Saturday, November 10, 2007

Air Force Wife: Competition

This is a part of my ongoing series for the weekends in November to fulfill my selling my soul promise to NaBloPoMo to write every day. Apparently every day means weekends, so here I am. As a bit of brief background, I was an Air Force officer's wife for nearly eight years, and I have lots of stories from that time in my life. Some are hideous, and expose an underbelly to military life that no one likes to talk about. Some are wonderful and highlight some amazing times from my life. All are real, and they are all my story. I hope you enjoy them.



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.

Bob agreed.

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....

25 comments:

Fairly Odd Mother said...

This is really fascinating. My husband was in the military, but long before we met. The idea that your husband got reprimanded for your speeding ticket is really different and kind of scary.

Rimarama said...

Am I going to have to start calling you Annika?

Annie said...

Really interesting view into a different aspect of military life. I don't think I could do it!

jen said...

this is fascinating! and you are amazing - a saint. i can't wait to hear the next part - i love that you are writing about this.

dawn&brian said...

Spouse of the Year?!?! OMG. I had no idea this sub-culture existed in America. Really, really interesting!

Rose Daughter said...

Sounds framilliar to me, I'm so glad my hubby isn't an officer.

suburbancorrespondent said...

I really hope this story ends with your finding some sort of happy medium!

And it isn't intrinsically bad that your husband and you were working as a team. I know so many dual-career couples who get divorced because they are so invested in their separate careers. That doesn't necessarily have to happen, but for a man to have a job where his wife can feel as though she is helping him while also helping her community - well, that sounds pretty good to me! It only turns sour when the husband doesn't appreciate it, or when the wife totally neglects her own interests. It's all a matter of finding balance, I think. It's hard for us girls/women who were raised in the 70's - we had it drummed into our heads that if we weren't totally independent, career-wise, we were failures. Yet life isn't about being totally independent - it's about being interdependent.

Big thoughts, tonight. Must be the Chinese food.

Mrs. G. said...

I'm hooked. My dad was a career Army man, so I spent a good amount of time on several military bases as a child. My mom was a military wife for ten years until they divorced...I have never spent one second of my self-involved life considering what her side of the deal might have been like. Thanks for the perspective. I'm sending her this link.

Jen M. said...

suburban correspondent - I'm living the happy medium right now. I never found it in the Air Force, but the stories are good ;)

Cathy said...

Spouse of the year? No way!

Can't wait to read the next installment ...

Jenny Dagle said...

"Fascinating" is definitely the word that comes to mind. I have to admit there have been times when I kind of wished I could somehow help my husband in his career.

Once, when he was interviewing for a job, I said, "Tell them your wife stays home with the children, so they don't have to worry about you taking too much sick time." He looked at me like I was insane.

Just Seeking said...

I am sooo packing up my bags and moving to a military base in Georgia!! sorry, hubby, you'll just have to join the Air Force!
I am so with suburbancorrespondent---we are and need to be interdependent and a equal member of a team with our spouse, and us SAHMs out here in the civilian world don't get the kind of recognition and support we need from the rest of society. Oh to have the recognition that our half of the job is equally important as the hubby's? I would DIE and go to heaven!
Seriously, this post made me cry. I can do absolutely everything right---pinch pennies, cook organic wholesome meals, volunteer to the max at my kids school, keep my house spotless, hold up every angle of the fort, participate in my neighborhood, volunteer here, volunteer there, and does anyone notice? no, they say things like, "what does a SAHM do when her kids are in school ALL day?" or "so when are you going back to work?" The military approach, quite frankly, is so refreshing I can't stand it!
I am loving this story! keep up the writing, you're almost half way there!

the dragonfly said...

I really like these stories you tell. It's interesting to see a completely different perspective on military life.

Keep writing! Thanks for sharing!

Lela said...

My husband played with the idea of entering the military at one point. Till his mom talked him out of it, lol. But I can see myself doing all that as well. I do that now, I want an award too, lol.

Queeny said...

Sounds like you were giving it the good old Ivey League College try. What a hectic pace!

Family Adventure said...

That sounds like a *crazy* place! I can see how you can get caught up in it all, but it all seems a little frightening to me. I am looking forward to reading the next installment!

Heidi

BetteJo said...

Oh my. I am so glad this didn't end up to be my life because I would have been SO bad at it! I'm not a joiner, I don't make friends easily and don't organize or counsel. Uh uh. Sounds like you were amazing at it!

Jenn said...

I want to see how your story ends too.

I'm currently an Air Force Officer spouse but my experience has been totally different. I had a career way before my husband joined so while I did agree to subvert any continuity in my career due to the moves, I said that I wouldn't play the games. I also told him that I would NEVER iron a uniform. HE signed the contract so HE has to iron. Over the years I've volunteered with the time that I do have but I've also worked full time. I had our daughter right before we moved to our current base and am now a SAHM and haven't volunteered one bit since then (she refuses to stay with a sitter and no one wants a busy toddler in the middle of just about anything military related). It hasn't affected my husband's career one bit and he's also one of those "super stars" in his career field.

But, the speeding ticket thing is true and does always strike me as odd (for anyone reading who has no military experience, it only applies to tickets received on base/post). But, in good news, there's no "fine," although the penalties can be extremely strict. My husband was talking to me on his cell phone one day on his way home from work and started swearing and hung up. He wasn't using his hands free and got caught. He lost his German driver's license for SEVEN DAYS as a result. That was fun...

The military is a different world and most people have no idea. Thanks for giving people a peek into your experience.

Oh, and of course (even though it's a day late for the real date), Happy Veteran's Day to BOTH of you. You've both served your country honorably and it's appreciated.

secret agent said...

off topic
I can't find your email anywhere

I wanted to say THANK you so much for the bracelet.
It's beautiful
xo

Jen M. said...

I'll bring the stories back next weekend - I was sidelines by some bad news yesterday.

Secret Agent - I am so glad you got it! That Philanthropy Thursday prize was from a wihle ago!! Yay!

painted maypole said...

wow. you're amazing.

will we find out if you won next week?

although since it appears that Bob is out of the air force, I seem to have an idea where this story is heading...

Dee said...

Hi, I'm a new reader and just had to comment on this entry! I was an Army wife for 7 years (my husband is out now) and I spent quite a bit of time volunteering and being involved with his unit. I once got a *warning* on post and it got back to the unit. At the time that seemed normal, but now, yea, odd. Can't wait to read the rest of your story!

dawn224 said...

Oh holy cow I'm so glad you are telling these stories.

dawn224 said...

Oh, and rimrama's comment made me almost pee my pants it was so funny.

Mommy Cracked said...

And then....????

More, more!