Monday, May 21, 2007

Notes from a former military wife

The military part, that is, not the wife part.

This will be my last entry before redoing this blog.

This morning, after an insanely long wait and then even more time because no one knew what they were doing (aka an ordinary day in the military), my husband separated from the military. He is no longer active duty. He'll be inactive reserve for the next 2 years. After that, he will have no military ties (although he is a veteran). Even while he is inactive, he's basically a civilian.

He's thrilled. While he was career military, he had been miserable these past few years and it only promised to get worse. He has a new civilian job that he adores. He went so far as to take his uniform hat to work at his civilian job. He keeps it on his desk. That way, he insists, it will always remind him how much better this job is than the military ever was.

I'm sad and a bit shaken. We were a military family. He was supposed to be career military. It has identified us for a long time. My husband is a veteran. We survived deployments. We gave up so much. Hell, we gave up his retirement. We've even given up stupid little things (access to the military instillation).

I drove past his old office today. We passed the gates from the civilian side. I didn't pass through. I realized I may never again. I suppose it's a bit of a metaphor for our life. True, he has a new inactive ID card which gives him limited access, but as his wife, I no longer have a valid ID card. I can no longer pass through those gates on my own.

In a way, we've always been on the outside. Dh was older when he went into the military. He didn't enlist right after high school or go in right out of college even like so many do. So while he was fabulous at his job (he has all sorts of awards, metals and ribbons), he was never molded into a unit like those who have their personalities shaped by the military. He worked hard and wanted to make a difference, but it always seemed more like his own individual decision rather than group mentality.

As Natalie Merchant sang with the Maniacs, "They're so good at making soldiers, but they're not as good at making men." I explained it this way to a friend today: When it came to torture at Abu Ghraib, people fell in line and did as they were told. My husband is the type who sees beyond the orders. I believe he would have refused. While that makes him the man I love and a wonderful human being, it doesn't always make for the best soldier.

We're also card-carrying liberal Democrats. That makes us a bit of an oddity in the military. Actually, there are far more of us now than there were before the Iraqi conflict, but we're still the minority.

Add to all that, we're Jews. The estimates that I've read say that we make up less than 1% of the American military. There were times we felt VERY out of place as a result.

Now, though, we're completely on the outside. Even when you disagree politically or religiously, you're still one big military family. The similarities often outweigh your differences. Granted, this is true of many people, but for us, the similarities involve not just what hobbies you enjoy, where you shop, what you do/don't feed your kids, or even what you majored in in college. The common threads we share involve spouses in combat zones, being without them (often with no contact) for days/weeks/months/years, and watching the news endlessly (or avoiding it) in search of (or to avoid) any information about him/her. I've written about this before, though, so I'll just direct you there instead.

Kristin Henderson says it best:

With the Hooah Wives (an informal group of military wives), she never had to explain or translate. A couple of words, and they understood the rest, because going to war, whether you’re the one on the frontline or the homefront is like going to Mars, and living there with the Martians, and hearing only Martianese being spoken. Still, you’re an Earthling, a very adaptable species, and before long you’re speaking the language and starting to feel at home in this place that at first had seemed so strange and otherworldly.

And then one day, you go back to Earth, maybe just for a visit, maybe for good, and as you step off the spaceship, all around you in the spaceport, you hear a Babel of voices, over the loudspeaker, passing you in the concourse, speaking in some strange foreign tongue, and all of a sudden, it hits you – that’s the language you grew up speaking. In conversations, you sometimes find yourself searching for a word, a word you should know. Sometimes, you dream in Martian. Your time on Mars has gifted you with a new way of speaking, a new way of looking at the world. And it has robbed you of the easy comfort you once felt in your mother tongue.” pg 131

Honestly, I'm glad it's over. I'm thrilled to be done with all the hoops we had to jump through, red tape, 3 am firings (guns not pink slips), combat boots, PTSD (which the military refused to treat effectively, but that's pretty standard for any illness, physical or mental), absolute terror and longing. I know the reality of it is that if he was still active duty, dh would have deployed again a month ago after just 5 months at home. I'm willing to trade the sisterhood of the military spouse for my husband's life. It was never sunshine and lollipops, but for a long time, it was our life. We have been "military." There are pieces of that I will always miss.

FTR: You'll notice that I created a "civilian" label for this post. I was avoiding it, but I suppose I can't any longer. So ladies and gentlemen, feel free to welcome me to the civilian world, because here I am.


Kamrin said...


Tiffany said...

Yo! I had lost touch with you!

I know your position all to well right about now. Hubby is in the IRR having departed active duty in March 07. We gave up retirement, benefits, all the (good stuff) too. And I pass by those always 'open' military gates knowing I can't pass through them anymore by myself.

Anyway, your post touched me and I needed to read that today. Here's wishing you, hubster and the fam all the best as civilians. Welcome indeed. : P