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, Carol – Army veteran, (retired) military spouse, mom, grandma and sister in Christ! I am grateful to have crossed paths with her during our time at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.
Hi, Carol! 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 was born in Missoula, MT, lived for a time in California, and then returned to Montana when I was in the 3rd grade, settling permanently in Missoula, again, when I was in the 7th grade. I was not raised in a Christian home. The only time I remember my family being in a church at the same time was at my grandfather’s funeral when I was in middle school.
Though my parents were married, they rarely lived together when I was growing up for various reasons, and, eventually, they divorced when I was in the 7th grade. I encountered the usual insecurities that most teenage girls encounter, plus a few bonus insecurities courtesy of my parent’s divorce.
When I graduated from high school, I joined the Army. I met my husband when we were both stationed in Amberg, Germany. How many girls can say that they were proposed to while they were in the field?! We were in Hohenfels MTA, we were up to our butts in mud after we had received “fade out” for the exercise that evening, and I was on my way to the potty when I stopped by his work area. So romantic!
I got out of the army and continued to serve by supporting my husband in his career. Our first duty assignment as a married couple was at Ft. Bliss, TX.
We missed Germany, so he re-enlisted to go back to Germany 8 months after our arrival. We were stationed in Bad Kissingen, living in two different villages over our 7 ½ year assignment. Most people bring schranks back from Germany; we brought two daughters!
In December 1991 (in the middle of the first draw-down in Germany), we returned to Ft. Bliss. We received our orders on 12 December and flew on the 21st, a whirlwind departure to say the least. Apart from a 3 year assignment to Albuquerque, NM, the remainder of my husband’s 24 year career was spent in El Paso. When he retired, we chose to stay in El Paso, because our youngest daughter was still in high school and I was employed with the State of Texas at that time. Now, both my husband and I work on Ft. Bliss, our daughters are grown and married, and we are blessed with three beautiful grandkids.
What was your favorite duty station and why?
My favorite duty station without a doubt was Germany. I have so many fond memories both from when I was in the Army and stationed in Amberg, as well as when we were stationed in Bad Kissingen where we started our family. The most significant part of our lives started during our second assignment, because that is when we came to know Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. In those days there was no internet, no cell phones, and phone calls were VERY expensive. The friendship bonds we formed during this period became our family. Precious women stepped in to teach me how to care for my family and my home, and, above all, to deepen my relationship with the Lord. Those friendships endure today, even though we are separated by many states.
What has it been like to raise children in military life?
It’s funny, you don’t realize it when you’re going through it, but, when my husband retired, he made the comment to someone expressing appreciation of me for all of the “single parenting” that I had done. I never considered myself to be a “single parent”, because, after all, I was married, but he was right in what he said. I had the security that the military affords, a roof over our heads, steady income, along with a marriage of mutual love and trust. Whenever he was gone, I had to step up and be the nurturer as well as the disciplinarian…the security figure for our daughters.
I remember when I was in the Army, the word “dependent” was a word that brought negative thoughts. In my mind, they were the
women who sat around gossiping and stirred up trouble at the “wives club” meetings. So, when I got out of the Army, I was less than pleased to be given that title, until I realized that I was not dependent on the Army, but the Army was dependent on me to fulfill my assigned mission. Like most military dependents, I was the wife that kept my home running in my husband’s absence. Imanaged the budget, kept appointments, and allowed my husband to concentrate on his mission in the Army. He never had to worry about things at home. I am pretty sure we instilled in our girls a sense of patriotism that most civilian kids don’t experience.
The saddest part of raising our kids in the military is that they grew up away from extended family. While my husband was an only child, I have siblings, and I don’t think it really sunk in to me until after the girls were grown how detached they were from our extended family. Those people who hold such special, tender places in my heart, to include our parents, are strangers to my children. That is extremely sad to me, but hopefully we have learned a lesson from our past experiences. Even though our kids are not in the military, they live several hours away from us, and we make intentional efforts to grow our relationships with our adult children and their children.
How did you overcome the challenges of military life every day? Did any specific habits or daily rituals help you?
The challenges of the military life can be significant for the family. The service member puts in long hours, and if they are in a supervisory position that is multiplied even more. They are called upon to leave at the drop of a hat, have to deploy into harm’s way for months or years at a time, and they don’t have a lot of say in where they will be stationed (usually). Many times depending on the assignment, the spouse at home isn’t even allowed to know “exactly” where the service member is going, much less discuss it with anyone.
When the spouse is away from their extended family, it is essential that they develop a support system/network. The Army does what it can to prepare the family with education, security/safety briefings, Family Readiness Groups, and various Army Community Service programs, but I know without a doubt that our faith in Jesus Christ is the only reason my family survived the challenging times. My chapel/church family were my support network.
I am a very routine oriented person, so it was easy to schedule the time I needed for me, and to maintain a healthy routine for the girls. I was taught early in my Christian walk by godly women concerning the importance of beginning my day with the Lord in reading His word and prayer. My personal quiet time caused me to focus on the Lord and seek His guidance for whatever the circumstances I was faced with each day. It wasn’t just a routine of “check the box”. It was about a growing relationship that I needed to nurture, just like physical relationships. I participated in Bible study with godly women who mentored me and encouraged me. I learned to memorize verses from the Bible, which the Lord is still faithful to remind me of when I need correction, guidance or comfort. I volunteered through the chapel/church, learning to serve others gave me a purpose outside the four walls of our home, and many times kept me from making my circumstances “all about me”.
The Lord has allowed many situations to come into our lives through the years. Even today, He continues to teach us about trusting Him in every situation; did you know that God is in charge of the Army also? Learning that during our active duty careers gave me great peace. He was never going to send us somewhere that He wasn’t already there, and orders are only a piece of paper that He can change if He wants to! The Lord has taught me that hard things happen, things that are harder than I can handle in my own strength, or as I like to call it my “dependent ingenuity”, but He is just a prayer away and desires to be invited into our lives to help us (1 Corinthians 10:13).
How did you communicate with your spouse while he was away?
Communications were much different when my husband was in the Army than it is today. We didn’t have cell phones or Skype or Facetime; we had to rely on thelandline telephone if he was at school or mail if he was deployed.
Every year he went to Crete when we were in Germany for their Annual Firing Practice. This one year they were all loaded up ready to come home just before Christmas when their plane caught on fire. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but we had to rely on the unit for all of our information. They called a meeting at the post theater to brief all of the spouses, and we were thankful to receive the information, but it was far from the instant information of today.
Once we got stateside, communications made great strides. We didn’t have to rely on snail-mail only, but could call more often when he was away, and the speed of e-mail was amazing compared to the week that postal mail took, not to mention going to the unit for mail call every afternoon while we were in Germany!
How did you work to strengthen your marriage over the years and in the midst of stressful events like relocation and separations?
I wish we had thought about this more in our early years; if we had, I think the empty nest transition would have been smoother. For me, anyway!
We had date nights alone and with other couples periodically, but not as intentionally as we should have. We were busy with school or church activities, but didn’t do a lot to focus specifically on our marriage or us as a couple. Now days, they have the Strong Bonds retreats that are awesome (and free!) opportunities through the chapel.
From the beginning “divorce” was not an option for our relationship. We both came from broken homes, and so we determined from the beginning that our marriage would be forever. We learned from wise mentors that marriage is not 50-50, it is 100-100. As imperfect humans, if we set our goals higher, we would always have 100% being put into our marriage if our spouse was struggling through something and unintentionally not putting in their 100%. We made sure our daughters knew that we were a team, and presented a unified front when they tried to play us against each other.
Couples need to get away together on a regular basis, whether it’s a date night or a weekend getaway. You raise kids for them to leave, and if the kids are your only focus in your marriage when they leave you will be faced with living with a stranger! The networking I mentioned makes these dates and getaways more financially doable.
What was your perception of the community support for service members and their families back then?
I don’t recall much in the way of community support until after Desert Storm, but we were in Germany from 1984-1991 so our community was the military. Returning to the states in 1991, there was a significant change in support for service members.
My husband’s father was a Vietnam Veteran and returned to the protests and awful treatment of that era. While we never experienced the negative treatment during the Cold War era, there was a marked change in community support when we returned to the states from Germany. All of a sudden it was cool to be a Soldier, and the family of service members and many civilian establishments started giving military discounts. Service Members and veterans were honored in churches on patriotic holidays, our church would have a big patriotic program for Independence Day, and all branches were honored. Pretty cool!
What is the biggest difference you see between military life then and now?
Soldiers have more rights than they did when I was in the Army. The living conditions in the barracks for the single soldiers is much nicer when I was in. The housing allowances have improved, as well as housing on post. Soldiers are allowed more time off, while the mission is always the priority. Four day weekends for Federal holidays and comp time were pretty much unheard of in our day. Technology is much better, PX and Commissary facilities have improved. In our day there was the “Wives Club”, which I didn’t participate in because of the problems I had seen come from them, but, now, they have Family Readiness Groups which seem (from the outside looking in) to be a little more organized and less like “gossip sessions” than the groups of old.
Looking back, what was the hardest part about military life for you and your family?
Moving was always the hardest for us. Information came much slower in the past (because of technology/computers). Once you got moved, establishing new relationships was always difficult; finding a good church/school, finding a job; if you are moving overseas, you have the additional expenses of establishing kitchen essentials (spices, liquids, etc.) coming and going. Yeah, I think moving was the hardest for us. Once we were established in a new location, we got our routines set (work, school, church, sports, etc.), and even if my husband was away we could press on.
What was your favorite part?
I loved the adventure of traveling to a foreign country, and all the adventures that we went on; learning the local customs and culture. And, the food!!
When we were stationed in Germany, I was very active with the PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel). We met every Wednesday for Bible study, but one Wednesday each month we had what we called “long Wednesday”. We would gather in the morning to learn a new craft or project, have lunch together (usually a potluck, which is awesome with the multi-cultural nature of the military community), and then have Bible study in the afternoon. The chapel paid for our childcare, so we could all participate without added expense to the family budget.
Several of us became active on Saturday mornings with “Volksmarching”. There would be 5k walks in a different village each week. For a nominal fee, you could get a “stamp” in your Volksmarching record book and a small token. And the food at the end was AMAZING!!! Sometimes they would have live bands; it was a real “fest” environment. I remember one time, the band started singing “I wanna go home” in English. We were in tears/laughing, singing along with them!
While some of us lived on post, many of us lived in outlying villages. Whenever we came across a small traveling circus or carnival, we would plan outings together. We enrolled our eldest daughter in German Kindergarten, and loved the opportunities afforded us by participating in the various village celebrations/holiday traditions throughout the year.
What advice would you give to today’s young military spouses?
Get to know your neighbors or get involved in your community, wherever you are stationed. Look at your assignment as an adventure. If you stay in your house, you will be miserable. There are reasonably priced tour opportunities at ITT well worth saving for a weekend or longer getaway!
While the chapel experience is different at each location, there are women who are looking for the same thing you are, friendship and companionship while their husbands are away. Many have kids, but many are young newlyweds who just need a little encouragement or guidance their first time away from home. Get out of the 4 walls of your home, don’t let them become a prison to you.
Also, I realize every situation is different, but when your spouse is deployed, don’t “go home”. God brought you to this assignment for a reason. Look around to see who you can be a blessing to. When you get married, whether you have kids or not, you married your spouse, and the two of you became a family and were called to establish a home together. Just because one of you is gone for a while doesn’t make it any less of a home.
Do you have a favorite motto, Bible verse, or inspirational quote, etc. that applies to your experience of life as a resilient military spouse?
I have several verses that have encouraged me through the years, here are few and how they have spoken to me:
1 Corinthians 10:13 | “No temptation has seized you, but such as is common to man. And God is faithful, He will not allow you to be tried (tested or tempted) beyond what you are able, but with each trial he will provide you with an escape so that you can stand up under it.”
Whatever it is that I am going through (trial, testing or temptation) it’s no different than what someone else has gone through before me. Oh don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, and yes it is usually more than I can handle in and of my own strength, but with the Lord’s help I can handle anything. The escape route is never to give in to the temptation or quit when I’m being tested, but it is always an opportunity to cling to my God and seek His face for help, comfort and guidance.
2 Corinthians 12:9 | “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness’. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
His grace (unearned, unmerited favor) is all I need for any situation, because when I am weak, then His strength is shown through my weak spots!
Psalm 3:3 | “But You, O Lord, are a shield around me; You are my glory, the One who holds my head high.”
There are a lot of times I’m afraid, or unsure about a situation. This verse reminds me that He is always with me; He is my protector; nothing can get to me without first going through Him, my shield! He holds my head up when I can’t.
My resilience is found in my faith in my God. He is my strength, my comfort, my all in all. I don’t find “self-confidence” anywhere in the Bible, but I see God confidence everywhere. I know I can trust Him more than I can trust myself, He’s proven it over and over through the years. My husband and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary this past January. He has been with us through it all, and is still holding us together!