Coming to terms with our new identity as a military family

Guest post by Kait Payne

I married a bartender. I married a goofy, bearded, garage band kid. In May he left for Air Force basic training.

He didn’t join out of some messed up God-complex, and I love that about him. He signed up so that we were positive that our daughter’s education would be paid for. After years of not being able to afford diapers, and him having to literally eat ketchup packets at work so that he could afford food for Scarlet and I, we decided as a family that something needed to happen.

This economy is a scary place for 20-somethings with no real work experience. Gabe had attended two years of computer tech school. After some research, we found out that that meant he could enlist in the Air Force as an E3 instead of an E1. It honestly seemed like the only option, despite the fact that neither one of us support this war. Signing up for the military knowing full well that he would likely have to fight a battle he didn’t believe in was not something we took pride in. We just felt like giving our daughter every opportunity took precedence to all those other issues.

I didn’t realize the weight of the choice we had made, honestly. Gabe and Scarlet are close, he did half of everything with her. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum and was sick and practically bedridden the entire 9 months of my pregnancy. Because of that, he said he’d take the first 9 months of waking up with her in the night. He’s a good man, and a present father. I’m not just blowing smoke.

When he left Scarlet still insisted that we buy the kind of milk he drank and I had to pour him a glass every single morning, and then dump it and wash it out while she napped. It was hard on her. That’s actually a giant understatement. She was so confused, and almost bitter at first. She felt abandoned, and that killed me. I had to explain time and time again that he was doing this for us and not to us.

Gabe with Scarlet right before leaving for basic training.

It hasn’t just been hard on Scarlet, it’s been hard on Gabe and I as well. He can’t really relate to his UFC loving, typically single guy peers. Luckily for him he is outgoing and easy to get along with, but he still feels alone. Obviously being away from his daughter kills him, and he has trouble finding people who can relate to something like that. I have had a lot of people shower me with support. Other military wives from across the country have just been amazing with emails and things. I just find it difficult, because again I don’t really relate to them. I wouldn’t be caught dead with an email like “[email protected],” and I’m not going to be waving a tiny flag anytime in my near future.

When we went down to San Antonio for his basic training graduation, I was entirely overwhelmed. I felt nothing like the other wives. They all had huge posters and showed their pride by screaming and hollering. I’m not really into pride in general. I don’t scream. I bought a vintage USAF belt buckle an antique store, but that’s about as far as my Air Force pride goes. I support my husband, and I am entirely proud of what he is doing for me and our daughter. And I guess to some extent I am grateful that the Air Force has given us a way to get out of this city and pay our bills, but honestly I am just sort of carrying a grudge because this was the only way for us.

I don’t mean to portray all military wives as stuffy conservative jerks — I really don’t. I’m only meant to say that this existence is really lonely for me sometimes. Our friends don’t understand because they can’t relate anymore. It’s isolating. I don’t feel like there are many people who I can relate to who see the world from the same sort of perspective that I do. I know they don’t all shop at L.L. Bean and have Bill O’Riley posters over their beer pong tables, and I’m not trying to say that. I just feel nontraditional in a very traditional environment, and we haven’t even hit base yet.

Kait, Scarlet, and Gabe = FaceTime!
He is at tech school right now. That means that instead of letters and a 15 minute phone call once every two weeks he gets internet access and a cell phone. This has helped Scarlet a lot. We got the new iPhones so we could do FaceTime. That feature has totally changed the way bedtime works in this house. It has definitely made Scar a happier kid. While he was at bootcamp bedtime was the most difficult part of the day. Now it’s back to singing Blackbird by The Beatles before bed.

Although these things have made it easier for Scarlet, I think it’s almost made things harder for me. When he was that far gone, it was like I could put him in the absent bracket of my brain. Now that he’s halfway around, I get more bitter that he isn’t around. I miss him more. It’s hard to explain without sounding ridiculous and selfish, but having a halfway husband is no easy feat. I had to move my bed into the living room just to avoid walking into the bedroom at night and going to sleep alone. It’s too much for me. I have no idea how I am going to deal with deployments.

Oh, deployments. I can’t even say that word without cringing. He will be done with military school in February, and we’ll be reunited! I can’t wait. We’ll be stationed and getting out of this city like we’ve always wanted. Happily ever after! Except not. Except then at any time he can be called to active duty. How do I rationalize that to my daughter, who at that time will likely be four years old? She doesn’t have so much as a plastic toy gun. We’re going to have to somehow figure out a way to explain to her that Daddy is going to fight, even though we preach non-violence. By the time she is in Kindergarten we’ll be on base so she’ll be at a school on base. Her friends will all have a parent in the Air Force. What ideas are they going to present to her? What do I do when she comes home with all the tough questions and I am the only one home to give her answers because Daddy is in Iraq or Korea fighting for something we think is irrelevant?

I think I will just explain to her that this is the means to an end. We’ve always tried to be as upfront with her as possible, and I really don’t think that this should be an exception. I’ll tell her to work hard, to make it worth it. I’ll tell her to stay positive, and to be nice to people. Gabe is 24 and I am 23. If he chooses to retire from the Air Force, we’ll still have so much life to live.

We want an RV. We want to be constantly moving and seeing the world while we can. I’ll still be taking photographs, and we’ll have albums full from the years before. And if that reality means that I have to face this one first, then fine. I’ll be the only mom with a half-sleeve picking her kid up from preschool if I have to be. We’ll have the only car without a tacky yellow ribbon magnet. Okay. I’ll deal with all that, and my kid will not have student loans up to her ears when she graduates, and nobody will eat ketchup packets, and if we ever have another kid we won’t have to worry about where the next diaper is coming from.

UPDATE FROM ARIEL:
Based on comments, there was some interest in a Facebook group for offbeat military types. Well, someone started one! While the group is not officially affiliated of the Offbeat Empire, I’m happy to spread the word about it. 🙂

Comments on Coming to terms with our new identity as a military family

  1. Okay, am I the only one who bawled when they saw the second (leaving) picture? Because I bawled pretty much from then to the end of the post. I know my limits and I give all military families SO much props for being able to endure all this. I KNOW I couldn’t.

    P.S. Kait – I ADORE all your pictures in the OBM photo pool and I will absolutely be addicted to your blog. You’re pretty awesome and just from looking at all your pictures Scarlet seriously adores you so while it is beyond wonderful what your husband did for your family, you are pretty kick ass yourself.

  2. That leaving photo kills me. I cried too. You both sound like wonderful parents, I couldn’t endure it either.

  3. I just saw my cousin (Marines) off to Afghanistan this May – very similar situation in that I’m an outsider to a very pro-military, pro-conservative family. It was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever been a part of, seeing all those young wives and children sending off their husbands and dads. I think regardless of what anyone’s thoughts are about the war, I think everyone can appreciate and understand the sacrifice that you are making, and I am very grateful for it. Here’s to safe and happy futures!

  4. I absolutely adore this article. As a long time lurker of this site, this is my first time commenting. I, too am a military wife… and it makes me cringe whenever I say that. Not because I do not support my husband, but because of the stereotype that looms. We’re both very much against this war, have parents who were exiled from another country and patriotism isn’t exactly our thing so we also have a diffucult time relating to our peers.
    My husband has his reasons for joining the navy, and I admire that he is genuine in his desire to help others. The fact that we will be taken care of as a family now that I’m expecting doesn’t hurt either. But, and there is a giant but, military life leaves a lot to be desired. Deployments are difficult and not having(complete)control over where you live are just a few factors…
    Anyhoo… let me stop myself before I continue ranting. Your article was beautiful and I wish your family the absolute best, no matter how quirky or strange.

  5. I suggest your husband try to get an assignment at a test Air Force base, like Edwards or Eglin. I worked at Edwards AFB as a civilian for 12 years and it seems to me you’re less likely to get deployed if you’re stationed there. Additionally it seems like people don’t get moved around as much there. I worked with people who had spent their entire military career at Edwards.

    Also I had people tell me repeatedly how “non-military” Edwards is. It has a large civilian population that runs the “functional” part of the base: the Air Force Flight Test Center. I think that increases a certain…let’s call it “diversity of opinion.” Military bases will never be hot beds of liberalism but Edwards seemed to have a more relaxed, less “gung-ho” attitude.

    It sounds like, although you went into this with your eyes open, the separation is hitting you harder than you expected. Hopefully your husband won’t get deployed but I suggest that you build your own “fortifications” ahead of time nonetheless. My dependent friends who lived on base say that there is a real sense of community there that helped them. Maybe you could form the first-ever “AF Spouses Against the War in Iraq” club!

    • The only problem with the “AF Spouses Against the War in Iraq” club is that it could hurt her husbands career. I know that her not being enlisted herself still allows her freedom of speech, but the military has a “keep your wife in check” position. I know husbands that have been “talked to” because of something anti-military posted online. Theres nothing they can really do to you, but you never want to make your husbands life in the military harder for him, even if he backs you up.

  6. Kait,
    I feel like you read my mind. I was in your position earlier this year when my husband was stationed at Ft. Sill, OK for BCT and AIT in field artillery with the Army. We don’t have kids yet, but I’m 4 months pregnant with our first (hello homecoming present!). I feel exactly as you do about not “fitting in” with the whole military wife crowd. I have tattoos, don’t eat meat, and generally disagree with combat.

    Its hard to come to grips with that new identity. In fact, I have been very judgmental of the whole “military wife” label in the past. I’ve decided to need to get past that because we all have to make sacrifices for our loved ones’ decision to serve. We are all in the same boat even if we don’t always fit the bill. Your post makes me even more aware that there is not “typical” military wife. There are plenty of women like us out there.

    I hope you all like where you get stationed and make new friends there. My husband is in the National Guard so we won’t move unless he decides to enter a different branch.

    Best wishes to you and your family! HOOAH! Or something like that…

    ~Bri

  7. You are not alone! I can’t really believe I married an Army guy. I love him so much though and living in military communities has taught me so much about people. I suppose I had my prejudices at first as well, but people are people and even though I wouldn’t be caught dead with one of those little camo Army-Wife purses, I have learned so much from army spouses who are very conservative. They are the ones who can help you get through these tough times.

    I can’t say it’s not lonely though. I am 10 weeks pregnant and my husband just had to leave for an emergency deployment that was totally out of the blue. He could be gone 6 months.

    You can do it though! Take strength in the strength of all the family members who struggle to have their loved ones gone. I know it can be hard to be involved in the military when you don’t believe in the government’s policies, but your husband will help people AND struggle with the red tape of bureaucracy.

    Trust me, we have met some amazing military couples who are sophisticated, intelligent, compassionate people. You might find you have more in common with some folks than you think.

    Good luck! I am sending you strength!

    Kate

  8. My husband and I both are Navy. I was gone for more than a year with training. My daughter started talking while I was away. I missed so much. My husband went on deployment while I was pregnant with my second child and had HG. I spent a lot of time in the military hospital with an IV in me, all alone. But, when he came back, it was like he was only gone an instant. We can’t take another 6 months or more away from eachother or the kids. We’re getting out next year.

  9. I read this article and agreed with a lot of what you said. My husband has been in the air force for over 6 years and we have been married and stationed out here in NM for 5 years. I can honestly say that without the air force we would not be in the place we are today. I was able to go to college and get my degree, he gets college classes on the side and how many couples can say they got married right out of highschool and got a 3-bedroom house. The air force has given us everything and I am thankful. I have to remind myself of that when he deploys (twice now), when they give him crappy hours, and when they pull him away from me at random times. Basic and tech school were hard but deployments suck. When he’s deployed you never stop hurting but you get used to feeling that pain and living with it (weird as it sounds). As much as it hurts the air force community is one of the best things that keeps us going. We may not all be republican/democrat/independent/pro-war/anti-war/yellow sticker or not but we all support each other through it all. My neighbors are like my family, they adopt me as their other child when he deploys and they come over for dinner when their spouse deploys. There aren’t many places that people can come together like that in a community and genuinely care for each other. We cant live near our families so we adopt those around us, you will make friends all over the world. You may feel left out now but you will find friends on base(we’re real people too). So although you may not see it this way yet, welcome to our family.

  10. Thank you about a million times for this article. My husband just got his ship date for Basic Training (Nov 2nd) – which means he’ll be gone just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have no idea how we’re going to do it. But it’s really good to know that out there, somewhere, there is another Air Force wife who doesn’t define herself by being that. That there is at least one family out there that this isn’t the first option, but rather the only option.
    I feel like you wrote my story before its really happened yet. So, thank you for that. I hope everything works out – for both of us and our families.

  11. Thank you so much for writing about embracing the so-called military life from an offbeat perspective. Never in a million years would I have predicted that one day I would be a military spouse, but life is what happens while you’re making other plans. I still tend to cringe a bit when I’m identified as an Army wife, mostly because people tend to assume they know everything about me just because I’m married to someone in the military. To this day, I’m still struggling to find my place within the military community (which has been a bit difficult due to my son & me not residing on an actual base while my husband was/is deployed), but I’m sure as long as I stay open-minded and avoid blind assumptions about other military spouses, everything will work out just fine.

  12. I am a former US Army soldier. So is my boyfriend. He served in OIF and OIF 2. He has since left the Army and now deploys as a contractor. He is deployed for 6 months and I am pregnant with our first child. Its been hard, but you find ways to manage. Luckily for your family, the Air Force only does 6 month deployments, not 12-15 month tours like the Army and the Marines.

  13. Oh Kait… As someone who has been in a long distance relationship (although not with kids in the mix), your article broke my heart in a million pieces. I know how hard it already was for me, I can’t even imagine how much more courage and abnegation it must require to do this as a family, all the more when you feel ambivalent about the reasons you are apart in the first place.

    That said, and if it can give you a bit of hope, I currently live in Seoul, Korea (not as part of the Army at all) and have befriended a few Army wives of the very offbeat kind. They do exist, they learn to enjoy their lives, they have built like-minded groups of supportive friends, both on base and off.
    Good luck, and plenty of love.

    • I’m so glad to know I won’t be the only OffBeat mama/army wife in Seoul when I move out there next year. That takes a whole lot of worry off my shoulders

      ~Jo

  14. Oh man, this hits close to home, because my husband talks fairly often about joining the military, for the same reasons yours did, and it just breaks my heart to think about. You’re definitely being braver about it than I would be. *hugs*

  15. I am so close to being in your situation. My husband and I are trapped in a small town that we both hate. This place is a dead end in itself with no jobs and no future. We’re not ready to seriously consider the military yet since it is against many of our principles and we know we wouldn’t fit in, that it would be difficult on us and our kid, but the option is not entirely off the table when it comes down to the difference of supporting our family or not. I would love to hear more about your experience if you’d like to talk to me.

  16. Wow. I’m in Australia and my bf was entering the airforce but is now entering the army as there are more jobs in the army for what he wants to do. We were looking at three months no contact which was scary especially with a currently sixteen month old son. Now it’s looking like it’s only going to be less than a month, thank goodness. I’m very anti war, I’ve lost family members due to war and hate what it does to people. Entering the army means less time away initially but it also scares me more as it seems to me it is easier to be deployed. I also don’t see myself as a typical defense force wife which sets off the anxiety when thinking about fitting in to the community. I can’t believe the timing of this post and the similarities, my bf is also a bartender and we both got iPhone 4s for facetalk (which I’m still learning about and typing this on hence the mess of my post). 

    I wish your family the very best of luck and tip my hat off to you and your family for the sacrifice you both are making for your child/ren’s future. It is a very big commitment and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

  17. I’ve been pretty obsessed with offbeat mama for about a week now. Going though all the archives and reading every article. So many interesting woman have been here, and have shared wonderful stories. It really is nothing short of inspiring. But as much as I could relate to a lot of the woman here, I was still different. And then when I woke up this morning, and hopped right on here, I saw this article. Just reading the title, I knew I had found what I was looking for. And as I read your story, I knew what you were feeling. Let me explain:

    I’m 19 years old (an offbeat mama in my own way), I have two children, and my husband is active duty Army. We live in germany, and have already been through a deployment (in a war I also don’t support). But through this I have found a lot of different people, and learned a lot. And I hope the same for you. Not all military wives are that “stuck up, nothing but pride, prissy” stereotype. And not everyone joins because of pride, or love of country. Like you, my husband enlisted because we were young, we had nothing, and wanted so much more for our children. If you would like to talk to someone who really does understand, please feel free to e-mail me. (and my e-mail isn’t armywivey10 @hotmail) =]

  18. Hi
    My back up plan if everything goes belly up is to teach English in East Asia (Taiwan/China/Korea/Japan). I did it before in Taiwan and it is lucrative enough. It’s different but a great experience and I wouldn’t mind raising my kids there. It’s also hard to find a conscientious reason to object to teaching ESL. Money is out there and I know times are really hard but it’s a suggestion if others are contemplating doing something they don’t beleive in just to make ends meet.
    Good luck to you all!

    • That is a very interesting suggestion. How did you get into teach English in other countries. What are the qualifications? The compensation? What agency did you go through? I’d love to do that but every time I decide to loof for information, I’m scared to death about getting conned.

      • I know that for Japan, the JET Programme is the one you at least want to start with, it is the best known and most reliable (as I’ve been told by at least oe person that’s done it). Sometimes, after a year with them, people seek out and/or are recruited by private companies.

        • If you are interested in teaching English, check out http://www.daveseslcafe.com. Click on the “international” job board on the left.

          I taught with Aeon, and it was a fabulous company. I’d go with JET- the government program- or with Aeon, a private company.

          Also check out TEFL international, some jobs require TEFL/TESL certification. Japan does not, but they do require a college degree- in any field- in order to qualify for a working visa.

  19. Your post brought me to tears. There is something terrible about a country when so many people find the military as the only option. It reveals an epic failure in priorities if you ask me. You guys take care. Lots of love.

  20. I guess we’re an off-beat military family too. We are so far from the rah-rah, military is great, US is #1 bull that it’s actually kind of funny. I honestly do believe that the military is great – we have awesome health insurance, great housing benefits, and in 3 years when he can retire, my husband will receive retirement pay at 50% of his base pay. Oh yea, and our kid will go to school for free pretty much thanks to the GI bill. Yes, he’s deployed at times, but it’s very doable for an independent, off-beat mama (or mama to be, in my case). It also has given us outstanding opportunities that remind me how lucky I am. I’ve been living in Italy now for 2 years and have loved almost every minute of it.

    The great thing is that your partner went AF. They are probably the most family-friendly of all the services. It sounds like you are looking at the big picture and the payoff in the end (for your family and daughter) and that’s a good thing to keep in mind. The military has been great for us as a family and will continue to benefit us long after he’s retired (at age 42!!) Keep looking – you will meet some other off-beat military families. Probably not at most of the “mandatory fun” get togethers they have, but they are out there. And if you don’t, that’s ok too. The majority of my friends have nothing to do with the military. The ones that do are great to commiserate with and see the military just like I do. It’s a means to an end. good luck and enjoy the ride.

    • Yeah, that’s why he went Air Force. We reviewed all our options so heavily, but Air Force just seemed like the lesser of 4 evils.

  21. I have so much respect for you and your husband for making such a tough decision, in order to do what’s best for you both, and your beautiful daughter. I don’t have any children (yet), but my husband left for Army Basic Training just yesterday, so I can understand how difficult things must be for you. When I met my husband he was an English major at a small liberal arts school- now he’s going to be a soldier. It’s a weird change, but I know it’s the best thing for his career and our shared life together in the future, hard as it may be at the moment.

  22. You sound like you have a very love/hate relationship with your soon to be new life. Keep in mind that a lot of people have joined lately, for similar reasons as your husband, mainly economic issues… you aren’t the only one that comes from an offbeat world to the military, there’s a plethora of people around military communities, all with different stories. Also your husband joined USAF not the Corps. With the exception of 4-5 jobs (which are very elite jobs, that he’d need to work extremely hard to be apart of – not for those not willing to fight) he probably will not see any combat time. In fact you’ll probably never have to tell your daughter that Daddy is “fighting” at all, merely sitting in the desert. (extremely bored and lonely from missing you guys). The military community can suck, I’m not saying that it can’t… after all I’m a breastfeeding, cloth-diapering, baby food making, hollistic hippie as far as most of them are concerned. Just keep good faith that other people like yourself, we’re out there. If you go into this making yourself a victim, you’ll close yourself off to all the other people that could potentially relate to you.

    I served as a medic, now im just a SAHM. We are still stuck in Europe. I know all the ins and outs of this game. Let me know if you need any help.

  23. OMG! I totally understand how you feel! My husband was active duty navy for 10 yrs. I couldn’t relate to all the super pro-navy wives, nor the ones who did their whole homes in red, white and blue themes (just wait till you meet some of those). But the military is just one big social game, for the members and their spouses. Sometimes you have to be two people if you want to help your husband succeed at the Air Force. I’m not saying selling yourself short at all! But sometimes you have to pretend when you’re at functions, it’s all part of the stupid social game. Good luck! And try to embrace your new life and make the best of it, the military DOES have a lot to offer over civilian jobs.

  24. My husband has been in the Marine Corps for 7yrs and I felt the same way you did before I moved into the base housing. But you probably won’t be nearly as lonely/outcast as you’re imagining, so don’t psych yourself out 🙂

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