When I was a new officer's wife, I floundered for a long time. I was pulled out of the relative comfort and routine of my civilian life as wife and young mother. Before the Air Force I lived near college friends, family, and a large city that I had chosen to be my home for the rest of my life. I had carefully chosen where we would live for the neighborhood, the house that filled me with such pride, and the schools. As a young woman in my twenties, I had it all figured out.
We moved away twelve years ago and will likely never be back.
After four years of learning, growing, failing and enduring in Idaho, we learned that we could no longer prolong the inevitable. We would have to PCS (remember, this means "to move") to another base. Bob was in a unique position in that he had already been a Captain for some time. Due to that, and his being in the medical field, he was required to take a higher position with a large military hospital.
Where do we have a lot of big military hospitals? The south. We learned that we would be making a major cultural move to a place we had never even visited, much less lived in. We needed to be prepared. The number one thing I did to prepare for this PCS was to change my outlook on military life and turn it on its head. Before, I had done everything I could to pretend I wasn't married to the military. It was Bob's thing, not mine.
But there I was, four years later, a newborn boy and two young girls and we were in this. Good or bad, that was our life at the time. Was I going to waste any more time hating it? Or was I going to throw myself in it and see what would happen? So I struck a deal with Bob: I would be the best damn officer's wife he had never seen. I would do everything the exact opposite way I had done things in Idaho. I would throw myself in heart body and soul into the way of life he had chosen for us. If it worked out, great. If it didn't, we were done. This was no easy bargain for Bob. He had found that he loved the life. He excelled at his job, and won national awards all the time for his work in military hospitals. His former boss became the Deputy Surgeon General for the Air Force. He would go places if he stayed in.
When we arrived in Georgia with tiny baby Jacob, Chloe about to enter kindergarten, and Maddie second grade, I knew I had my work cut out for me. We were in the land of beauty pageants, The Junior League, Garden Club, and the nicest Officer's Clubs I had evah laid eyes on. The south has a large military presence, and it wasn't as bizarre a thing compared to out West, where our friends had been baffled at Bob's career choice. They all thought he was throwing away his education and socio-economic status to become Gomer Pyle.
The base we lived on was incredible. It was a city. It employed nearly 30,000 people and is the second largest employer in the entire state of Georgia. There was more than one Officer's neighborhood, in fact there were several and they were all large. As a brief aside, the military segregates the living quarters between officers and enlisted. From a battle perspective, I understood this. But I never could get my mind around the fact that my girlfriend, whose husband was a Chief Master Seargent, couldn't live on the same street as me.
We were given a house on a cul-de-sac in a lovely neighborhood that was thick with trees, gardens, a lake, and the whirring of June bugs cutting through the thick humid air. The first weekend we were there we had invitations to several barbecues and even a renewal of wedding vows. We met people fast. The old me would have been off base, looking for a job. The new, Improved, Best Officer's Wife Ever went to everything. I made friends with literally dozens of women. I joined the OSC. I manically began volunteering.
And when I say manically, I'm not exaggerating. Volunteerism is instilled as a responsibility in active duty personnel. It's basically required to get a promotion (along with a lot of other factors, obviously), and even better? The military keeps track of all volunteering you do. The school where my girls went had a log for volunteers that was carefully monitored. If I baked cookies with my spouses group and brought them to the flight line, it was noted. The time I spent as an event coordinator for the OSC was recorded, as was my service as a Key Spouse, hospital volunteer, and Department of Defense school board member. My outside interests such as the Junior League and the hours I spent off base volunteering in the community also registered. My husband's commander, the chief of medical staff, knew what I was doing. Of course, this time, I was doing it "right." People couldn't say enough to Bob about how I was such a great military wife. His boss took him aside and counseled him to keep doing whatever he was doing, because "women like me" are "force multipliers" in the Air Force. He would go far with his talents, and with someone like me by his side, he would go even further.
Let's just pause for a moment. Does this strike you as weird? Even in the thick of things, and I should point out that although I loved my time in the south, I was constantly amazed that I should have any impact, good or bad, on Bob's career. It was HIS career, not mine. I spent a lot of time alone with Bob laughing and crying over this. If I got a speeding ticket on base? Bob was pulled into his commander's office and counseled. It was that pervasive. You were not a separate entity from your husband. You were a unit, and you were both in the Air Force. that is a lot to swallow for someone like me. I love Bob. I bore the man four children. But I am not so wrapped up in him that I derive my identity as a woman from his job. Just like my fledgling career as a writer does not and never will define Bob, I don't want the same for me.
So. I kept on logging hours, baking cookies, attending meetings, counseling women who had husband's deployed, watching children for people who needed help, and flitting about the base in a constant stream of energy. Bob left for six weeks to attend a training out of state and in his absence I checked in regularly with his "First Shirt" to make sure there weren't things I couldn't be doing. How were deployed families doing? Was there another Key Spouse meeting?
It fast became my career, too.
My inlaws came out for a visit and were stunned at how our life was. At one point, Bob's dad gently told me, "It isn't a competition, Jenny. You need to slow down." A friend of mine, when told this, laughed so hard and so long that she eventually called my father in law back in Oregon and left a message on his machine. Yes it is a competition, she said. You have no idea how fierce it is between some of these wives.
She was right. There is an annual competition in the Air Force for Spouse of the Year. When I learned of this, I knew I had something tangible to pin my sights on. This would be my goal. This would be how I could prove to Bob I was giving life as an Air Force Wife the good old college try.
To be continued....