Resilient Military Spouses: Doug

Over the years, outstanding military spouses have been a source of strength and inspiration to me and my family through the ups and downs of military life. I have made it my mission to share these exceptional human beings with you, along with the invaluable wisdom they have to offer.  I believe our stories can make a difference in the lives of others, and it is my hope that you will be inspired by them, too.

Without further adieu, meet this month’s Resilient Military Spouse, Doug Nordman – author of “The Military Guide To Financial Independence And Retirement” and founder of The-Military-Guide.com.  He and his spouse reached financial independence (using a high savings rate) in the late 1990s. In 2002 (at the age of 41) he retired from the Navy’s submarine force after 20 years of active duty. His spouse retired in 2008 from the Reserves. They’ve been married for over 30 years and they’ve lived in Hawaii since 1989, where their daughter was born and raised. It is a pleasure to introduce him to you today.

Connect with Doug on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheMilitaryGuide and  www.facebook.com/doug.nordman.5, and Twitter @TheMilitaryGuid (no “e” in Guid).  Look for his book at your local military base or public library — or buy the eBook on Amazon.com.

Hi, Doug! Thank you so much for being open and willing to sharing your story with us! Will you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience as a military spouse?

I grew up near Pittsburgh, PA and had the usual 1960s-70s childhood. Marge and I met in college, and we married three years after her graduation. We’re a dual-military couple, and I retired from active duty in 2002 after 20 years with the submarine force. We’ve been married for just over 30 years, and our daughter, Carol, is in her mid-20s.

Marge joined the Navy through the U.S. Naval Academy because she wanted to study oceanography, and because she had a chance to be among the early women graduates. She served nearly 18 years on active duty before transferring to the Navy Reserves for another seven years. She retired from the Reserves in 2008.

We’ve lived all over the world:  Rota (Spain), the Azores Islands (Portugal), Monterey, CA, San Diego, Orlando, Charleston, SC and Pearl Harbor, HI.

What has been your favorite duty station and why?

Our favorite duty station, hands down, was Monterey! It’s the world’s largest adult playground, and we learned to SCUBA dive there. We were newlyweds and working on our graduate degrees while being left pretty much on our own.

Our second-favorite duty station has been “anything in Hawaii.”

What was it like raising children in a military lifestyle?

Exhausting. We parents were both were full-time (over-time) active duty from before our daughter’s birth until she was nine years old. That’s the main reason I was eager to retire from active duty and my spouse was eager to leave active duty for the Reserves.

We held off starting our family until I was on my second shore tour (after my second sea tour). By then we were both in our early 30s. Looking back on military childcare in the 1990s, I’m surprised that we lasted as long on active duty as we did.

How did you overcome the daily challenges of military life every day? Did any specific habits or rituals help you?

Perseverance. The same qualities that got us through the Naval Academy and through our military training pipelines paid off every day. In retrospect, we put a lot of stress on our minds and bodies, but we were also familiar with what we needed to do to reach our goals.

My spouse and I came from a common background so we pulled together in harness. We were also accustomed to living frugally (including sea duty and overseas tours), and we managed to save over half of our pay for nearly 20 years. That high savings rate (and our monthly budget chats) helped us stay on track to financial independence.

My biggest stress relief was exercise. My spouse’s best habit was “20 minutes a day,” where you work on big projects a little ever day: a Navy training plan, your next qualification goal, or that month’s paperwork.

How did you communicate with your spouse while she was away?

Old school! Lots of letters. In the 1980s submarine force, overseas phone calls were $6/minute and a postage stamp was only 22 cents. When the submarine was underway (for up to 90 days) our families could send us a total of eight familygrams of 40 words each.

Communications steadily improved in the 1990s, and e-mails gradually replaced the letters (overseas phone calls were still “too expensive” and only for emergencies or a brief time-sensitive update).  These days, I’m happy to see that military families have video bandwidth (especially for their kids), but I’m also a little envious.

How have you worked to strengthen your marriage over the years in the midst of stressful events like frequent moves and separations?

We talk all the time when we’re together. It’s not just what needs to get done tomorrow or what the week’s chores will be, but also our long-range calendar for work and family. We like spending time together on projects, and we’ve always been working on the next home repair or improvement.

We’ve both had to pack our possessions into a seabag, and we’ve tried to avoid being burdened with a lot of “stuff” to take care of. During moves, we’ve learned to prune the excess and to say a farewell to the things that end up in the mover’s crate. It’s our way of reminding ourselves that people and experiences are more important than things.

Looking back, what has been the hardest part of military life for you and your family?

The hardest part of military life was being slow to realize that it’s not family-friendly. When our daughter was born I suddenly wanted to stop spending 70 hours/week at work and start spending more time helping her grow up. Of course my chain of command was not happy about that, and I spent a few painful years figuring out the work-life balance.

When you’re exhausted from work and from parenting, it’s hard to figure out a way to break free of the cycle and focus on the important things in life (we refer to it as “the fog of work”).  Today, I wish that when I was on active duty I’d known more about the Reserves and the National Guard. In retrospect, I should have gone to the Reserves after we started our family instead of being too scared and ignorant to leave active before 20 years.

What has been your favorite part? Feel free to share specific memories!

My favorite part of our military careers has been the time we’ve spent together — the skills we’ve learned and the things we’ve done. Those memories leave a warm glow which lasts a lifetime.

Of course we’re pretty proud of how our daughter turned out, too.

What advice would you give to today’s young military spouses?

Hang in there and take it one obligation at a time. Stay on active duty as long as it’s challenging and fulfilling, and when the fun stops then be ready to move to the Reserves or National Guard.  Learn about those options now, while you still have hours to talk about it and before your next tour of duty becomes a crisis.

Save and invest as much as you can for as long as you can. A high savings rate gives you the financial flexibility to have choices. If you finish a tour with more debt than you started then you don’t have many choices about your next obligation.

Do you have a favorite motto, Bible verse, inspirational quote, etc. that applies to your experience of life as a resilient military spouse?

“20 minutes a day.”

That’s our shorthand for working on every project for at least 2o minutes a day to keep moving forward.

Connect with Doug on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheMilitaryGuide and  www.facebook.com/doug.nordman.5, and Twitter @TheMilitaryGuid (no “e” in Guid).  Look for his book at your local military base or public library — or buy the eBook on Amazon.com.

Is there a stand-out military spouse you would like to nominate for a future Resilient Military Spouse post?
Please send me an email!

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One comment

  1. Jeannine Jacoby

    Very interesting.

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