About Me

Fort Bragg, NC, United States
I'm a stay at home dad raising four beautiful children. I am the proud spouse of an Army Lieutenant Colonel. I do my best to keep up with the kids and all of their activities. I enjoy playing the bass and the occasional bass guitar building project. You can follow me on twitter if you so desire...@ArmySpouse007.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Easy Betrayal


I've been writing this blog for the better part of 5 years now. In that time, I've never written about politics or government. It's something that I've tried very hard to stay away from due to the incendiary nature of political discussions. That will change today. With the passage of Budget Compromise and yesterday's House of Representatives passage of this year's spending plan, our government has done the unthinkable. It has reduced the retirement benefits of those who have raised their hands and volunteered to serve their country in the Armed Forces. The primary advocate of this cut in benefits is the hero of conservatives and Republicans alike, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan.

Now, before we go on, the reasons behind the cut in benefits should be explained. The amount of money that the Defense Department spends every year on retiree benefits is huge. In 2012, the Pentagon spent just over $52B on retiree benefits. This amounted to about 10% of the nearly $530B budget for the year. There's no question that this is an enormous amount of money. The "fix" for this issue, however, amounts to a complete betrayal of those who have served for 20 years or more in our military. Mr. Ryan, and his counterpart (and co-conspirator) Senator Patty Murray of Washington, looked at reducing military pensions as a means to reduce costs. Reducing the cost of government is a noble and worthy cause. Making military retirees your primary target for cost reduction is a knife in the back of those who have served.

Now, to be fair, actual retirement benefits aren't being touched (yet). What is being reduced is the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) that is added every year. The COLA is given so that a pension means the same every year as inflation causes costs/prices to rise. When the COLA is reduced, the pension is worth less and less every year. And this is where the rub is. Reducing the COLA for military retirees tells them that the value of what they did for our country isn't worth making their pension hold its value year in, year out.

In an interview yesterday (January 15th) on Hugh Hewitt's daily radio program (give this a listen), Paul Ryan made two very strong statements that are very telling in terms of what his view of those who have served and retired from the Military. First, he said that "those in the military have not paid into their retirements." Mr. Ryan, aren't multiple deployments, missed family events like birthdays, anniversaries, BIRTHS, and such payment enough? Is being in harms way for a year at a time enough to earn being cared for by our country? Those who came back different from when they left, those who have seen things that most of us hope to NEVER see, haven't they given enough?

Second, Mr. Ryan made what I consider to be one of the most bewildering statements I've ever heard someone say in relation to those who serve. He said, "If we don't watch it, the military is going to become a government benefits agency that fights wars on the side." So, honoring your promise to those who have given 20 years of their lives, many having given years in immediate danger, takes you down a road to where they are just another entitlement group? How on Earth can you equate taking care of those who have given so much for the defense of our country, our freedoms, and the liberation of so many others to a simple government entitlement?

The one ray of hope in this utter betrayal is the fact that this cut won't go into effect for two years. There is time to see this repealed, to restore the faith in our veterans, our best and bravest who have given so much. In all of the years that I've been writing this blog, I've never asked anything of you, my faithful readers. So many of you have read, commented and supported my efforts to tell the story of military spouses and our struggles, trials, and lives. Today, however, I am asking something of you. Today, I'm asking you to go beyond just being a friend and a reader of this blog. I'm asking you to contact your representatives and your senators. I'm asking you to tell them that targeting our military retirees in order to cut spending is beyond wrong. Let them know that this provision in our recently passed budget cannot remain, that America must keep its promise to those who serve. Here's where you can find the contact information for your particular representative:

http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

Tell them that reducing the National Debt cannot and must not come at the expense of those who put themselves in harms way for our nation.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The busy life of an Army family

The last several weeks have been non stop for our family. There have been trips, sports events, family visits, etc. It seems like there is a never ending stream of things to do and places to be. I find it hard to imagine a stretch of more than a few days where we have nothing planned. Take this week, for example. Yesterday, my oldest had a football game, while at the same time our battalion (for which I play) was in the championships of the base racquetball league. Somehow, my wife and I managed to cover down on both, all the while dragging three other kids along for the ride. Tonight is not much different. The battalion has its Halloween party while my oldest is again at a football event (this time playing in the band). Add to that our martial arts class (which I teach). I can envision my head hitting the pillow tonight and my eyes closing quickly afterwards. And this isn't the last of it this week. Friday night there is a school Fall Festival while one of the kids has to be out of town at a different school event. At least the price of gas is going down...
In our never ending quest to make sure that our children are well rounded we end up running ourselves ragged on a weekly basis. True, some weeks are worse than others. But, it's no wonder that, when Summer break arrives, both parents and kids alike are happy for the slowdown in activities. For bigger families like mine the future only holds more of the same as the other kids get older and become more involved in activities.

Understand, this post isn't a rant. Not at all. It's simply a view of what life is like. Now, I know that what we go through each week isn't unique to Army families. Many families have kids that are actively involved in extracurricular activities. Plenty of kids from civilian families play sports, take music lessons, do scouting, etc. What makes us a bit more unique, though, is the military aspect of it. You see, the Army doesn't really care what time my son's football game is this week. It cares about whether or not the mission is completed (and mission can mean a whole host of things, not just some soldiers going out on patrol!). If we had only one child, this wouldn't present any problems. When there are multiple kids, each with their own events/activities, it gets more complicated. Throw in a deployment (or a command!) on top of that, and things can get a lot more stressful.

I've found, like so many other military spouses, that the only way to really make it work is to get help. Carpooling is the key. Many times events line up between military families and the load can be shared by several. I have several neighborhood kids who take the martial arts classes that I teach. They help by bringing my kids along from the bus stop. When my wife was in Afghanistan, my folks would take one kid to football while I took the other one to TaeKwonDo.

Other times, you have to make some compromises and difficult choices. When we lived in Fort Bragg, my wife was still deployed to Afghanistan and then less than a year later deployed to Kuwait. I made the choice to restrict all of our activities down to just one: TKD. It was something that all of us could do together, all at the same time. My kids definitely had other interests, but this was the way it had to be. Were they any worse for the wear? Nope. Three of them have earned their black belts, and the last one is about a year away from his. Now that we are in a stable situation (at least for the next 8 months...) we've been able to expand what the kids do a bit. That may change with our next assignment, though.

There is something to be said for military kids, though, who have endured the constant moves and deployments. They become increasingly more adaptable and deal with change better and better. My oldest two kids have lived in 7 states so far in their lives. They know that wherever we land for each new assignment for my wife it'll be temporary. They make friends and become involved, but always with the understanding that we'll be moving on in a year or two. And they know that there are limits to how much we can do as a family, especially when mom is deployed.

The most important point, I think, is to not feel guilty over the things that the kids aren't able to be involved in. Sure, I'd love for my kids to do more. But there are limits. I could beat myself over the head and feel as though I've let them down when I have to tell them no for things like sleepovers, lock-ins, and parties. But at the end of the day you can only do what you can do. Letting yourself get down over what we consider to be failures in parenting doesn't help them or do us any good. When all is said and done what matters most is whether or not my kids are loved and know that they are loved. That, I know for sure, I can do. Beyond that, everything else is gravy.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

And now, for something completely different... Kittens!


As many of you know, I write this blog to talk and discuss things that affect our lives as military spouses. Some of my blogs have been humorous, some more serious. I always try to write things that I think will be relevant to what we as military spouses face on a day to day basis.

I felt, though, that this would be a great time to talk about something that our family has so far avoided: pets. Besides the fact that pets are an added strain on the budget and additional work added to the already hectic and busy days that we face, 3 of my 4 children are allergic to animals. Perhaps we could get used to the added responsibilities of having pets. But the allergy thing is a tough one to overcome. Hence our extreme reluctance to venture any further down the pet path than having fish.

That's not say we've never discussed it. We have. My oldest recently asked for a puppy for his birthday. Now, this is one of the most responsible kids I know. However, when my wife and I explained to him that if we were to get a dog he'd have a number of chores added to what he already does in order to take care of a dog...well...he balked at the idea and withdrew the request.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to my wife's visit to have an Xray on her shoulder. In a very simple and friendly conversation with the tech, the subject of our kids came up and he mentioned that he had a couple of kittens that he was looking to find a good home for. Now, what got into my wife to actually consider the idea is beyond me. She called me and broached the idea. I thought about it and threw caution to the wind, along with the allergies. Two days later, we had a pair of tiny, mostly black kittens. We surprised the kids on a Friday afternoon with them. They were beyond thrilled!

Why kittens? Good question. First, we decided that if we were going to have pets, we wanted them to be low maintenance. Cats certainly fit that description. They don't need to be walked or played with. In fact, most of the time they prefer that you don't play with them. Or touch them. Or interrupt them while they nap, eat, groom, or whatever else they may be doing. They prefer that you accept that your house belongs to them now and that you are simply a guest in their house. Secondly, if we were going to have pets, we needed pets that wouldn't encumber us when we decided to travel. I know lots of people who have dogs that require attention. "I'm sorry, we just can't travel right now, we have no one to watch our dogs" and "well, we just don't want to board them because they just don't do well in a kennel" are statements that we promised would never be said by us. With cats, this isn't a problem. Our cats have a self feeder. They have a water dispenser. They have a much used litter box (our kittens were 2 months old when we got them and were already litter box trained). We can feel free and confident to go away for two or three days and not worry about them.

Now, about those allergies we spoke of earlier. Funny thing about allergies: the more exposure that you have to an allergen, the more your body is able to begin developing a resistance to it. The first day we brought the kittens home, there were some stuffy noses and itchy eyes. As you can imagine, we immediately started the Zyrtec. Since then, however, nearly everyone's allergies, including mine, have died down. Only one kid is still on the allergy meds, and he's always been on them due to his asthma. So those worries have all but faded.

Now, there are some health hazards that go with having kittens. There is always the threat of attack and bodily harm. Kittens attack everything. And I do mean everything. I have watched them walk right up to a blank wall and attack it. When we brought them home, I warned the kids while we were still in the car that they would be scratched and bitten constantly and not to freak out about it. They have since found out just what I was talking about. They really don't hurt when they attack, but the surprise of having a pair of sharp teeth and sharp claws going into your leg while you are at the dinner table can certainly be unsettling!

This last picture is our kittens, in their sleep mode. You see, kittens have two modes: attack and sleep. There is no middle ground. To commemorate this wondrous discovery, I've written a psalm that I'd like to share:

The Kitten Psalm
by Tim Blake

1. These are my kittens, they shall attack.
2. They attack green pastures, they attack still waters, and anything else that may or may not move.
3. They are trying to my soul. When I am on the path of righteousness, they attack me.
4. When I am in the valley of the shadow of death, they attack me. The rod and the staff, they attack those as well.
5. They attack the table prepared in the presence of my enemies. My cup overflows because they attacked it and made it spill. Thou cannot anoint my head with oil because they are busy attacking my hair.
6. Goodness and mercy are too frightened to follow me on any of the days of my life for fear of being attacked by the kittens.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

The power of I'm Sorry (Drama part 1)

Every day we hear terms like "stand up for yourself" and "fight for your rights" but we seldom hear any talk of making an apology. As I look back on my nearly 15 years as a military spouse, I've had the unfortunate "privilege" to watch many friendships end and to see people who were acquaintances become enemies.

The causes of these rifts are as diverse as the people involved in them. Often, the issues are minor. At other times, there are serious concerns. Ask yourself this: have you ever been a part of a fight or argument that simmered for days, weeks, even years? I know that I have. I also know that I was the cause of many, if not most, of those problems. And in every case, I had to make a decision as to whether or not I would be the one to ask for forgiveness.

My wife and I are well acquainted with the words "I'm sorry". That's because we are constantly reinforcing it in our children. When one of my kids gets in trouble for doing something out of line to one of his/her siblings we require them to tell the other that they are sorry. Further, the kid who was hurt is expected to forgive. The most fascinating part of watching these interactions play out is that when the they forgive their brother or sister, they don't just say the words; they truly move on. They don't look back a day or so later and say "remember what you did to me yesterday?" They have this natural ability to let it go and move on.

The truth is, though, we aren't kids. The hurts that we experience at the hands of others are real, they are painful, and they have lasting effects. What's more, our actions that we feel are justified can have far reaching consequences and affect the lives of others much more deeply than we imagined. And while we love to quote the old saying that there are "always two sides to an argument," we forget that there really is another side to the argument that we are involved in. It's a sobering realization that comes when we realize that we've wounded another person in an effort to prove that we are right.

This is where the power of I'M SORRY comes in. A heartfelt apology can take the sting out of a wound that we've inflicted. It's like drawing out the poison in a snake bite, except that we were the snake that did the biting. It is a demonstration to the other person that we realize what we've done, or may have done, and we're sorry for it. Saying we're sorry is one of the hardest things that we can do. It means we have to swallow down our pride and ask someone to forgive us. It means that whether or not we were right or wrong no longer matters. It means we value the feelings and friendship of another person more highly than we value being right.

It is easy to expect someone else to make the first move. It relieves us of the burden of being vulnerable and asking for another's forgiveness. Too many people in this world feel that to apologize would show weakness. In point of fact, it shows inner strength, maturity, and wisdom. It has the power to heal, to make amends, to put things right between you and another. We need to ask ourselves what is more important: our egos or our relationships. You see, at the end of the day, our egos don't get us anywhere and don't do anything for us. Friendships, however, can last forever.


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Monday, June 24, 2013

Silly things that matter

My wife has now been home from deployment for a year and a half. We haven't had any separations lasting more than a week or two since December of 2011. You'd think that many of the things that helped me get through those too-frequent separations would be things of the past now that she's been home for so long. And yet, I still find that some very inconsequential (at least as far as my life is concerned) and silly (in terms of their impact on my life) things are still special to me. They have a connection that harkens back to how the kids and I not only coped with the deployments, but OWNED them!

This time of year saw my wife deployed twice in a row. When she was gone the first time, we made visits to the pool a part of our ironclad, set-in-stone daily routine for the Summer. We went to the pool whether we wanted to or not. Of course, all of us were deeply tanned by the end of Summer! And now, here we are, 3 years removed from that first Summer all by ourselves, and we are still doing the same thing. Why? I'm not totally sure. Getting the kids outside and getting them some exercise in the blazing heat doesn't leave many options. That said, it just seems like going to the pool every day is what we are supposed to be doing, that if we didn't go, we'd somehow be doing things wrong.

Beyond the daily pool visits, my connection with things that shouldn't matter but do get's even more strange. Take Wimbledon, for example. I like tennis, but I've never been an avid watcher or much of a fan of it. But back in 2010, still a month or two out from our reunion with my wife, the kids and I were cleaning house. Between vacuuming rooms, I would stop and watch a bit of ESPN. Wimbledon was on. I remember being fascinated by the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut that lasted more than 11 hours over 2 days. The kids and I watched it off an on over those two days, just to see what would happen (Isner defeated Mahut 70-68 in the 5th set!). We then got drawn into Wimbledon over the next week and enjoyed it. Three years later, here I am feeling that pull to watch it again, savoring that feeling of the nearing end of a deployment. As I said, Wimbledon had never really mattered to me before 2010. Now, though, there's a connection, and in a small way, it matters.

June and July of 2010 saw us settled into our new home at Fort Bragg. My wife wouldn't be home until the end of July. Up to that point, we'd been living in Savannah, GA with my parents. But once Summer arrived, we moved on and got settled. For the first time, it was just us. Many of those nights we would stay up and watch a movie, like a Pixar flick. At least two of my kids would fall asleep on the floor of our living room, but that didn't matter. We were "breaking the rules" by staying up late and watching a movie, something their mommy probably wouldn't approve of. But since it was just us, and since we had nowhere to be the next day (except, of course, the pool!), I couldn't see a reason not to do it. Once again, here we are 3 years later in the Summer and the kids and I find ourselves starting movies around 9 pm (with the same two still falling asleep on the floor...). Once again, it just feels like this is something that we should be doing, something that just feels right. Even though my wife never joins us in the late night adventures (she has to get up EARLY for PT), she allows us this guilty pleasure!

These three examples, plus many more I'm sure, are part of the nostalgia that I feel for those days when we discovered that going through a deployment didn't mean we had to suffer or "just make it". We learned that we could thrive and grow during that time. Those little things, however inconsequential they may be, still matter. They are a testament of a family that refused to be beaten during a deployment. We learned so much about ourselves during those times; Summer pool days, Wimbledon, and late night movies form a connection back to those discoveries. They are reminders that no matter what lies ahead, we can face it and rise above it. So I embrace a tennis tournament that I'm not at all interested in but feel drawn to watch. We go to the pool every day and remember what it meant to us during those lonely days of 2010 and 2011. And we stay up late and watch movies together even though it's no longer "just us" because we still forge and sharpen those deep bonds that were formed during those deployments. In the end, things likely mean very little to anyone else. But to us, they are prized memories and traditions that will last for many years to come.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What are you waiting for?

This past weekend, our family had the opportunity to attend an Army Strong Bonds retreat. This wasn't our first time going, but it was definitely our favorite of all of them. If you've never been to one, then please read on and let me tell you about them.

The Army Strong Bonds program is designed to help military families remain strong and resilient in the face of deployments and pressures that we have faced over the last decade. They are usually held at a resort type hotel. And while they are run by the Army's Chaplains Corps, it really doesn't have any kind of religious flavor to it. Families are encouraged to bring their children and child care is always offered. Typically, you arrive on a Friday evening for a 2 hour session with your spouse. For every retreat we've been on, the child care has a separate room with plenty of workers; you check your kids in and then go to your class. Depending on the size of the retreat, there can be anywhere from 20 to 40 families. Most of your meals for the weekend are covered. There is always free time and usually there is child care offered during part of that free time so that you can spend some time alone with your spouse.

For our trip this past weekend, we were at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, TX (adjacent to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport). To me, it is the perfect setting. I mean, who doesn't want to spend a weekend at a hotel with a giant indoor water park and have nearly all of your expenses covered??? We had plenty of time over the weekend to play in the park along with the sessions that we attended. The meals were great and we had absolutely no complaints.

Usually, the sessions that you attend are focused on ways to strengthen your family. And while there are several different curriculums that are taught, the one we had was called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Military Families. Activities throughout the session are designed to show you ways of dealing with the ups and downs of being a military family. Of all of the curriculums that we've used over the years, this was definitely the best. It was very practical and extremely useful.

Here's the thing: there are tons of stressors on our military families these days. We're being told that deployments are going to slow down, but with our changing world, there's no real guarantee that will happen. Add to that the long hours that our soldiers work and the stress that they are under each day, and you can imagine the strain that our families can come under.

The Army finally began to realize what was happening to our families 7 or 8 years ago. It began to realize that in order to have an effective, stable fighting force it needed to have strong, stable families behind those soldiers. Soldiers don't reenlist and stay in if their families aren't happy. Strong Bonds is part of that effort. There have been some tough times during the deployments we've faced over the last 4-5 years. But I've never felt like the Army didn't care about us during those times. Sure, there was a time when the mentality of "the Army didn't issue you a wife and children" held sway. Those days, however, are gone. The truth is, our senior leadership actually does care about the overall health of our military families.

The Army isn't alone in this effort. The Navy and Marines have what's called CREDO, and the Air Force, while not having an over arching service wide program, provides services and retreats put on by individual bases that are very similar in nature to Strong Bonds. With all of these resources being offered to our military families, there's no reason why any military family shouldn't take advantage of one of these retreats. So here's the question: what are you waiting for?



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Friday, January 11, 2013

The challenge of the military spouse

If there's one thing that's certain about life as a military spouse, it's the fact that nothing is for certain. Think about it: those of you who are military spouses...how many times before have your active duty spouses come home and told you that your family was moving to a given location only to have that change? Has there ever been a time when something on the calendar that had been there for months was discarded at the last moment due to the "chain of command"? Ever been told he/she was going to be home for a while only to deploy a few weeks later? As military spouses, we are adaptable by nature simply because we have to be. Nothing is ever really set in stone when it comes to our lives. We learn to roll with the punches and keep moving forward.
This is especially true when it comes to getting involved in a new place after we've moved. Military spouses are faced with the challenge of finding a place to belong, if only for a short period of time. We make friends with other military spouses quite easily because we have a common frame of reference. But what about the people in a given area who are permanent? The truth is finding close friends becomes a lot harder. We have to ask ourselves if we want to allow our emotions to take us from having several acquaintances to calling several people friends. We ask because we know, in the end, we'll be leaving. We are only here for a short period of time. In essence, we're temporary.

This doesn't just pertain to us. People have to decide whether or not they want to invest in us. They know, just as we do, that the time is coming soon when we won't be here any more. Sure, they'll get to know you. But, more times than not, they simply choose not to go too deeply with you because of the possibility of pain that is attached to a goodbye. It is easier to keep a relationship superficial and hold us at arms length rather than to get too close and experience loss.

Living in San Angelo, I know that my time here will come to a definite end at some point in the very near future. Keeping that in mind, I have to ask my self if really going deep with someone in a friendship is worth the pain of loss involved when we move again. I've been privileged to get to know so many people who weren't associated with the military in the 14 years I've been a military spouse. That said, the number of those people that I've met that I would consider deep personal friends is tiny. Finding someone who is willing to risk hurt along with you is, frankly, exceedingly rare.

If there's one thing that I've learned over these past 14 years it's that folks in any given location are happy to get to know you but will nearly always invest in someone who isn't going away in a few years instead of us. Sometimes it comes as a disappointment, other times it comes as no surprise. It's probably the number one reason that military spouses list other military spouses as their closest friends. As I said above, we have a common frame of reference. We understand the each other. We already have so much in common that developing real friendships comes naturally. We rely on each other to get through.
I remember when my wife was deployed to Afghanistan and I lived in Savannah with my folks. I was the only military spouse within miles of where we lived. There was no one around who had a clue what it was like to go through a year long deployment, one where your soldier spouse is in a combat zone and in real danger each and ever day. For 10 months I dealt with the fears and worries of that deployment alone, with no one who could relate. Then, with 2 months to go, we moved back to Fort Bragg into a house on post. I found myself surrounded by no less than 4 spouses who were going through EXACTLY the same thing. We immediately bonded, and even though we've all moved on to other duty stations, I still look at them as not just people I know, but as friends for life.

Each time we move we once again face the challenge of meeting new people and trying to get involved. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we give up and just bide our time until the next PCS comes around. We live a bit of a nomadic existence, and yet, it's a life that few of us would trade. Given the chance to do it over again, I wouldn't trade any of it. I bought into this life when we got married and I'm here to stay. Yes, we face challenges wherever we go in terms of finding a "home". Truthfully, I've yet to find a place where I could say "yep, this is HOME." That said, my life is richer from the process. I think of all I would have missed if I'd never made this my life. Sure, there are challenges. But the rewards are always better.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

And still we move forward

14 years ago, I tied the knot with a young lieutenant while she was stationed in Savannah, GA where I was living. At the time, all I could think of was marrying the girl of my dreams. Never did it occur to me that I'd be joining the Army family. And yet, 14 years later, here we are.

There have been lots of ups and downs over the years. 3 long deployments nearly knocked the wind out of my sails on a couple of occasions, and yet we kept on going. 4 children have added much joy to our lives, along with their share of trouble (!), and yet we've kept on going. 8 PCS moves in 14 years have created their own share of challenges and difficulties (along with a LONG list of items that have gotten broken along the way). And yet, through it all, we keep on going.
The years of this Army life have taught me so much about resiliency, about "soldiering on", about being there for those who are also dealing with deployments. I remember when my wife deployed to Afghanistan back in 2009. It was our first deployment with kids. I packed up our house and the kids and I moved to Savannah to hang with my folks for the year. I believed then that I needed the help, that I couldn't do this on my own. During that year, I learned that wasn't actually true. It turns out that I not only survived the deployment, I grew and changed for the better. So much so that when the next deployment hit us 9 months later, I didn't even consider moving back to Savannah again. I knew I was capable of handling everything by myself.

It's nice to look back over the years at what we've accomplished and what we've made it through. However, I generally only do that for very brief moments. I can't change what happened before, and, to tell the truth, I wouldn't change it if I could. No, I'm constantly looking forward, constantly moving forward. After all, my kids don't care about what my strategies for surviving a deployment were. They're more interested in what we're having for dinner, what we're doing this weekend, and, to a small extent, where we might end up with the next PCS move.

Sure, there've been some really unpleasant moments in dealing with this Army life. But, as with anything, you take the good with the bad and you keep moving forward. So... here's to the next decade (or more!) of Army life. Whatever it brings, we'll face it together and make the most of it.
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Friday, November 23, 2012

It's Just What We Do

Recently I was part of a featured article on a (now) well known husband of a woman who'd had a very unfortunate turn of events in her life. The article was about how he stuck by her side during the crisis she was going through. Half way through the article, the author mentioned me and my situation as being similar (although without the crisis part). He talked about how I was a supportive husband to an Army officer with a successful career.

While it was nice to hear someone saying kind things about how I've done my best to support my wife in her career, I was struck by a few thoughts that I thought perhaps he hadn't considered. I'd like to share them with you.
I think that a lot of people perhaps have the idea that we, as male military spouses, have given up more than others in supporting our soldier spouses. Having been a military spouse for close to 14 years now and having met so many different spouses over the years I can tell you that this isn't true. As spouses, we all have sacrificed much in support of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Whether or not we are male or female makes no difference. What it boils down to is this: we love our spouses and we will do whatever it takes to support them.

While it's true that many in the civilian community don't understand the challenges that we face, if our roles were reversed I don't think they'd be any less supportive than we are. Yes, we understand that we are also serving our country when we give up our careers and move all over the country so that our spouses can answer our nation's call. But I believe it's more than that. We act out of more than just service and willingness to sacrifice. We act out of love.

The truth is, we do what we do because we love our spouses. Yes, they are in the military, and yes, that does pose stresses and problems that most wouldn't ever have to face. But it doesn't change our commitment to our loved one. When I married my wife, I had no idea about what was ahead. I've been told many times that I "knew what I was getting into" when my wife was leaving on yet another deployment. Sorry, but no, I didn't. No spouses does. HOWEVER, that does not change my support and love for my wife. And, I might add, had I known what was ahead, I still would have made the same choice. When you love someone like I love my wife (and most likely, like you love your spouse) you don't pick and choose the circumstances in which you'll maintain your support. Whatever the cost, whatever life brings our way, my love and support of my wife will never change. "For better or for worse" aren't just familiar terms used in a marriage vow. They are a promise that was made and the outward expression of a depthless love towards my wife.

Here's the thing: I'm not alone in this. I'm putting this all in writing here on my blog, but I'm far from the only one who feels this way. As military spouses, we set aside everything because we love our service member. It's just what we do. And it won't ever change.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's not just Army wives any more!

Throughout the years, I've wondered what it would be like to get up and go to a job each and every day. Oh sure, I've had a regular job. I was a school teacher, 12 and a half years ago, that is. Since then, aside from a few odds and ends jobs never totally more than a couple of hours per week, I haven't worked a regular, proper paying job since. That's right. I'm a stay at home dad.

For most guys, this isn't something that comes naturally. We have this innate drive in us to provide for our families, to be the one with the hard driving career that defines us. So, to give it all up and accept a 7 day/week job that doesn't pay a penny but has LONG hours can be a tough swallow for many men. Yes, I know... there are plenty of ladies who have been doing this for years and don't want to hear our complaints. Honestly, I'm not complaining, I'm just giving you, my gentle reader, a glimpse into the mind of a guy (scary place that it might be!).

What is more revealing, though, is the fact that in our military, there are more and more women who are stepping up to serve. And many of their spouses are leaving behind careers to support their wives as they serve. What used to be uncommon has become less so. Attending an FRG meeting and seeing dudes there who aren't in uniform isn't so surprising any more. Take my wife's unit, for example. There are currently 5 of us. And all of us are active in the unit, not just hiding out, hoping not to be seen. And the more that come and get involved, the easier it is for more to feel comfortable doing it as well.

There are those, however, who simply can't get away from the stereotypes that have defined military spouses for generations. I'll give you two examples, both of which come from the LTC/SGM Pre-Command Course that I attended with my wife. This course was intended to prepare spouses for the roles that we would play as either the Commander or SGM spouse in our units.

The first example was the welcome letter I received three weeks prior to the arriving at the course. It was the standard letter welcoming me and assuring me that this course would be beneficial to my experience as a commander's spouse. That was all well and good except for who they made the letter out to. That's right, it started off by saying, "Dear Mrs. Blake." All I could do was shake my head when
I saw it. Think about it: they had all of my information prior to the course. I was registered as Tim Blake (as my name tag I received upon arrival would attest) and was expected. And yet, whoever was in charge of the event made the same old generalization and assumed that, as a spouse, I must indeed be a female.

The second example was even more grievous than the first. On the first day of the course, we were separated from our active duty spouses and taken to a large conference room for panel discussions with "senior spouses". The first included the CG's wife, and the second included two spouses (both wives) of the Army's most senior leadership. The CG's wife continually told us about how we could best support our "husbands". One of the other wives addressed our group by saying "well, good morning ladies!" What made this completely inexcusable in BOTH cases was that there were no less than 5 of us guys in the room, ALL OF US SITTING IN THE FRONT ROW. At the end of the second session with the two "senior wives", the afore mentioned spouse uttered this: "Thank you so much ladies!" As you can imagine, I'd had enough. I stood up and said, "and gentlemen!" She fell all over herself apologizing for her mistake, but the damage had been done.

You see, this is exactly why more men don't get involved in spouses groups and the like. And this will continue as long as this current generation of military spouses clings to these same generalizations and stereotype. The thing is, soldiers aren't just men any more, and it's not just military wives who are military spouses any more either. It is up to us to start changing the culture and making spouses of BOTH sexes feel welcomed and included.

The challenge used to be the officer spouses against the enlisted spouses (and maybe in some places it still is, but it hasn't been in any of the places I've been in the last 6 years). Now, the challenge is realizing that more and more men are military spouses. I don't consider myself an "Army Husband". I'm an Army Spouse. And so are all of us who are married to members of the military. It's not just Army Wives any more!

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