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The Benefits – And Challenges – of Being a Military Spouse

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

military_spousesPeople who live outside of the military culture may not have an honest perspective on what it is really like – particularly for women who are “married to the military.”  If you are a military wife and a military mom, your marriage and family life may be strongly influenced by your husband’s career choice, but that doesn’t mean you need to feel cheated.  In fact, many women are grateful for the sense of community that comes from being a military wife.

Aside from the upheaval of frequent deployments and relocations, there are some very real benefits that make the military lifestyle attractive, and I don’t just mean tax-free shopping at the PX.  Here are a few reasons why so many military spouses are thrilled to be immersed in this community:
  • When their husbands return from deployment, military spouses get to have a honeymoon all over again.  This keeps their romance fresh and exciting, and it does a lot to make up for all that time apart.
  • Women who marry a soldier enjoy the opportunity to travel all over the world and experience new cultures.  Just as they’re getting tired of one place, they are off to the next one, so there’s never a chance to get bored.  Their children also become more adaptable as they learn to make new friends at every base.
  • Military families can take advantage of discounts at theme parks, retail outlets and restaurants, as well as tax-free shopping and many other perks.
  • Mothers of children who are raised in the military culture genuinely appreciate the sense of adventure, independence, flexibility and maturity that is instilled in their kids from an early age.
  • Living in the environment of a U.S. military base, it’s impossible not to come away with a sense of patriotism and national pride.
  • It’s easy to make friends with other military families quickly.  Because everyone moves around so frequently they have so much in common, military spouses become fast friends.
  • There are plenty of free and low-cost educational opportunities, job networks and placement services for military spouses, and there’s never a need to worry about your husband’s job security.
  • Guaranteed free healthcare, low-cost childcare, VA mortgage rates and scholarship opportunities make managing the family budget much easier for military families.  It also helps to have so many discounted and free programs on post from organizations like Army Community Service.
  • The military’s guaranteed pension plan is one of the best in the world.  Unlike the pension plans offered by many Fortune 500 companies, which are quickly becoming extinct, a military service member’s retired pay is here to stay.

Of course, everything about military life isn’t positive.  Military spouses are often under much more stress than their civilian counterparts.  Long deployments can be very difficult for children, and frequent moves can be a major disruption to their academic progress.  Now there are a wide range of family related programs, such as family advocacy groups and family support centers.  They offer relocation assistance, budgeting help, couples counseling, parenting classes and rehabilitation programs.

The military recognizes that the strength of the family unit is paramount in determining whether a soldier will reenlist.  Losing a family means losing a soldier, so taking care of families has become a top priority.

How do families face deployments?

Ask any former “military brat,” and they will tell you that military kids become extraordinarily resilient and flexible.  Not only do they have an expanded world view; they also make friends quickly wherever they go.  However, frequent deployments can take a toll on growing families.

Here is one way to view the stages of deployment and its impact on a military spouse.

  • Pre-deployment: Anger is a major challenge of pre-deployment, followed by a sense of helplessness and loss.  Military spouses feel disconnected as they face an uncertain future of doing everything alone, and then finally transition to a state of readiness just before the deployment.
  • Deployment: Coping is all about adaptation. A military spouse may feel overwhelmed at first. Things break, unexpected bills arrive, kids get sick or act out. It feels crushing. Slowly, a routine emerges and they learn to manage it all.
  • Post-deployment: Believe it or not, the reunion can be the toughest time because both spouses have changed and the family is different. The old ways of child rearing and decision-making have changed. While the family is happy to be together again, a renegotiation of roles may be required.

Just being aware of the phases of deployment and the normal emotions that come along with them can be a great help to a military family.  With an unprecedented number of deployments, there is no doubt that families are stressed and need support from their military and civilian communities.  The military is acutely aware of the resources needed by military families and have made provisions to assist them, but it’s up to the service member or their spouse to reach out and ask for help when needed.

Image Courtesy by familymwr/

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