As I write this, my husband is sitting on the couch with his foot, bandaged and bruised, propped up in front of him. We are getting ready to celebrate the New Year, but we won’t be out dancing this time. This is the third time this year that he’s recovered from surgery on the couch. All of this repair work isn’t because he was injured on a mission, although deployments certainly didn’t help.
This is wear and tear.
Wear and tear is what happens after eighteen years of service, when your hair starts to shimmer with silver strands, and the newest troops were born after you enlisted. He’s not complaining (much) this time about the pain or the annoyance of not being able to walk on his foot. He’s still at work every day. He’s proud to be an Airman, and I joke that some General somewhere is going to have to drag him out, kicking and screaming, when his time in the service is up.
As a young military spouse, I thought that maybe this whole military life thing would get easier over time. I thought that the first deployment and move was hard, but once we got the groove of it, the next time would be better. It would be familiar. I could follow a routine, and everything would be fine.
And it has been fine. But the wear and tear? I am feeling it too.
As we look towards retirement, I am finding that I am tired. I don’t feel strong or resilient. The challenge of keeping things together, and worse, holding myself together despite whatever military life has thrown at us is has worn me down. There is less spring in my step and resolve on my face. There is less patience. I may have to clench my jaw or take a moment to hide in the shower to cry when my husband comes home with deployment news or starts talking about the next move, or the next job, or the next whatever comes next.
Sometimes, it’s hard to think that my husband wants to serve for a decade or more longer. It’s hard enough to know he needs to serve at least two more years. Two years, ten years, it all feels like a lot at this point. I am tired. I am worn. I know that I need to continue holding things together, for myself, for my kids, and him.
As I look towards a New Year, I am not sure that I have it in me, and I am in awe at his strength when he tells me that he still has a lot left to give.
You may think that this struggle bus I am riding makes me weak. But I think it probably makes me pretty normal.
We’ve heard time and again that reenlistment decisions happen at home and supporting families on the home front is the best way to encourage retention. As I look through the data from the Military Family Advisory Network’s surveys, I can see that I am not alone.
The data tells a story, in the words of military spouses like me.
The data talks about military families struggling with vermin and houses in disrepair. The first home we lived in on-base was condemned when we moved and was bulldozed after years of housing telling us our home was safe despite my complaints.
The data tells the story of families moving every two to three years and rebuilding a community wherever they land. Our daughter is eight and has lived in seven different homes.
The data highlights the struggle some families feel to put healthy food on the table. As a young family, we were adopted by the First Sergeants Counsel, who provided our children with gifts and a holiday meal when we weren’t sure we could make ends meet, and also create some holiday magic for the kids.
You can look at these hard truths and feel sorry for all of us, but that’s not the message we want you to take away from our stories.
Intertwined in the data are also stories of strength. Stories of families walking through deployments, illnesses, injury, and loss. They talk about communities coming together, the peace they feel when at home with their families, and the power of friendship.
These stories remind me of the things I love about military life. Sure, it’s hard, but it’s also home. We have friends all over the world. We have neighbors who pop by with lunch and make me laugh until I cry. We have a family in the military – one I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Like many military families, I’d still recommend this life to my loved ones, despite the challenge.
I know that my military family has my back. I know that organizations like MFAN will take this information and do something with it. If we tell these stories, and ensure that military leaders, lawmakers, and changemakers know what’s happening, surely, we can move the needle in the right direction.
We can make it easier for these families to continue to serve despite the wear and tear.
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