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Newlywed Scavenger Hunt

Bride and groom

Marry into the military and you are guaranteed to feel like an idiot. You are NOT an idiot. We know that. But starting married life in the military is like starting married life in a foreign country. Everything looks familiar, but all the rules have changed. Strange.

That's why you might feel like an idiot a lot when you are first married. Everyone does. Even for your servicemember, married military life is a lot different than single military life.

The best way to handle this is to treat these first six weeks like a curious tourist on a scavenger hunt. We we polled our readers to find out the top 10 things you and your servicemember should do to get off to the best start. This isn’t everything you could possibly do. These are the best things to do so you can fix it, forget it and go back to the honeymoon as soon as possible.

1. Memorize your servicemember’s Social Security number. Not yours. Theirs. Weird, huh? But remember the military keeps track of everything according to the servicemember’s Social Security number. You qualify for benefits through your servicemember and his or her SSN. This is not an indicator of your personal worth, it is a convenience for the accounting department. Let it go.

2. Grab your official marriage license and a copy your servicemember’s current orders. For the next few weeks, you are going to trot these two papers everywhere. Put them in a plastic page protector and make sure they are hard to lose. Then get a fireproof lockbox and tuck those records inside, please.

3. Get on DEERS. DEERS is a part of your servicemember’s record. It shows that you are officially married and thus qualified to get an ID card and medical benefits and live in housing. Your servicemember starts this process with their chain of command. BEFORE you get married.

On most posts and bases, you need to present this military picture ID at the gate in order to get on base. You need it in order to buy anything on post and to get any medical or dental benefits. Carry it with you all the time -- like your driver’s license. Also, get an official base sticker for your car if it is required for your post or base.

4. Get an ID card. On most posts and bases, you need to present this military picture ID at the gate in order to get on base. You need it in order to buy anything on post and to get any medical or dental benefits. Carry it with you all the time -- like your driver’s license. Also, get an official base sticker for your car if it is required for your post or base.

5.Write down the mailing address for your servicemember’s command. It isn’t enough to have your servicemember’s cell phone. It isn’t enough to know he or she is in the Navy or the Air Force. A mailing addy will tell you exactly what ship/unit/battalion/division your servicemember is in. Update this 30 or 40 times during the next 20 years.

6. Get the name of the helper assigned to families in your unit. In the Navy, this person will be the Ombudsman. In the Marine Corps, you have a FRO (Family Readiness Officer. In the Army, you are looking for the FRSA (Family Readiness Support Adviser). Often, these people are listed on the command’s website or Facebook page. They will not solve your problem, but these helping professionals are trained to be able to listen to your problem and then hook you up with the right support. Think of them as your Spark Notes for military life.

7. Get access to local doctor appointment. Tricare provides medical coverage to military families. Once you are on the DEERS form and you have an ID card, sign up for Tricare. Then go to its website at When they ask what plan you are using, click “I’m not sure. I’m new to Tricare.” This whole process takes exactly 20 minutes. Then find out exactly where the nearest emergency room is. Road trip!

8. Find out about military housing. Maybe you will live there. Maybe you won’t. But find out about it so you can make an informed decision. Take any horror stories you hear with a grain of salt. Make your own decision.

9. Get clear on money. Many of our readers confessed that they messed up money because they spent what they thought they SHOULD make, not what they actually made. Just write on a piece of paper on your fridge how much money you take home every month and how much your servicemember takes home. That’s it. No one is asking you to make a budget, just write down what you take home.

10. Scope out the commissary checkout line. For some reason, the commissary checkout line is guaranteed to make you feel like an idiot. This pitfall was mentioned over and over by readers. So, instead of lining up at each cashier like we do at a normal grocery story, most commissaries have one line and then you go to the next available cashier -- kind of like Marshalls on a grand scale.

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Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs at and a military sociologist.  Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan??

Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times.  Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.  

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