One of my husband’s Soldiers caught me in the hallway.
“Ma’am,” she said, “Can I ask you a question?”
A little tired, I nodded. It had been a long day, after a long week, after a few long months of deployment.
She looked at me with genuine curiosity and asked, “Is this hard? Is being a military spouse hard?”
I smirked. I’ve only ever been asked this question a handful of times, and its always felt loaded. Sometimes it feels like it’s not allowed to be hard because we don’t dress in green. Not a Soldier, but not quite a civilian either. We hover somewhere in the middle, always pulled left or right at the will of others.
My facial expression must have given it away, because before I answered she said, “Can I tell you something?”
“Sure,” I said, now curious as to where this was going.
“I’ve thought about this a lot,” she said, “your husband and our 1SGT are the best leaders I have ever worked for. When I come to work, I feel respected, I feel valued, and I feel safe. I have worked for a lot of leaders who have treated me and other Soldiers like a tool. Like a machine. Not all that often do you find leaders who treat you like a human. Leaders who ask you to work hard but also respect that ‘Soldier’ is not our only title. Under their leadership I feel like I am more than a Soldier, whose outside time and relationships are valuable. I haven’t always felt that way.”
“I am glad to hear that,” I said. I thought about all the talks my husband and I have had in the dead of night about the type of person he wants to be for the people under his command.
She continued, “I have thought a lot about what sets them apart, and I think Ma’am, it’s you. The leadership in this company is married. I believe that you must offer him a life he loves so much, a future outside of the military, a home he is so excited to go home to that he can see himself as something more than just a uniform. I think you give that to him, and consequentially, he turns around and gives that to the rest of us by seeing us as people, instead of a tool.”
This Soldier didn’t know it, but I cried all the way home.
You see, dear reader, I’ve spent many years at odds with aspects of this life.
At odds with Soldiers and families on food stamps while there is no avenue for dual income.
At odds with Soldiers and families managing to achieve dual income only to find they can’t find child care.
At odds with the skyrocketing divorce rates while spouses are given little opportunity to find purpose outside of their marriage or military, so that they can be better for themself and partner.
At odds with not contributing to my own Social Security, giving up my current professional ambitions and future financial security to build a life for which my husband will get most of the credit and all of the safety net.
At odds with the fact our country is failing to use the largest military budget on the planet
to find comprehensive solutions for the largest unemployed subgroup of our nation; a subgroup national defense is responsible for creating.
At odds with the policies that fail military families in such a way that good leaders are leaving the force.
You see dear reader, I tell you this story because today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and as one amongst you, I know what we give in order to support our country.
This is not a sob story – but an immediate call to action.
I know how deeply worthy military spouses are of this appreciation.
What I know about the American Soldier, is that they are our first line of defense. They are the face of foreign policy on the ground. They hold the line of freedom and democracy around the globe – I know, I have seen them firsthand.
What I know about the military spouse is that they are our second line of defense. They support our nation through volunteerism and calculable long-term financial losses and emotional turmoil. They are the constant reminder of what we are fighting and sacrificing for when the days are long and the deployments short notice. The military spouse reminds our leaders of the deep humanity within each Soldier they lead.
I am proud to be married to someone who serves our nation, though it comes with a keen awareness of our foreign and national policy shortcomings.
Our nation’s Achilles heel is the underserved military spouse. The one so deeply deserving of recognition on this day.
So on this day, a day dedicated to celebrating the worthiest of volunteers, here is what I propose.
If you can thank us, you can see us.
If you can see us, you can invest in us.
If you can invest in us, you can strengthen our forces.
If you can strengthen our forces, you can strengthen our nation.
And that’s really all we want, to strengthen our nation alongside the bravest and brightest.
So, this year you can keep the flowers; we’d trade them all for futures of our own.
It just so happens, our future shapes your future too.
Your fellow military spouse,
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