Tuesday, June 2, 2009

An Ode to the Army Wife

Yesterday I attended a farewell brunch for one of my dearest Army girlfriends. We've been in the same location for the past four years and survived two deployments together. She's been a wonderful listener, our kids enjoy each other, and we have similar views on Army life ... realistic with a large dose of humor.

As I was thinking about the move she is about to make (across the ocean with three kids into a foreign land), I was again amazed at the resilience of the Army wife. [Note: For all you PC folks out there, I have a great appreciation for Army husbands, but this one is for the wives ... so I won't always use the more politically correct "spouse."]

For most folks, picking up the family and moving into a foreign country would be a long, drawn-out, soul-searching decision-making process utilizing months of research, planning, and analysis. For my friend and her Family, it's a matter of getting orders to go. Almost in auto-pilot, they put their house up for sale, secured medical records, and packed up to go. I'm struck by the simplicity of that. It's the Army's own version of "Just Do It."

Another wonderful Army girlfriend moved last summer from our Texas post )after three years as my neighbor and top confidante) to Washington DC. The differences in the two communities are starkly different. With two little girls to consider, she researched homes, schools, and neighborhoods. After just a few weeks in her new location, the girls were enrolled in dance classes, new schools, and were making new friends. She would tell you, "This is just what we do."

When a Soldier receives orders to move to a new location (PCS or "Permanent Change of Station"), he arrives with his new job waiting for him and a very familiar structure to jump into. For his wife, not so much. She's the one updating her resume (again) and explaining why she has held six different jobs in the past eight years or has a break in employment of four years while she travelled the globe with her Army Family.

The basics of moving to a new place ... finding a home, school, church, grocery store, hair salon, and family care provider ... are often left up to the wife. And this doesn't even touch on hanging window treatments in new windows (that are never the same size as any previous home, ever - It's a fact) or making new friends of her own.

And this is during the good times! An Army wife with a husband deployed is another story altogether. Taking on full responsibility of a home and Family while supporting your Soldier is a gargantuan task. Yet I meet spouse after spouse who is making the best of a challenging situation, usually with the help of close friends and, again, a big slice of humor. When the new car that has performed flawlessly for six months suddenly announces "CHECK ENGINE" as you are driving away from dropping your Soldier off to deploy (true story of mine!), you'll either laugh or cry. And, at the end of the tour of duty, hopefully you will have laughed more than cried.

I looked up “resilience” in my computer’s thesaurus and found this wonderful list of words that I think describe the Army wife: flexibility, buoyancy, spirit, hardiness, toughness, and resistance … Most Army wives I know exemplify this list of words. The antonyms for resilience? Rigidity and defeatism; I have yet to meet a successful Army spouse that dealt at all with rigidity or defeatism … those words just don’t fit.

I'm not sure which came first ... are resilient women drawn to the Army life ... or are Army wives forced to learn resilience by being married to a Soldier? I would guess there are some of each, but if you are in the Army, you will likely learn to be resilient or not stay around for long. Being an Army wife is not for everybody, but those who do enter this life ... that love their Soldiers and support the life they choose together ... these are my true heroes and Army Sisters.

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