In or Out? That Is The Question

"I’m thinking about getting out of the military.”

I’ve heard my husband say this many times before in his decade-long active-duty career, but it has never before been followed by, “I’m applying for a civilian job.” Suddenly, the possibility of a life outside the military popped into the spectrum of my reality.

I always imagined the end of our military life would taste like a gourmet meal of Relief wrapped in Excitement, peppered with Pride and served with a vintage bottle of A Life Well Lived. But as I sat at my desk proofreading my husband’s resume, I realized that the thought of his military career ending was far from a succulent gourmet meal. It was more like a deep-fried What Now? sandwich from a fast food joint that looked so appetizing at first glance, but left me tossing and turning all night with a scorching case of heartburn.

Quite honestly, I don’t have any idea how to be a plain old wife without the word military preceding it. My husband will be home all the time? He won’t get deployed to unpleasant places? He won’t wear a uniform to work every day? We’ll live in one place for the rest of our lives? I don’t get it. Do people really live like that?

For the last ten years, my husband and I have navigated the winding road of military life, sometimes together, sometimes a world apart. He’s had a pretty amazing military career so far, celebrating successes both professionally and personally. And while I can’t claim to be a big fan of deployments, or PCSes, or Murphy’s Law, I do owe the military a lengthy thank you note for allowing me to travel the world, collect an address book filled with friends, and transform me into the kind of woman I never knew I could be.

On the other hand, my family has lived at our current duty station for almost four years now, practically an eternity in the military world. And I have to admit I’ve grown accustomed to the cushy life of stability. My son has shared the same classrooms with one of his buddies from pre-K to second grade. I’m on a first-name basis with all the employees at my local YMCA. I transferred my state teacher certification AND taught at the same school for nearly two years. We know the best ER to go to, the best Japanese restaurant, the best grocery store, the best gas stations.

Is this how “normal” people live?  Really? Wow. Ok, sign me up because this normal thing is pretty cool.

Unfortunately, what passes for normal in most people’s lives doesn’t pass for normal in mine. Relinquishing my status as a military spouse would mean a complete makeover of not only my definition of normal, but also my definition of a wife, a mother, and an independent, self-sufficient woman. Over the years, I’ve told myself not to allow my title of military spouse become my complete identity. However, I can’t deny that it’s a large part of who I am.

For now, we wait. The civilian application is submitted. Plans B and C are waiting on the sidelines.

We don’t know a whole lot about our future, but there are a few things I do know for sure. I know that we’re extremely fortunate that my husband even has civilian job prospects when so many service members struggle with their transition to the civilian world. I know that regardless of whether I maintain my status of military spouse for another ten years or if I turn in my badge for good, my time as a military spouse has prepared me for whatever adventure we find ourselves on next.  And while the possibility of leaving the military life behind isn’t exactly a gourmet meal, I know that we’ll find a way to uncork that bottle of A Life Well Lived wherever our journey takes us.

Does being something other than a military spouse scare the tar out of you, or do you crave the stability it will give?

Heather Sweeney has been married to the military for 10 exciting, unpredictable, stressful, dramatic, tearful, adventurous, humorous, happy years.  When she’s not in the throes of raising her two military brats, she’s fending off tattlers and nose-pickers in her kindergarten classroom.  And if she’s lucky, she has enough brainpower left over at the end of the day to put on her freelance writer hat and jot down a few words to form somewhat coherent sentences.

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