Let me just preface everything I am about to say with this: I was a strong, independent, successful, hard-working, don't-take-s@it-from anyone, loyal, free-spirited, funny, adventurous and loving (when earned) young woman before I said "yes."
I always dreamed of a long, two-year engagement culminating in a beautiful wedding at my husband’s childhood home with all our friends and family in attendance. Reality Check: We were married in our jeans and t-shirts. No family, but a couple of my close girlfriends, a bottle of champagne, and the county judge taking a break from his weekend deck-building project to marry us on a whim in our hotel room (my husband was out-processing for his next PCS move in two weeks). Moving became what we did.
My husband and I are from California, both raised as standard, every day civilians of this fabulous country that we love. We met at college and started dating just a mere decade ago. When he chose to join the Air National Guard, he was aiming to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a fighter pilot. Having been through a loving, long-distance relationship in the past and not surviving it, I knew that if I truly loved my current partner, I would need to take the $20,000-a-year pay cut to keep our relationship strong and stay close to him. I knew I wanted to marry this man someday and have a family with him. I also knew that I had thousands of dollars of student loans to pay off, a car payment, insurance, and rent to cover (it is not cheap to live in California).
As his trainings ramped-up, I decided to leave my engineering job on the Central Coast. During his initial training “tour” I packed up and moved to Australia for a few months on a work-holiday Visa. I was unsure about our relationship, the military life and what would become of us in the future. But in the last couple of weeks of my stay Down Under, Boyfriend showed up at my host's front doorstep, got down on one knee and proposed. How could I resist? Of course I said "yes!"
This single-event was the only sign I needed to cure all my worries about our future. "No Worries, Mate." Right?
Just two weeks after we said our vows, we moved our life and dogs to beautiful(?) Wichita Falls, Texas for a pair of training courses. Almost two years later, we PCSed to Klamath Falls, Oregon and then, eight months later, to our current station and his hiring squadron. We purchased our first house on acreage and out of the big city, and began building our life together knowing that this finally might be the start of a little stability, for a while at least.
We have lived here for two years now. During our first year here, my husband was away more than he was actually home (I counted the days and hours for him just to make a point. Crazy, I know.) Short TDYs, long TDYs, 24 to 72 hour shifts, not to mention his "normal" schedule: 10 to 12 hour work days almost every day. He also has a 40-minute commute to work each way and also works one full weekend a month.
Now mind you, he signed up for the Air National Guard instead of going active duty because of the benefits for families, the less demanding work schedule and less PCSing. The ability to have a civilian job outside of his service commitments was very important to him.
It sounded doable when I was presented with that information years ago.
I know we have it good ... er ... better than most. I have lived This Military Life for almost five years and, after "surviving" (barely) our first (and hopefully last) deployment this summer, I have concluded that military is military. It doesn't matter what service branch we are in, how long we have been in, what rank he is, or if we are Guard, Reserves, or active duty. It really is all the same. The struggles of all military life are real.
The stresses on our marriage, our bodies and our minds over the last five years have been immeasurable to any aches and pains, surgeries, breakups, failures and mental breakdowns I have ever experienced in my past life. I could walk away from this military life, like, yesterday. The only thing holding me here is my love for my husband. The man I married before we got into this crazy life, and the fight to get our life and happiness back.
Yet I am thankful for the military because it has proven to be the most difficult trials of our life and a reminder that I am everything I started out to be; strong, independent, loyal and adventurous. And, as our Base Chaplain repeated over and over to us during his pre-deployment speech at our Yellow-Ribbon weekend this past spring, "Adversity Strengthens Us."
For the first time in five years, I feel that I have my backbone again. I am confident that we will one day look back on This Military Life being thankful for the unlikely-awesome places we have lived, the experiences and adventures we have had, and for the best friends, military fr-amily and support system that we have made throughout this incredible journey together.
Caty is a dedicated Air Force wife, dog mom, freelance artist and graphic designer. She works from her home studio and enjoys cooking, yoga, trail running, mountain biking, rock climbing, and all the “-board” sports. As an artist, Caty is primarily known for her charcoal pet portraits and is working to expand her gallery with pastel landscape paintings. She currently resides in Washington State with her husband and their two black labs as she awaits their next adventure. You can follow Caty's artwork on her Facebook Page and on Instagram.