Military life can be intimidating for a new milspouse. Learning the acronyms, rank, chain of command, etc. can seem overwhelming. The military has its own language and culture, which sets it far apart from the civilian world. SpouseBUZZ received an interesting email which asks how to handle these challenges.
I'm very new to the military and there's an issue that's got me nervous and I was hoping that one of the contributors of the blog could address the issue. What's the proper etiquette of the military wife interacting with her husband's peers and also his chain of command? How do I address his CO or is 1st SGT or other people he reports to, when I come into contact with them? Luckily I don't do much of that right now because of his being overseas, but when he comes back in a few weeks on leave I will be joining him at the local post to take care of some hot business items. I don't want to embarrass myself or him by not knowing how to act!
It's sort of funny, because I am a businesswoman and have interacted with politicians and billionaires without blinking an eye, but thinking about interacting with the military folks makes my palms get sweaty. :) I guess I need to know my role, how my behavior affects how the "important" people view my husband, and what kinds of etiquette there are that I might not know about. Throw me at a 5 course formal dinner with the President any day, but make me walk into the office of a military person (even one of equal rank with my husband) and I feel like a bumbling, mumbling idiot.
Thanks for any help you can give! And thanks for building such a great, resourceful blog for the spouses.
Personally, I think one of the most useful things a new milspouse can do is to learn the rank structure. When I married, I didn't know the difference between a Private and a General, no joke. Once I had that sorted out, I then needed to know what the general responsibilities of the various ranks were. Learning this helped me to gain some knowledge of how the Army is structured, and made me feel much more secure when I came in contact with soldiers and their families. It wasn't about who outranked who, it was about understanding how the system works and learning to speak the same language as those around me. Knowledge is power.
When I was a new milspouse, I was nervous and insecure for a while. This life was new and different and I felt (wrongly) that the slightest slip would reflect negatively upon my husband, so I do understand the anxiety that some milspouses have when interacting with their spouse's peers. It can be gut-wrenching at times, especially your first stroll through a receiving line. Although it took me a while to find my comfort zone, I finally did. After becoming worked up one too many times over the latest social function, I finally learned to relax and be myself. By doing so, social functions became much more enjoyable. "Relax and be yourself" is easier said than done, I get that, but the sooner you're able to do so, the better off you will be. Furthermore, some of the anxiety is easily fixed, as I mentioned above, by simply understanding what your spouse and those around him do, and how all of the parts fit together.
I've heard many stories about the "good old days", or, in some ways, the "bad old days" when the actions of milspouses could help, or hurt, their husband or wife's upward mobility. Someone may know something that I don't know, but I've seen absolutely no evidence that is true in today's military. Your spouse will rise or fall based on his work product. I think all of us want to compliment our spouses and make a good impression, but many of us work ourselves into a tizzy about how we will be perceived, and it's simply not worth the stress. Trust me.
There is no hard and fast rule about how you address your spouse's peers, but I tend to use titles, "SGM so-and-so" and, although it's not required, or even encouraged, I still answer officers who are my husband's superiors with a "yes sir." It's merely a sign of respect from me, but again, it's not necessary. For the record, my husband thinks this is strange, but I'm a southern gal and manners are paramount in southern culture, so I say "yes sir" to anyone, military or civilian, who is older than me.
Below are some links which may help new milspouses "learn the ranks."
How about all of those mysterious military acronyms? The military loves acronyms. I still don't know what my husband is talking about half the time. If you're in the same position, check out this index of frequently used military terms.
Someone gave me a book aimed at military wives when I first married. The book is still available, and has been revised throughout the years, but I wouldn't recommend it. While it did provide some useful information, I found some of the social commentary utterly ridiculous and completely outdated. If new milspouses used that book as a reference guide on how a milspouse should behave, I think they would be intimidated beyond words. I don't want to publicly insult the author's work, so I won't name the book.
Have any of you come across a book that you think would be a good resource for a new milspouse? If so, please leave a comment with the name of the book. Also, please leave some advice for this milspouse, she's looking forward to reading your comments.