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: Phoebe’s Story

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

Phoebe is struggling with feelings of depression after transitioning out of the Air Force and becoming a stay-at-home mom and student.  Although she had no desire to leave the military, she decided that was her only option when she learned she was pregnant and the Air Force rejected her and her husband’s requests to be in the same location.

I was hoping to get the 20 years.  I didn’t want to get out.  I loved the camaraderie, the feeling that you get when you’re around other people.  I liked the service to your country that you do and how much people respect you for putting your life on the line.  I didn’t even feel like it was a job because I wanted to do it.  I melted into the military really well.  And I like it a lot.  I did.  I still do.  It was everything about me.

Even when it was the worst day ever, I still loved my job.

I feel very comfortable putting on the uniform.  I felt very comfortable with finances.  I was really good at that.  I felt even more comfortable being in the Air Force.  I felt more comfortable as a mom because I have more patience.  I had all the patience in the world and I had the power to stick up for myself.  I had the staff sergeant rank coming to me that I worked hard for.  It satisfied me so much as a person, I didn’t need anything else.  My work was enough.  And then when I came home I had all the patience left in the world for my child.  When I came home, even though I was exhausted from work sometimes, I would get a second, third, fourth, fifth wind after coming home.  However exhausting the day was it didn’t matter.

I started going to school here and I get paid $2,000 a month to go to school full-time, so that’s kind of nice.  But it’s just not the same.  It’s not the same satisfaction as being in the Air Force.  It was doing a service to my country and I always was proud.  I was so proud of my dad every time he came home.  And I loved the uniform.  People think I’m silly because when I was in basic training I put on the uniform and I just did a little dance.  Because I was like, “I have my own!”  I used to wear my dad’s and pretend that it was mine and now I had my own.  My dad and I developed this really strong bond too.  I’d be like, “Did you get your ABU’s?  I went and bought mine!  Did you go get your stripes?  I bought mine!”  And then he was going to come and tack on my staff sergeant stripes for me.  He was going to be in his blues.

When you got out, what did you think you were going to do?

Go to school.  I always had that in my head, not realizing that being a stay-at-home mom you don’t have time for anybody or anything else except for them.  It was hard to get all that school work done.  When am I going to get it all done?

And when you move to a new place you don’t develop a support network overnight.

I tried to get involved in the spouses’ club.  That’s a big gossip spider web of women.  I’ll tell you that much.  I’m sure some spouses’ organizations are great, but this one is not.  It doesn’t fit me.  The Air Force fit me.  Not the spouses “gab-gab” session.  That just doesn’t suit me very well.  And all these people would say, “Oh I’ll help you, but you live too far away.”  Okay, then don’t tell me you’re going to help me, especially when I call on you and I need it.  It’s just so hard dealing with this.

Stay-at-home moms always seem so happy and great, but when you get in their cliques, they’re mean.  They’re so mean and then they suck the life out of you.  At least that’s what it felt like for me.  The Air Force was awesome.  At least I knew what to expect from the Air Force and I was okay with that.  There were rules.  There were guidelines so you know exactly what’s going to happen if you mess up, because it’s written right out there.  But in this civilian life, there are no rules.  There are no expectations.  There are no guidelines.  People can hurt you and just walk away and it’s okay.

Little things started to affect me tenfold, more than they normally would have.

Then I started paying attention to things.  I realized that I had feelings of not wanting to live anymore.  Every morning I’d wake up and I didn’t want to be here.  I just didn’t want to do anything.  I didn’t want to run a marathon anymore.  I feel more exhausted now being a stay-at-home mom than when I ever did being a single mom, working and pregnant.  I mean, how is that possible?  I wonder if it has something to do with the way I’m thinking, more of a mind-over-matter type of thing.  I think my brain is just messing me up with my new life.

It’s not fitting like I thought I would.  (Staying home) is not as rewarding as I hoped it would be.  And it’s very selfish I think to say that.  I feel guilty saying it.  But it’s really not as rewarding.  I need a break and I don’t get a break anymore.  Or they’re very far and few between.  Little things get me down and depressed very easily.  I don’t feel the same satisfaction I did from being in the Air Force.

*At the time of this interview, Phoebe was seeking professional help for her depression, a problem she has grappled with at various points in her life.  Free and confidential counseling is available to all military spouses and their families at Military One Source.

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: Tanya’s Story

 

The Naked Truth: Real Military Spouses Share Their Employment Stories - Tanya's StoryTanya is staying home with two toddlers and has mixed feelings about her experience. She wants to work and get out of the house, but doesn’t like the thought of childcare. She’s proud that she’s been there for her children, but says it’s been the worst three years of her life. The following is an excerpt from my interview with Tanya in Germany.

If I actually had a career, I would make sure it was in something that I’ve been studying for, which is essentially a glorified secretary. Every business in the world needs a secretary of some sort, so I know I won’t have a shortage of opportunities to find a job. It’s just the way my mind works. I can focus on weird menial tasks – stuffing envelopes, typing, stacking, collating, and organizing. That’s just the way I like to work. I don’t have any opportunity to do that right now. I mean I can organize my kid’s clothes into color-coded stacks but that’s about all I get right now.

This has been the worst three years of my life.

I mean, I love my kids, but I’ve basically been pregnant and/or nursing since we got here. And I love my girls, but I want to get away from them for a few hours every day at least. And if I get a job doing the Exchange or the commissary, my paycheck’s going to pay for their daycare. So I’m doing one thing to pay for another.

When I initially got here, I had about a month left in my classes, so I didn’t really look for anything at that point. I’d already been awarded a clearance, so I was thinking, “Ok, I’ll try to get a job, maybe at the hospital, or just any kind of secretary job.” It didn’t have to be anything fancy. But I was waiting until I finished my schooling so I could say, “I have an Associates’ degree.” At that point, I found out I was pregnant and thought, “Do I really want to do that to an employer? Do I want to get in, get trained and have all these appointments that I’m going to all the time?” So I said, “I’ll wait. I’ll have my kid, get through the maternity leave stage, and then I’ll look.” And by that time I was so tired from my daughter, and my husband was always at work. He’s a typical dad. He’ll change a diaper, he’ll feed them, but when they cried it’s, “Go see your mother.” My expectations of what I thought I would be doing over here definitely have fallen through.

It was a choice between staying home and taking care of my kid versus working.

It was an easy call, because I didn’t want to let somebody else raise my kid and throw them in the CDC or whatever. Then you get to see all those moments. I get to see the first steps or the first tooth, all that. I didn’t want to give up all that and give the moments to somebody else.

That first three months when you nurse and the child will get all the anti-bodies from the breast milk and everything. I wanted to get through that without having to worry about having to pump and everything. And once I got to that stage, I started filling out applications online and submitting resumes. I just never got any call backs.

I went on USA Jobs and the Services website and I just did anything clerical, office automation, administrative assistant, anything in that generalized category. Either they hired other people or I wasn’t clicking all the right boxes to get the spousal preference. I don’t know. I never got any notifications back on any of them, so I never got a reason why I wasn’t selected.

I was very discouraged.

I thought, “Hey, I already have this clearance. That’s $5,000 they’re not going to have to spend on me to get it covered. That should give me a little boost up, and I have this degree…” And nothing, so it was just, “Ok great. I feel worthless.”

About the time I just kind of gave up on it, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. And then we were also trying to move out of our off-base house because our landlady was not being pleasant. So I was searching online trying to find houses, trying to take care of my first child, and it just consumed my time. Plus I was trying to finish up a second Associates, and starting to work on my Bachelors. So everything just had me preoccupied, and I didn’t really have time to think about trying to find a job.

Right now we’re looking to get my oldest signed up for German preschool in the fall, and then the following year my second daughter will be able to go into preschool. Hopefully at that point, I’m going to try and get my resume looking really nice so I can start submitting it for jobs.

For the most part, knowing that I’ve been there for (my kids) and that I’ve been there through everything makes me feel good.

But there are just those days where I want to say “Somebody come take them.” I’ve been getting a little stir crazy, sitting at home when they’re asleep. I don’t want to make any noise, because then they’re going to wake up and then I’m not going to get anything done. So I just sit there and quietly type on my homework right now. Stir crazy would probably be the best way to describe it.

What is that you feel like you’re missing?

Just the constant work flow, something that I could always be doing. Whether it’s typing up the minutes from a meeting, typing up a report, proof reading somebody else’s paper, or email. Just something that I could be focused on for five or six hours out of the day, where I’m helping people helping get tasks done that need to be done that nobody else wants to do. I know I’m crazy for it, but I like that kind of thing. I like the hard tasks that nobody else wants to do. The one that everybody goes, “Oh, I have to do that again.” Those kinds of tasks.

I think for me it’s the same as when people jump out of airplanes and go bungee jumping or ride roller coasters.

That’s their kind of thrill. For me, it’s taking on those jobs that nobody wants to do. It’s not exactly a thrill, but it’s the same kind of a feeling. I don’t know a better way to describe that.

I like it because then I know I accomplished something. I can see the physical results of the work, especially when it’s stacking, organizing, and everything. When you see the mess, and then you see the organization, everybody can find everything. That just makes me feel better, which is good. Everybody can say, “Oh, I need a…” And it’s there. They don’t have to dig through a drawer, look in a box. They can find exactly what they need, right in front of them.

When I organize or straighten things up at home, then my husband comes home and can’t find anything. And then he and I get into an argument about why I put this there when it should go here. So I don’t get the thanks at home that I would get from a job. I don’t know…For whatever reason, if I’m outside of the house the tedium and the repetition doesn’t bother me.

When I’m in the house, it wears on me more because I’ve been stuck in the house for the last three years.

It’s like, “Great, laundry. But I just did laundry yesterday, and I don’t want to do laundry today. Now I have to do dishes.” It wears on me, but if I had a job, I’d have that break from the house and the dishes and the laundry and the tedium. So I could switch back and forth between the two.

It’s kind of the way some grandparents feel about their grandkids. They love to have them but they’re so glad when they get to give them back. Same thing at a job. You love the work, but you can leave it there and take a break from it. I need the break from the house. That’s what I’m looking for.

The Naked Truth: Vanessa’s Story

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

Vanessa has her own photography business and two small children. She met her husband in high school, and describes how they made the decision together for him to join the Air Force. Although it has been a roller coaster in many ways, she is proud to be a part of the military and wouldn’t trade it for the world. The following excerpt is from my interview with Vanessa in Germany.

I had never had any sort of military experience at all. So it took a lot of prayer and thought to decide if this was the best decision for our future family. Once we looked at all the benefits and also looked at whether or not he was just going to enlist or be a commissioned officer, it was a no-brainer for us. When he joined ROTC that was great because we got benefits right away. They started paying for his school right away. They started paying for our housing, which was a big deal.

He was trying to lean towards a career where it would be a normal schedule. And they told him he’d probably deploy, but at the time it was four month deployments. Maybe every couple years kind of thing and we were like, “Okay, that’s doable.” All the benefits, the healthcare benefits, steady employment, and the thought of traveling for us was actually really exciting.

Coming from a really small town myself, I was ready to get out. I wanted to see the world. So we made a decision and he signed on.

I was probably more in love with the idea of just being with someone and getting ready to start a family and moving somewhere than I was about trying to pursue my own career at that point. I just kind of felt like everything would fall into place. Either I would get a job and I would do it, or I wouldn’t and I would have a family. So I wasn’t, “Well I need to do this. I need to have my career so how’s this going to work.”

I wasn’t career-oriented at that point.

I started off working in a preschool classroom, and that was useful. I’ve always liked working with kids. And then once I graduated, I was able to move into the Kindergarten. (At the next assignment), I still wanted to work with kids, but I wanted to focus more on children that had disorders, some sort of early intervention, something like that. And I thought that it was going to be easy for me, I guess in my immature mindset, thinking that getting out of college I’m not going to have a hard time finding a job. But it took me almost five months to find employment, and for me that was very frustrating.

(The job I got) was dealing with children with special needs and also children in a low income setting and how that affects their development. (It was a) really phenomenal organization. I was able to do all kinds of things with my career.

I really felt a sense of accomplishment because I found something that I had actually gone to school for and was utilizing my education.

I was pursuing what I thought was my dream of working in child intervention. It was a really rewarding job. I really liked it. (Then) we found out shortly after my son was born that my husband was going to be deploying. That was really devastating. It was hard to tell our families too, because they didn’t want to see him leaving plus leaving me and a new baby. So that was really hard. But I had made the decision to quit working before we’d found out that he was going to deploy.

I just knew that I wanted to be home and raise our children. It wasn’t even an option to put them in childcare.

I saw that from my experience working with the 0 to 3 year olds. I saw how devastating it was to some of these children to have their parents gone the entire week. When we had early care and late care, some of them would come in as early as they possibly could and leave as late as they possibly could. And I didn’t want that for my kids. I just didn’t want that, and we were financially able to make that decision and stay home. I was just fortunate to do that. But yeah, that was solidifying for me to see these little babies being left, and I just couldn’t do it.

It was good (staying home), but I started to realize that I needed to be doing something.

But I didn’t want to be doing something that would pull me away from my kids all of the time. And actually, that’s when my love of photography really started to take off. I had these cute precious little babies, and I’m trying to capture everything I possibly can. In my ever-failing mommy brain I’m trying to picture them in a newborn phase and I can’t do it. All I can think about is the spit-up on my shirt or whatever. So I started taking snapshots, and then it developed into more stuff. I got a nicer camera and took some shots of the boys and printed them in a decent size and hung them on the wall. I got a lot of encouragement from friends and family to pursue this. And never in my mind did I think that I would go to school in developmental psychology and end up being a photographer. But it just sort of fell into place. I didn’t think I’d be going back to work, but I thought I could do this.

I could start a business and I could travel with that business, because I could take it wherever we go.

I could do it out of my home. And with the military, it wouldn’t really be an issue because it was there with me. It was just a part of me. So it seemed really reasonable, something where I had a creative outlet. I could be contributing to society or be a part of something bigger than myself, still creating my own schedule. I was still able to be there for the boys when they needed me.
I thought that being the caregiver for my children would be enough for me. And it was enough, but it still felt like I needed to be doing something outside of them. I realized I still needed a piece of me that was separate from my children. Because I didn’t want to continually see myself as a mom. I mean you never break free from that role, but I didn’t want that to be my only label. I wanted something for myself and I needed something where I was pursuing something individually that wouldn’t necessarily affect my children, but still I could go off on this career path and still feel like I was accomplishing my own goals.

The business idea started to really grow when my husband came back from his second deployment.

And then he found out a few months later that he was going to be gone for a year. And I thought, “This is awful. You’ve already gone on two deployments, and you’ve only been in for a few years. This is not what we signed up for.” So we had made the decision that he was going to get out because it was just too much on our family. He actually submitted his paperwork and everything. Sorry, I’m going to cry….

But after searching and searching and trying to find something that was comparable to what he was doing, it was nearly impossible. We decided together that it wasn’t going to work. We were just going to have to push through whatever deployment we were going to have to go through and he was going to stay in the military.

It was really hard seeing him as the caretaker for our family struggle so much. I didn’t want that for him.

I didn’t want that for us. And I knew he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. As hard as that is for our family, I knew that’s what he was supposed to be doing. So he pulled his paperwork, and they were like, “All right, but that means you’re going to leave. You don’t have a choice. You have to do this 365.”

We made the decision that I would go back and be with family. I registered with the state of Wyoming and that was a really proud moment. But I think my children probably suffered a little bit in that time because, not only was their dad gone, I was sort of not there emotionally. It was hard with your husband being gone and he was doing convoy missions in Afghanistan. So that part was hard, but I think I turned that emotional part of it around and used that for fuel for my own personal thing that I was trying to do. I needed that distraction. I needed something for myself while he was gone.

What were your hopes for the business when you thought about coming here to Germany?

I thought it was a great opportunity.

I’m going to be surrounded by military community where word of mouth within spouses is the most powerful form of advertising. I started just doing some friends and that kind of thing. But right away, it was just like wildfire. Just exactly like I thought it would be. There would be a huge need and I would have a huge target market here and it would just take off. And that’s exactly what happened. So at some point, especially around the holidays, I had to tell some people I couldn’t take anymore clients. And that was a first for me to have to tell people “no” because I was so busy. But it was really good.

I’m really, really proud of my work. I stand behind it 100%. I really love being able to give people something that they love and are going to cherish forever. I think it’s a priceless gift that you give to somebody. Yeah, it’s fantastic. I feel like I have a purpose.

(Vanessa explained before the interview that the Air Force has told her to close her photography business because her home-based business does not meet the requirements of the local Status of Forces Agreement. Although this was later rectified, during our interview Vanessa’s business is currently on hold.)

I feel like this has been taken away from me, like I’ve been cheated. There could be some kind of exception to the law. There’s this stereotype that military spouses don’t do anything. They kind of sit on their butts, or do whatever. They’re just there as caretakers. But I feel like they almost push us to be that way instead of allowing us to do these things and be a part of these things. It’s as simple as selling Pampered Chef or the other little franchise companies that military spouses are a part of. It creates camaraderie between us, and as silly as it is, you create friendships from a Pampered Chef party. That one important person could change your life later on down the road in your military career. So, by making it so difficult they’re taking stuff away from us.

I like being a part of something bigger than myself. I like seeing my husband in this role and him being a part of something bigger than us. I think it’s great and I stand by him 100%. I’m really proud of him. We went through that transition of him getting out, and I can’t see him not being in the military. And I’ve been able to have such great friendships and meet some of the most amazing people, and become part of such an amazing family. There’s a whole difference between being in a group of people that are in the military and those that are not. It’s like night and day. I don’t even know how to describe it, but I like being a part of that, just the sense of family that I have being a part of this. I really love it.

I’m proud to be a military spouse.

For myself personally, I think the hardest part is just dealing with the rules, with the military way. This is what it is. This is what you have to do. But I wouldn’t change it. I don’t want to not be a part of this, as crazy as that is, because as sad and emotional as it has made me, a part of us will always be military. Once you get in it, you can’t separate yourself from it.

The Naked Truth: Katie’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My career got put on the backside.

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

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

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

It’s like I’m a married, single mom.

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

I lost a part of myself as a person.

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

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

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

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

The Naked Truth: Isabelle’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Naked Truth: Heather’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has this experience in Germany impacted you?

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

The Naked Truth: Grace’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really don’t regret stopping working.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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