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I Am Not a Military Wife (and Neither Are You)

I am a teacher. I am a writer. I am a bookworm. I am a coffee-drinker. I am a rom-com watcher. I am an animal lover. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am a wife. I am married to a soldier in the U.S. Army. But I am not an Army wife.

My first experience with the Army after moving onto a military base with my husband wasn’t the best. I stood beside him, in his ASU’s, as he spoke to a woman who was Army Retired. They were talking about me. The only person who did not get to participate in this conversation -- about me -- was, you guessed it: me.

Various aspects of my life were discussed, such as where I was “acquired,” the amount of personal property accompanying me, and the details of my “sponsorship.” I was given an ID card that labels me a dependent. I use my husband’s social security number for everything from scheduling doctors’ appointments to buying groceries.

I am not an Army wife.

I've been added to Facebook groups and tagged in videos aimed at teaching me the “etiquette” of being “an Army wife.” I have seen groups of women who silently wear their husbands’ ranks look down on the wives of the lower ranking. I have seen officers and spouses alike avert their gazes from the young family with three small children whose service member is an enlisted man.

I am not an Army wife.

I have had phone conversations with total strangers while trying to set up Internet and utilities in (yet another) new home who have asked me how I like being “an Army wife,” because my husband’s profession is now the detail that defines who I am in the eyes of the world.

But I am not an Army wife.

Serving in the United States military is a profession, much like being a fire fighter, a police officer, a doctor, a teacher, a barista and a salesman are all professions. While the military is not a permanent profession for every soldier, and it is in many cases a far more dangerous profession that requires levels of personal sacrifice and commitment that other professions do not, it is still a career. Would you ask the wife of a dentist to take classes on how she should behave based on her spouse’s job? Would you refer to her solely as “a dentist’s wife” and expect every single one of her friends to be dentists’ wives? (And only the wives of dentists who make the same amount of money as her husband, mind you).

Because I am a teacher, should my husband be added to Facebook groups exclusively for “Teachers’ Husbands” and trained in the proper use of glue sticks and paper grading?

It sounds ridiculous, because it is.

My profession does not determine who my husband is, although being married to a teacher will certainly give him the opportunity to be in situations that men who are not “Teachers’ Husbands” would rarely find themselves (think PTA meetings, collecting toilet paper rolls, buying out WalMart’s entire stock of PlayDoh, and catching every strain of the stomach flu that has ever been present in the continental U.S.).

In the same way, my husband’s job does not determine my identity. Our lives look very different from those of our friends whose careers are not military-related. We have special circumstances, we travel often, we live far from our families, and we face unique challenges -- challenges that may someday put my husband in danger for the sake of the safety of the nation to which we pledge our allegiance.

I do not take this lightly. But the identities of the spouses of service members are being stolen, and this is a serious matter as well.

Many “Army wives” and other military spouses make the mistake of taking on their husband’s career and ranking as their own, causing them to get too wrapped up in a world that exists only within the gates of the military base. They end up encouraging their husbands to stay in the Army longer than they may have planned, sacrificing other personal goals and career aspirations, because they no longer know who they are outside the security of being “an Army wife.”

They are known not for their careers, past or current, not for their witty sense of humor or their uncanny ability to predict SuperBowl outcomes, not for their talent of painting or their gift of writing poetry or the fact that they cook the best lasagna you’ve ever tasted; no, they are known only as someone who is married to a soldier -- to the extent that even their roles in their marriages are preceded by the name of their husbands’ employer.

I am not an Army wife.

I am the wife of a kind, hilarious, courageous, determined, humble, handsome man who works for the U.S. Army.

I am a woman who is a novice weightlifter, who sings Disney tunes at the top of her lungs, who loves wearing dresses, who has gotten really good at packing and who immensely respects her husband for his career choice while simultaneously being absolutely scared out of her mind about where it might take him.

I am a daughter who still tries to go home to see her family as much as possible, who is heartbroken over the fact that her primary communication with her siblings is now via SnapChat and who is missing more family gatherings, birthdays and special occasions than she ever thought she would.

I am a friend who misses late nights playing board games, going to concerts in the blistering Tennessee heat, and meeting her best friend for coffee, but who loves the many new and different people she encounters as a result of the many places her husband’s job has taken her.

I am a teacher who has taken some time away from her career to be with her new husband in an a frequently changing living situation, who does some freelance work in the meantime and who is not defined by her husband’s profession.

I am many things. My husband’s career may add new roles, new places, and new faces to my life, but it will never define me. I am no more an “Army wife” now than I will be a “chemical engineer wife” in his future beyond the military.

I am not an Army wife, and neither are you.

 

Amanda Haworth has lived in three states (soon to be four) in the last year, which has given her plenty of things to write about and plenty of time to write them. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Memphis, and taught 3rd grade for two years in the city before getting married. She plans to teach Kindergarten in Hawaii when she moves there with her husband this winter.

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