Sunday, February 16, 2014

Common Misperceptions about Military Life

Last week I used Facebook to do an informal poll of my military friends, asking what the most common misperceptions were about military life.  Today I've rolled all those responses (along with few of my own) into this post.  I'm sure that other military families will laugh (or maybe cry!) at a few of these.  And hopefully it will give civilians a peek into our lifestyle.

1.  We Move All the Time
Actually, this depends on your job!  Some people stay at the same base for years, like a family we met when we first moved to Offutt AFB.  They had moved here a year before us, but came from Texas where they had been stationed for 17 years!  Others rotate between just a few bases, so they might move back to one where they already lived.  And others, like us, can be stationed pretty much anywhere in the world and move every two to four years for normal assignments.        

Related to this is We Move All The Time THUS Moving is No Big Deal.  Also not true.  Moving is routinely listed among the most stressful life experiences and military families are not exempt from those stressors.  It's hard to watch all your belongings get packed up and wonder what will get lost or broken.  It's hard to explain to your children why they won't be able to see their friends again.  It's hard to find a new church or a new school.  It's hard to be in a town where you don't know a single soul and have to consult your GPS every time you leave your driveway.  It's hard to explain how you can make such deep friendships in just a few years.  It's always hard to say goodbye to the familiar and walk into the unknown.

2.  We Are a Special Breed of Humans
This comes from statements like, "6 month deployment?  I could never do that!" or "You are handling this deployment so well!  I'd be on the couch in a puddle of tears!"  I always get annoyed when people say that to me even though I know they are well-meaning.

Here's the truth: if you were in our position, you would do what you had to do.  You get through the six month deployment because you don't have a choice.  You're not collapsed on the couch in tears each day because life keeps going around you.  As one person said, "Of course I miss him, but life goes on, kids need to be fed and the dog needs a walk.  Bills need to be paid, and that kitchen drawer needs a new rail.  I'm not strong or brave, I just do what needs to be done.  Sometimes I even manage to handle it with grace and I save the blubbering until the kids go to bed. ;)"

3.  We Agree With ______________.
Insert "the war" or "the President" or another phrase having to do with politics into the space above. We don't all agree on politics.  But people generally keep their mouths shut and just do their job, which is the way I prefer it.

4.  We Are All Gun-Totin' Texans
No.  Just no.  :)

5.  There's a Correlation Between Arrogance and Rank
Usually I get a tad nervous meeting someone O5 and up (Lt Col, Col and Generals).  But all of the higher ranking officers that I've met so far have been very down to earth and friendly.  I'm certain that there ARE high ranking officers who are arrogant just as there are first term airmen who are arrogant.  But I think it has a lot more to do with personality than rank.

6.  Our Lives Are Like an Episode of Army Wives
We love the show Army Wives so I'm not here to trash talk it!  But let's be honest: it's nothing like real military life.  The most notable difference to me is that Army Wives ignores fraternization rules.  It's not just that it would be unlikely for lower ranking airmen to hang out at the General's house...there are actual rules that keep that from happening.

7.  We Are Like a Big Family
Yes and no.  We kept hearing about how wonderful the military was and how it was like a big family.  But it sure took us awhile to feel that way!  The military can be a tight, caring community when you're living away from all your friends and family.  But you have to leave your house.  No one is going to come to your front door and drag you to events.  So if you want to feel the family, to JOIN the family, you have to take the first step and get involved.

8.  We Are Well Paid
When I polled my friends on Facebook, this was a major trend.  We have some wonderful benefits as military families, healthcare and housing being the most prominent.  My husband and I are very thankful for those benefits.  When our son was born, we didn't see a single bill for my care or our hospital stay.  I don't take that lightly - it is a huge benefit of military life. husband is making quite a bit less money than he could be if he were in the private sector so it can be a bit discouraging to think about that and think of student loans that might already be paid off.

Your pay stays the same no matter how many dependents you have, so what might seem like a lot of money to a single airman means that a family of five is barely scraping by.  Many military families are eligible for WIC which is a great help.  Additionally, there are some medical issues, like fertility treatments or certain therapies, that are not fully covered by our health insurance.  Another piece in this whole puzzle of finances is that it is harder for military spouses to work so often you find many single-income families (and that's a whole different discussion!:).

9.  Spouses Aren't Affected All That Much
If my husband wasn't in the military, he could have taken a job in a city where I wanted to go to grad school.  Instead I'm researching programs that I can do online or waiting until we are stationed at a base with a good program nearby and then hurrying to finish my degree before we have to move again.  It is not the worst situation, but it's not ideal either.

As a military spouse, your education and your career will always, always come second.  It's just what you have to accept when you marry into the military.  That being said, I think military spouses should still pursue their dreams and learn to make it work within the military lifestyle.  It's great to see universities and employers who are willing to work with military spouses to help further their possibilities.

10.  Dual Military Couples Shouldn't Have Children
Related: Dual military couples can't care for their children as well as families with one civilian parent. Ugh.  I hated even typing that! But I know that this is said (or at least implied) sometimes when both parents are active duty, so I wanted to mention this.  Certainly it might be more challenging to have both parents on active duty, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have children or that they can't care for their children as well.  I know families who have decided that the best thing for them is to have one active duty parent and one stay-at-home parent.  I know families who have decided that what works for them is to have one active duty parent and one who has a civilian job.  And I know families that have decided it's best for both parents to be active duty.  All of these families love their children and are trying to do what is best for their family.

11.  Our Kids are Military Brats, So They're Used To This
Oh, how we all wish that was true.  If you talk to any parent about the challenges of military life, I can guarantee that the hardest part (by far) is watching their children struggle with our lifestyle.  Deployments and moves are hard on the adults, but they are so much harder on the children!  Children who were fully potty trained start having accidents.  Others get separation anxiety thinking that the at-home parent might leave just like the deployed parent.  Some children act out in school.  Children cry and ask why they won't be able to see their friends at the new base.  My husband and I have chosen this lifestyle, but I would hate to see my children paying the price in the future.

12.  We Joined Because We're Super Patriotic
This might be true of some people.  But others joined because the military paid for their college.  Or because it's a tough economy and they needed a steady job.  Or because their child needs health care.  Or because the military was the only place they could get the job they wanted, like being a paratrooper.

Okay, YOUR TURN!   What is a common misperception that you would like to clear up about military life?


  1. Oh Callie, you are so wise. This hit a TON of the big ones right on the head. Agree and amen.

  2. Thoughtfully written, this post sheds much needed light on military life for those of us who are on the outside. Thanks.

  3. I once had someone argue with me that the groceries at the commissary are FREE to military families ... which WOULD be a great perk if it were true. The truly unbelievable part was how long it took me convince them otherwise! :)

    1. Oh my goodness! That is hilarious that you had to convince someone that the commissary didn't give us free groceries! I wonder why they thought that!


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