until I’m living it on a daily basis I couldn’t always make those connections.

The biggest thing that is really difficult about being here (in Europe) is that it’s the double-edged sword of time to travel and not work versus what’s going to be on that resume when I go back to the states next April and it has nothing on it. I come from HR, I come from recruiting, and if I saw that resume I would put it to the side. Because realistically I’m not going to put down that I’m a military spouse or that I moved based on being a military spouse. Because as a recruiter, (you know) that person is leaving in 3 to 5 years.

This is not just marrying someone who has a job. This is marrying the military. And this is a very hard thing.

In my opinion, it is two marriages because there is something that dictates where you are going to live and what if that area of the country doesn’t even do what you do? You know? I don’t know. Or (if) the job doesn’t pay what you were making, that’s another difficult scenario as well.

What’s my self-worth if I’m making $8 an hour when I was making $55,000 a year?

I went for an interview (when we got here), and I was very over-qualified for the job. It was a front desk position, really not handling a lot. The position paid $7.50 but they said they would give me $8 an hour. There was going to be no time off for the first 90 days, just like any normal job. But they knew I was over-qualified. I mean, I had done more than what the director of the program was doing at the time. And I kind of felt uncomfortable because I didn’t want her to feel like, “Who’s this person who knows more than I do?”

So I really tried to dumb myself down. Even though it showed I’d done all this stuff on my resume. And I just was like you know, “I am willing to take an entry level type position.” That was a question they asked me. So I went for the interview.

I felt pretty good, but I brought it home to my husband as well. This was the first time I’ve ever asked someone else’s opinion on my work stuff, which felt uncomfortable, but I said, “Now we’re a team. So I guess this is a decision we both make, you know?” And he was like, “I just don’t know how you can feel good about that. I mean you were making this amount. Now you’re going to make $8 an hour, and we’re going to lose all our flexibility. You’re not going to be able to travel. What if you don’t have the same days off as I do?” And I bought into it. I said, “You’re right. We’re here to travel. This is our time.” We just got married, all of that. So I bought into that, and I was okay with that. And then I got the call for the second interview. And I know I would have gotten the job, but I didn’t accept the second interview.

And then as the months have gone on, of course my husband and I travel. Of course we do that. We’re doing 3-day weekends, that type of thing. My husband moved from a position where he was working in one area and then he was actually promoted to be an exec to a commander. So now he’s much more busy. Now he doesn’t get home till 7:00 or 8:00 at night. Now he’s not even home. And here I am holding off not getting a job, regretting not going for that second interview, and if I was offered the job, not taking it. Because really, was the 10 days of travel that we’ve done in the last 5 months worth it for me not to be working?

It’s hard. There’s resentment towards my husband that isn’t his fault.

This is his job. This is what he’s doing. But then I’m watching Oprah or I’m watching Dr. Phil and I’m saying to him, “I already saw that this morning.” And he’s like, “Must be nice to watch TV.” So then you have this power struggle of saying, “But I listened to your advice. And you decided with me that it wasn’t a good idea to take a job because we would lose on our flexibility. But now I don’t know when you’re coming home from work. And I’m alone all day, and yes I can go have lunch with people, and live this weird lifestyle.” I’m not putting down anybody by saying this, but I’m like the lady who lunches. You know? I don’t have any responsibilities. I don’t have anything to do. I don’t know when my husband is coming home from work, so sometimes dinner is made, sometimes it’s not. I get to it when I get to it. I clean our house, but I don’t get gratification out of cleaning my house. That doesn’t make me feel like I’m giving to my relationship. Also the factor of money, none of this money is mine anymore, in my head. This isn’t money I brought to our marriage. And that’s really difficult. I want to buy something and before when I was single and working, I just bought it.

It’s our money, and my husband doesn’t feel this way, but I feel that I have to be telling him what I buy. And I don’t like that. I have so much guilt about it. Where really he’d be like, “Honey, I don’t care. That’s fine.” But you know the $100 pair of Coach shoes I bought? Do I really need those? And why do I feel so guilty for not telling him I bought them? He sees the Discover bill. It’s not like the guy doesn’t know I buy stuff, but I have this guilt because I’m not contributing.

I’ve never been in that space where I didn’t support myself and it’s really hard on the esteem for me.

Because like I said, I base things on achievements. Cleaning my house is not an achievement. I’m not saying there aren’t things for me to be doing. I just kind of feel scared, which I’ve never felt before.

(I’m scared that) I’m not going to be awesome at (what I do), or that it’s not going to work out, or I’m going to fall in love with something and as soon as I get in a rhythm and feel good, we’re going to get orders and go somewhere else. And it’s also building connections with other women as well. You build these connections and then, “See you later.” So how much do you really give of yourself? How much do you really invest in relationships with other people?

And how do you not complain? My husband has taken an oath to do this.

This is a very honoring position, what he’s decided to do with his life. And here I am spending my 8 hours a day complaining about it. I chose this. I really own my choices, and I’ve been that person where I commit to something full force. But like I said, I have controlled everything in my life. Now I literally feel like I have no control.

I’m compensating for not being busy by buying things. (My husband) had told me this a while ago. Before we were married, he’s like “Yeah, some of the guys come to work and they complain about how their wives just spend all this money.” And I understand why now. Because they have nothing to do. And they need to validated, so when they see something they want, or it’s a trip to the PX, it’s somewhere to go. I thought, “God, that’s so lame.” Now I’m that person.

And I think what’s difficult too, is that I am newly married.

So this is a formative time for my relationship and here I am in shock mode.

Oh my gosh, this my life and how will I ever have a job? How will I ever do this when everything right now is based on him? So it’s coming together as a couple, but it’s also like I said, the two marriages. Realizing this thing is the military, that’s the marriage.

I’ll ask my husband how his day is, and I know he appreciates that. But when he asks me about my day, I don’t want to talk about it, because I’m like, “Well I didn’t do anything today. I sat on the couch all day. God, I’m totally worthless.”

I hope I can get back in the workforce and be where I was at. Because I don’t even feel confident to be where I was at.

I don’t feel confident to ask for $55,000 knowing I’ve been out of the workforce for a year. I don’t feel confident because from my perspective in the HR area, and recruiting area, I have a massive gap on my resume. So, I hope I find a job. Or maybe I’ll just go back (to school), so I can avoid putting that resume together to try to get a job.

I decided I was going to get a Masters while I’m here. And I go in to talk to them about it, and I tell the lady, “Here’s my $40 application fee.” And she said, “Well when’s the DEROS date? When do you leave?” And here’s where I get defeated. She said, “You can’t do the program. You have to complete the Masters while you’re here. It’s only an overseas program for counseling.” She’s like, “Sorry, that’s the policy.” So how are you really helping me, you know? You’re totally defeating me. I go over and above to see what I can do to make exceptions. There will be no exceptions made. Okay. Well now I’m not going to get a Masters while I’m here. Great.

A door is closed. And it makes me want to give up.

It’s this whole new life that I don’t control a lot of it, in my perspective. And my thought pattern is I just need to take the bull by the horns and just make it happen for myself. But when I try to do that, like I said, I get this defeated attitude. I don’t know where that’s coming from.

I feel like I’m the only one who can make it happen for myself. It’s not my husband’s responsibility to make it happen for me. It is my responsibility to make my own happiness that I can share with him. I told my husband I don’t think we’re going to have kids for 5 years. Because what do I have to bring to the table? I don’t have a job. I don’t know what I’m doing. I want my children to be proud of me. I want to have something so when they do go to school, I have my own thing going on. I need to figure that out. I need to go to nursing school if that’s what I’m going to do before I have a child. And I remember when I first came here, and all the women I met had children. Either their husbands were enlisted or they were officers but they immediately had children when they got in. And I said “Oh, I feel bad for these ladies. All they’ve known is kids.” But then that thought came into my mind the other day. Well maybe I’ll have a baby. No, you don’t have a baby to chart the course because you don’t know where the course is going. You have a baby because you’re ready to have a baby. But I can kind of see why some people made those choices. So of course I’m not going to bring another life here. But then I’m thinking to myself, “Well, what else am I doing?” And that’s kind of the crazy soliloquy that’s going on in my head, because I’ve got a lot of time on my hands to over-think and over-analyze every single thing. And then my husband will come home and say, “God, you look so stressed out.” Because I’ve been thinking about crazy things for the last 8 hours for this entire week, every single day.

Or I feel obligated to get up in the morning with my husband when he has PT. I’ll get up at 6:30 in the morning, because when we first got here, I was sleeping in till noon. Then he would come home and be like, “Oh my God, why is your hair wet?” Because I basically just took a shower 15 minutes before you came home. I didn’t do anything today. Now I try to get up and I try to stay up, (even if) I don’t have a plan today. So it’s just weird. I’ve never been this way.

I’ve never been like, “Oh my God, how am I going to fill the day?”

If I don’t have anything, he knows I’m on the couch all day. That’s not healthy for me. That’s not mentally healthy. I don’t have anything, so I’m kicking my fins trying to stay above water, because I feel like there is no control.

Well I’ve expressed this to my husband too. I know I felt more confident and had more self-worth when I had a job. So I don’t have a job, hence I feel this way. It also has other factors too. It’s not just being a military spouse. It’s being a new spouse. It’s all of those things.

I’m (not) just going to be living for my husband. That’s not who I am. I can’t just take a backseat on my own life because his job dictates these parameters or whatever. And at the same time, I want to be a good spouse and I want to be supportive of the person who is supporting us financially. It must be hard to be the one who goes to work every day. I try to look at it from his perspective too. I’m sure there are days he doesn’t want to go to work.

My hope is that we can come to an understanding that I’m going to be working and that I’m going to need to have something of my own. Because that’s obviously going to affect our relationship if I don’t have something of my own. It already affects our relationship now. And military spouses are the reason people stay in the military. We are a retention piece. So if we are not happy, we make the military member unhappy and maybe they’ll get out earlier. I don’t want that for my husband. I want him to have the most amazing career. I want him to do everything he possibly can.

I do want everything that he wants for his career. I want him to want that same thing for me though. And I don’t know how that’s going to work.

I feel like you have a lot of professional women who are marrying military members who have their own things going on. How do we keep that for them? How do we do that? That’s something I’d like to see how it goes throughout the years. I hope there is more support for those people, myself included.

The Naked Truth: Andrea’s Story

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

Andrea reflects on her transition from the workforce to being a stay-at-home mom. She says it was difficult at first, but once she started believing that she was doing something important and “not failing,” she felt good about it. The following is an excerpt from an interview I conducted with Andrea, which is not her real name. She begins by talking about the job she held as an admissions counselor before becoming a mother.

(When we moved to DC), it was, “Yeah, I’m definitely gonna work.” We had a lot of bills left over from (my mother-in-law’s) funeral. So we had a lot of debt that we had to deal with from that. (I also cared about) making friends because we’re going to a new place and I don’t know anybody. So yeah, (I wanted to work) to make friends, to get out of the house. Finances was probably the number one. Otherwise I would have just gone to school.

I was an admissions counselor (for a university), so I was helping people get enrolled. And a lot of our enrollments were actually military members. So for me that was great, because I could actually talk to them and understand what their concerns were, probably the same concerns I had. And, you know, I was still doing school. So in the beginning it was awesome. Here I am doing school, and it was free. And again, it’s the social thing I was really enjoying. And I was really good at the job. I was really able to enroll people and get people going. So I thought.

(But then) I wasn’t really making friends, so I was sort of depressed a lot. Being able to talk to a lot of military members, over the phone, from all over the states, all over the world, was kind of fun. Because I’m talking to people who are sort of in the same situation. They’re in a place where they don’t know anybody, they’re not really liking the area, so they’re just sort of doing it because they have to. Which I found to be very good for me, at least. It helps me stay out of any funks, and keep going. But I wasn’t too happy really, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like (my husband’s) job and the hours he was working. (With) his commute, by the time he got home he would eat and go to bed. It was horrible. Weekends were just spent cleaning the house, because I was working full-time, and he was working full-time. We really weren’t doing anything. We weren’t traveling. California was great for all that stuff. We weren’t doing that now in Virginia. It was just sort of a day-to-day routine, at that point. So it was just “blah.” I wasn’t depressed or anything like that, it was just “blah.”

The job was stressful. At first, I thought it was a stellar company, and then it turned out it was not as good as I thought it was. I want to say 98% of the students I dealt with were military. And, while the college was viewed by the Department of Education as a real school, it didn’t have any of the national accreditations. So, I’m starting to hear back from students, “Hey, I tried to transfer this to another school, but it’s not transferring because it doesn’t have national accreditation.” At that point now I’m feeling bad, because I had gotten military people to sign up for classes that will get them a degree if they stay with us. But if you were looking to get a real education, or transfer it to another school, nine times out of ten they’re not going to transfer. But to be true to myself and have integrity, especially when it came to other military members, I’m going to be forward and straight up. So I struggled with that for a while.

Integrity comes first.

Integrity will always come first, and I will never, ever deliberately mess over a military person. Never. And, so I didn’t. I told them, “This is what we can do. This is the place that I know it’s going to transfer over to. But if you want to go to a nationally accredited school, you need to check with them first. Because I’m telling you, they may not take them.” I would tell them everything from the beginning, and then my sales numbers started to come back down. And so work got a lot more stressful.

I stayed with them until I gave birth to my daughter. I was working for them, and then I was going to start working from home. Except my daughter initially had a lot of health problems. And I just wasn’t able to keep up my job from home. So I resigned.

(I was) kind of sad, because I really did enjoy talking to people all day long. I had some guys in Korea and Afghanistan, who would use their minutes to call me just to chit- chat, because they knew that I would be bright and sunny and made their day better. They started with a stupid question about school, and we’d just talk for 20 minutes. I felt bad leaving them because I felt almost like I was abandoning people. But that was how it was.

I wanted to see if things settled down with my daughter, maybe I would be able to pick up again with that company, or maybe find another one where I could work from home. Just while she was little.

But then we moved to Germany.

But, (my daughter) just kept having all these little (problems). For the first six months, things just weren’t quite right. So we just kept going to the doctors, back and forth. At six months she had a really bad problem that she actually was hospitalized for. Three months later, she had a really bad episode where she went catatonic. And we went back to the hospital, but this time they found out that it was an obstruction of the small intestine that had to have surgery. So she had surgery, and all of that. And by that time, I just never did make it to a point where I felt good enough to get someone to help me watch her, or put her into daycare. I just didn’t trust anybody else to raise my kid at that point.

It was frustrating. It was lonely. I missed talking. And then when you do get around to your friends, the only thing you have to talk about is wet diapers. It was very frustrating for me. I’ve never not been able to talk to people before. Because I was the middle of five kids, I don’t know how not to interact with people. I didn’t really have a whole lot outside of my house or my daughter going on. So I started doing play groups, and things like that. But it’s just not the same. You don’t get breaks from the baby, you don’t get breaks from the family. And you’ve got nothing to talk about with a real person anymore. All you know how to do is sing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse song. So it was really frustrating for me. I hate to call work my time, but it is. I missed having my time.

And then of course, you go through “Am I a bad mom because I feel this way?”

The first six months I just thought I’m one of those over-paranoid moms. I need to just back off with her medical stuff. There’s nothing wrong with my kid. Stop being a hypochondriac for your daughter. But it was just sort of sad, because I’d lost all of those connections at work. I wasn’t social. I didn’t like it very much, being a stay-at-home mom.

But at six months, when I knew I was right (about my daughter), it changed everything. Now I’m like, “No, I’m a great mom. And you want to know why? Because I’ve known this for six months and you doctors didn’t.” Then I felt like a good stay-at-home mom, and this is a real job too. I just don’t get paid. So that sort of changed my attitude about it. That’s when we started doing play groups, and I was socializing more, and that made me feel better.

Tell me more about what you were thinking when you arrived in Germany.

Well, my daughter was getting older. She was about one and a half. (I thought I’d) put her in the CDC a few days a week, and maybe I can find a part-time job somewhere. I hadn’t necessarily thought of going back full-time, but definitely part-time. And then we got here and we found out I was pregnant. I was like, “So, that might not happen.” Because I definitely don’t want to be working the first six months of his life. Maybe I can still find something I can do from home, but those are more elusive than reality just yet, for me at least. Especially not having finished my Bachelor’s that makes it harder.

You look around, and your only options really are on base because I don’t speak German. And the options on base are very slim because of the fact that all military wives are here. So it’s a lot more competitive to get a job on base, at least one that you actually want to have, unless you want to work at the BX or the CDC. I’m not saying anything negative about those jobs, but those are different hours. You can’t really plan, you don’t know you’re working Monday through Friday. It could be any time and scheduling things is just a lot harder. Especially when you’ve got a family and you’re looking at deployments. And then I just forgot about working through the pregnancy. I’ll worry about that later when I can actually do it.

Once I realized I was a good mom, being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t the worst thing in the world anymore. I can still talk to people on the phone. I can still do play groups. And to be honest, that’s pretty much it. Now I’m an at-home mom. I’d love to have a real job at some point again. Right now it’s just not an option. I don’t feel negative about it. I’m actually happy with that decision for now, because I don’t feel like I’m a failure. I don’t anymore. I did the first six months with my daughter, but at this point, I don’t feel like that anymore. I don’t like to fail. And so as long as I’m not failing, I feel good about it.

With my kids, I don’t feel like I’m failing, because they’re getting everything they need from me. I’m teaching them things, at least my daughter anyway. I’m teaching her ABC’s, colors, so it is a job in itself, because now I’m a teacher. Okay, that’s cool. I’m not failing, because I am staying social. I’ve got new friends here. We’ve got play groups on Thursdays. We get together and do lunch with our kids, so I’m still being social. So that’s the failure part. With my daughter, I thought I was failing because I’m always taking her to the doctor and not being listened to, which makes you question yourself. If I’m not questioning myself, I’m not failing, because there’s nothing to question. And so, the realization at least for now while they’re this little, I’m not going to work. It just puts the question to rest for now.

And then I can go back and do some classes here and there online, which is what I’m doing now. That will help me get a job later, especially when it’s this competitive.

I can’t wait to go back to work. I love my kids, I love being an at-home mom, but man, it’s time to myself! I know that’s sounds silly because it’s a job, but it’s time to myself that I don’t have right now. And then I’m contributing to my family too. I can’t wait until they’re old enough, or at least the baby’s old enough for the CDC, or they can go to the German kindergartens. Then I have those hours where I can go have a real job or something. That would be great.

I know a lot of companies, when they look at your resume, they look for the gaps. They look for how long you’ve been with a company. You know, making sure you aren’t going to leave after three months. And being an Air Force spouse can just throw a damper on it, because you do have gaps where you didn’t work because of a move or a deployment, or whatever. Or you’ve got these short-term jobs, because maybe when you got to an area all you could get were these short-term jobs. So it sort of throws a whole new spin on the working thing. For me, I kind of like it, because I get to try everything, because you never know what you’re going to get when you get to the next station. But it sucks because you can’t look long term with a company that’s past three years. Long term for you is getting a job immediately and working three years. So you never really do climb that ladder. You never really do get that permanence that you need when you’re trying to plan retirement and things like that. So once he retires, then maybe I look at a job where I can be more permanent and feel more meaningful for a company. But, because you know it’s three years, it’s a temporary job.

You never really try to go too high up in a company because you know you’re not going to be there.

I’ve never really had a permanent place to call my home. Having that permanence gives you roots a little bit. And then you know the same people for more than three years. You know the same people, day in and day out. You build these relationships. And, in the military, you build these relationships very quickly, but at the end of three years, you build new relationships. And sure, you still love your friends that you made at the last one, and you sort of keep in touch, but it’s not the same. Every time, you find new ones. It would be kind of nice to have just one permanent thing in my life.