Surprising discoveries I've made in my life as an offbeat military wife

June 2 2011 | Guest post by E.A. Pop
40 ans de présence de la légion étrangère à ORANGE (ORANGE,FR84)
Do offbeat and military life go together? Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmermann, used with Creative Commons license.
Marrying into the military can be scary, especially for those of us who don't always follow the status quo. However, one little-known thing about the military is that all sorts of people join.

We have chosen to stay in the military due to health concerns — the health insurance is amazing (my daughter had surgery for free, including all of her follow-up treatments). I also had a midwife throughout my pregnancy (covered!) and had a friend who used a doula (not covered, but welcomed) for both of hers. Many members of the military that I have met support gays/lesbians joining. A lot of the spouses are also artists, singers, tattoo artists, DIY fanatics, ravers, etc… you just have to find them!

Something else that might surprise you is that many military programs for dependants are in desperate need of artsy/offbeat parents. There are children's art programs, theater workshops, and dance classes that need people to teach them. For instance, a FRG (Family Readiness Group or other military branch equivalent) would love to host a workshop on how to decorate a rental home.

I have also realized that the military NEEDS offbeat moms (and others) to become involved, because a majority of changes come from within (and to an extent with issues dictated by Congressional law — but that is another topic entirely). There are also career-orientated volunteer opportunities such as a rape-crisis counselor, working at JAG (aka Legal department), and so forth.

There are, of course, issues with the military that I cannot ignore. For the longest time I thought it was disgraceful that a service member had to keep his/her sexual orientation quiet. Thankfully that issue has finally been addressed and this coming fall the military will take one step closer towards equality.

In the end though, whether or not you can live the military life comes down to you as an individual. Can you handle the fact that your spouse will be involved in the military?

I am also against most forms of military aggression in general, but do support the protection of innocent lives. There are positive sides that I try to focus on, like the humanitarian effort from the military (both active and reserve) during disasters. In the end though, whether or not you can live the military life comes down to you as an individual. Can you handle the fact that your spouse will be involved in the military? Is it something you are willing to compromise on to continue your relationship? No one but you can answer those questions or make that decision.

Personally, I found myself judging people way too much in the military. I wouldn't go to FRG meetings because I just knew no one would care to see me; I didn't want to hang out with military-related people because I thought their conservative ideas made them so narrow-minded. This is where I went wrong in the beginning — this fear gripped me and in retrospect really hindered my ability to cope with being military.

I have finally started to force myself out more. Some of the people I've met do fit into the stereotypes — conservative and liberal. There are also so many people who don't. Like you'll find anywhere, just about anyone can provide hours worth of conversations and amazing book recommendations. It also doesn't matter what color your hair is or how many tattoos you have when your spouse deploys — deployments suck for everyone. In the end it is nice to have a group of people who understand the military aspect of your life to bitch with over coffee or wine.

I wrote this with the goal of telling the military offbeat moms out there that military life can be awesome. Try to embrace the positives that come with a military lifestyle. Avoid what I did in the beginning — rejecting a supposedly-conformist lifestyle out of fear. In the end, it's just like the civilian world — we're all trying to find a niche, define ourselves, and embrace life.



Looking for an online place to commune with fellow non-traditional military spouses? Check out Unconventional Military Spouse on Facebook! — Stephanie

  1. I have been an offbeat momma/military wife for ten years, my experience has not been like yours at all. In fact my experiences living around a military instillation and dealing with the various organizations pertaining to the Army has lead our family to move back to our home state while my husband finishes out his enlistment. I am very happy that your experiences have been better

    • I'm sorry you've had bad experiences (I have had them too, I just wanted to share my positive ones in this article). I recently became an FRG leader (although my husband isn't an officer) to try and make at least one unit more welcoming to everyone.

      • As an offbeat officer's wife, I just thought you should know that they WANT the enlisted wives running the FRG. It is my understanding that often officer's wives take on the job because A) no one else will step up and their husbands ask them to do it, or B) certain officer's wives are pushy and volunteer for the job. Therefore, it's really great that you are an FRG leader. Officer's wives are not more qualified and they aren't really supposed to have the position anyway. You are doing great!

        • They do somewhat, but there was one training I couldn't attend b/c it was for Cpt 's wives only (although it covered FRG stuff).

    • I couldn't find many 'offbeat' spouses either. There were some wonderful spouses that I really got along with, some that were nice but not really someone that I could be great friends with (just nothing in common other then kids). And the majority which felt to me like the popular kids in high school that were grossed out that I would even attempt to talk to them. I also moved to another state with the kids. We also wanted a better school for our then soon-to-be kindergartener.

  2. I'm a fellow offbeat mom & military wife going on 16 years strong. I can relate so much to your words here, so thanks for sharing!
    I have met all kinds of folks, though never any other tattooed freak moms like me (although I do see them at the gym from time to time). I do feel alone on a physical front, but intellectually, spiritually, and politically I've been fortunate to meet some very like-minded military souls. And even if we don't agree on the same things, we've all been 100% supportive of our differences.

    Jenn

  3. I am also a offbeat mom and military fiance but I grew up around the military. Although I have not always had the most thrilling adventures and I have not always been welcomed I finally found a place in that world. I met friends with tattooed sleeves, moms who liked natural medicine and even a former amish family. Its been an interesting journey of learning and growing. My ex husband was in the Air Force stationed at the base I grew up on and my fiance is in the much smaller branch of the Coast Guard. Both have opened doors and both had moments where I thought having to live by someone elses rules was no longer bearable I wouldnt trade it for anything.

  4. We've only been in the military (AF to be exact) for a few years, but in that time I have learned it definitely depends on where you're stationed. Our first base was a tiny little base mainly filled with homesteaders. It was very much like stepping into a Leave it to Beaver episode. There were a few of us, but it was difficult to find us. Whereas our new base is much bigger and much more Ops oriented and it seems like the June Cleavers are the offbeats here.

    The only advice I have for offbeat military spouses is to create your niche. You never know who's out there hoping for some one to reach out to them. I've had good luck meeting people with similar interests just by being active in the community, starting my own playgroups and socials, and other such things. And contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be high rank to be a starter. My husband's only an E4.

  5. I've also had pretty good experiences with being accepted in the military. Now, I do blend a bit better- about my only physical signs are a nose stud and one visible tattoo- but most anyone who knows me is well aware of my political leanings, the four tattoos you don't see, and our faith (Wicca). Honestly, we've caught more flack from the Pagan community about being military than from the military community about being Wiccan. In the military community, the thing I've caught the most flack about is children… before I had my son (at the ripe old age of 31), I was often treated as some sort of freak of military spouse nature because I was in my late 20s and had no children. Now people think it's weird that I only have one, and even worse to them- I'm NOT chomping at the bit to breed more!

    • I didn't get to add the religious aspect of the military – but since it is a gov't organization a majority or religions are supported! Until I had my daughter, we were the only couple in my husband's unit without a kid & I do agree with you, that it made me feel very out of place!

  6. Thank you for posting this, it really gives me hope.
    I have a friend who married a guy in the US military (we're both from the UK) a couple of years ago, and moved over there to live with him. Since then I've noticed how dramatically she's changed as a person; she's completely lost her "off-beat-ness", and has become more and more conservative in both her political and social opinions and ideals.
    She comes out with things that shock me, and completely contradict with who she used to be. I feel like I've lost her. And until just now, I totally blamed the military husband and surrounding environment, like they'd somehow brainwashed her and stripped her of her vibrancy and the things she used to be so passionate about.

    But if off-beat mums like you can still survive and even flourish in there, there's no reason why she couldn't yet turn to be one of them.

    I hope, desperately, that more off-beat military mums and wives will continue to actively change the institution for the better; to work on making it more progressive and reasonable from the inside. And hopefully one day the terrible discrimination and extreme conservatism will no longer be associated with a program that's supposed to protect peoples' freedom.

  7. Brave. Thank you for sharing and reminding us non-military offbeat mamas NOT to judge or make assumptions looking in from the outside, too.

  8. Wow this is timely. My Husband is seriously considering the military. He is an engineer and was recently approached by a Navy representitive and has been talking with them for a few weeks now. Forgive me, I am not familiar with the specific terms that apply. This was NOT ever in our minds as we started building a life. Now it is suddenly a compelling option. I don't even have any second hand experiance with the military. I will be following comments on this post for sure. Another crazy applicable post… Thanks OffBeat.

    • My husband is an Army engineer with a BA in electrical engineering. I know that the Navy is really different, but if you have any questions I can try to answer them.

    • Another Army engineer dependent here. Both my parents have been serving for over 30 years and it's been great for us. I won't lie and say we didn't have rough spots, we watched my dad deploy three times in 18 years (one of which was to Baghdad for a year, terrifying!) but he's always so proud of the work he's been able to do.
      Engineers are the people building schools, roads and hospitals for those who may need it most. I'm very proud of my dad and the life he was able to give us. I know it sometimes hurt him to sacrifice so much of his time to the Army, but he NEVER missed a track meet or a choir concert if he could help it.
      Moving around will be rough, but in the end I'm so grateful I got to see the world. Not to mention the benefits! I'll be able to go to grad school without paying a penny thanks to the GI Bill!
      For every negative you see in a military life, it won't always be hard to find a positive and hold on. And like most things, it gets better the longer you stick with it. Good luck!

  9. Great post! I learned in college that military people are a much broader group than I initially assumed. I met so many super-smart, ambitious people who wanted nothing more than to serve our country. It was eye-opening because, as a girl from a hippie, left of center family, my ideas weren't always correct. And, the college was UC Berkeley!

  10. …oh, I forgot to mention that one of my favorite books is a tiny book about secret military projects that are so highly classified nobody really knows much about them, except for the patches the team members make about their mission/project. It's brilliant. Each patch tells a story about the project through the use of words and design. A dragon or a snake or an anchor could mean something important and the author tried to decipher the meaning of each patch, some quite detailed, by taking with ex-military. Genius!

  11. Offbeat Marine wife/mother to our lovely Ella bean. I also had preconcieved notions of military families, and here at Camp Lejeune the stereotypes are the norm. There are a few tattooed and open minded folk here, not too many, so i love to hear of others 🙂 Me and my husband are both Straight Edge, and he find it almost impossible to find friends that arent drinking their hearts out and going to clubs. I think he has it harder than me. But we love being a military family and wouldnt have it any different!

    <3 this article.

  12. The schools! I grew up on and off military bases, and without fail, I found that Department of Defense schools had amazing teachers and resources. As a middle schooler, I also felt much more respected by teachers and peers while attending the DOD school than I did at the off base schools.

    • We stayed in military base education until my 7th year and I agree whole heartedly. The education I received on base was SO much more well-rounded with higher expectations. I remember being absolutely appalled in high school when I discovered NONE of my peers had received education on Native Americans or recent US history (anything after 1940 and they were clueless.)
      Although, this totally depends on what base you're stationed at. Most have better elementary schools than high schools so be sure to take a thorough tour of places both on and off base before you decide.

      • My fiancee went to military school on his dad's bases growing up while I went to the schools next to my dad's bases. It all depends on which base you are at. With my fiancee being in the Reserves, I wish wish wish our future children could do DOD schools. They are freaking amazing!!!!

  13. Completely agree, for the most part. I'm an Army lawyer and Army wife, and yep, there's lots and lots of different kinds of folks in here, all working towards the same end, which is kind of amazing. (BTW, there are tons of different volunteer opportunities, but usually JAG isn't one of them… it almost always violates the Anti-Deficiency Act. Better bets are through MWR, ACS, and of course the FRGs.)

    • I volunteer with JAG, so thats why I included them (but I also have a degree & certification so it might be different with me). I wanted to keep my skills up while I'm not working to stay home with my daughter until her health improves.

  14. I think I was the only adult on base with pink & purple hair… but the military has also been incredibly supportive of our family as well.

    I teach kids art classes at the family resource center and attend a low-cost toddler play group with my son 🙂

    There are off-beat folks everywhere…

  15. Im sure if anyone is at Travis AFB they will hear all kinds of stories about me…

    I was always the one with bright hair, bright yard decorations, the craziest halloween house, and a loudmouth at the officers club where I worked. Its a life that offers so much especially in this economy but remember to just stay true to yourself and who you are, what you stand for.

  16. Thanks for this post – it's nice to have something pop up and make one reflect about a topic not usually thought about! My husband is applying right now for a medical officer position in the Navy, and this topic was something far from my mind as his spouse. I guess being pregnant, moving constantly anyway, and many other things prevented me from thinking about it at all. I look forward to taking your advice if we get accepted!

  17. I was an army brat (my dad was in for 22 years) and I loved every second as a kid. Even now as an adult, I love being around military folks…maybe it's the traveling/seeing the world influence or the requirement that one make a home for herself no matter the circumstances, but I have found there is always someone who thinks like you.

  18. I've found that being a military brat (mom in the navy for 9 years, dad in the army for 21) and spending most of my life abroad has actually broadened my mind rather than narrowing it. Living in other countries teaches you about the different walks of life, and to learn to laugh at yourself as an American (I hear so many people on public transport saying the funniest things about how all Americans do this, blah blah blah).

    • This is a topic I can really agree with. I'm a military brat as well and I'd just like to poke at the topic of racism in schools. Kids in high school must have thought me so sheltered because I had zero concept of prejudice based race or ethnicity.
      Once my family started living off base, I met some of the most narrow minded children I've ever come across. Unlike my previous friends on base, they were less likely to have moved through classes or interacted with as many different cultures (this was especially true in suburbia areas.) Of course not everyone off base was like this, I'm just saying I never encountered a "pocket" of racism until I started living off base.
      I think the military life style can really help people to broaden their minds, as you say. I know it helped me.

  19. I, too, am an offbeat military wife (and mama), and I really appreciate what you have to say here. I have been guilty of making assumptions. In fact, I almost missed out on dating and eventually marrying my husband because of the blasted things.

    To my surprise, not everyone has been all that unlike me and I have made some great friends so far. The only arena in which I still feel a bit out of place is religion. Every single wife I know where we currently are is a church going Christian and I'm, well, not. Perhaps there are a few other atheists about and I just don't know about, but on that one issue I feel rather alone.

  20. Thank you very much for this piece. I am new to military life since my husband joined the Pennsylvania National Guard last year. I was miserable during the 4.5 months he was at training in Oklahoma, but next year (Feb. '12) he will be on his first deployment to Kuwait. This will likely be 1 year and now we have a 3 month old son so it will be much harder on me. I have been grappling with this new role and so far have been very hesitant to participate in the FRG and other family activities. This is more b/c we live in a very un-enlightened conservative area and less b/c its military related. I need to suck it up and at least meet the other wives in the FRG and give it a chance.

    • We've been stationed in OK before – not very fun. I'd at least get on the e-mail list for the FRG and from there decide how involved you want to be. I think ANG is a little harder because you don't have the support close by in many cases. also – My Army One Source has a lot of stuff to read regarding deployments which may be helpful for you.

  21. I am ao glad that you posted this. While I have replied to some specific comments, I am going to add my two cents here on some general things.

    I am an officer's wife. My husband has been in the army for one year, and for most of that he was gone and I was pregnant. Now, he is deployed. It's hard, and I truly hate the military lifestyle (travel is great, but moving makes me want to cry. I am from the country and lived in the same place until I was 20), but I have found that things are not always as they seem. I was hesitant to get very friendly with any of the wives as I am the type of woman that doesn't get on well with other women a lot of the time. I had a few interactions with people, first impressions were made, and then I went back home and continued doing my own thing. My biggest concern has always been discussing religion. I simply don't know what I believe with regard to faith, and we are stationed in Georgia. I have not met one atheist, deist, buddhist, or pagan who is affiliated with the military, although my husband did tell me that one of his soldiers is pagan and blessed their equipment before they deployed. (I assume my husband kept that on the DL because he is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more open minded that most of the other officers I have met thus far.)

    In my dealings with his unit I met a few wives, some of whom I thought I really liked and a few others I was unsure of (or downright wanted to avoid). The ones who I thought were offbeat like me have turned out to be a disappointment as far as friendship is concerned. But the ones I was more skeptical about, the cookie cutter looking, bible toting, hooah army wives, have turned out to be truly great friends and valuable resources in navigating the army life.

    So, what am I saying? Don't be too quick to dismiss people because they don't appear to be in line with your lifestyle and values. My best friend here is former military and a pretty faithful Christian. She accepts my belief confusion, does not prosheletize, and is generally a really great friend despite our differences. This advice might not work for everyone, but I am the type of person to get disgusted with partisan politics and "diversity training". I don't think divisivness is useful – it's way better to find common ground and work with it. But that's just me and those are my 2 cents.

    Also, don't automatically assume that all officer's wives are stone cold bitches. ALL of my friends in the town I live in are enlisted wives. I don't make it known that I am an officer's wife and when it does finally come up I get a lot of "Really? You don't act like an officer's wife. You're nice." I'm sure there are plenty of us who are nice, it's just a few who give us all a bad rap. A lot of this lifestyle really sucks, but it's up to each of us to make it the best it can be for ourselves and our families. Be open, don't judge, and if at first you don't suceed, try – try again.

    • I agree! One wife who helped me out A LOT through my first deployment (22 & first time far away from home) was a hard-core Christian woman and officer wife. Yes, she would pray before we ate lunch but she also offered amazing advice and wasn't judgmental. In the real-world though I doubt we would have interacted. Sorry if my response is choppy – I'm on my phone since my laptop decided to update itself 🙂

  22. Offbeat mama and Navy spouse here. I swear, the first time I had to drive on base, I was waiting for lightning to strike me down–I'm the daughter of pacifist hippies. I have a fabulous mom who doesn't believe in the military or any kind of fighting, 2 awesome dads, a sister who identifies as queer, and I myself am bi/pansexual. I participated in multiple peace marches and protests with my mom hehe.

    I have carved out a small niche for myself here, though I still feel like I need to censor myself more than I'd like. Luckily, I really suck at it, so people sort of know to take me as I am. I've been lucky to find a few great milspouse blogs (LeftFace and SnarkyNavyWife come to mind) and I've made a couple of really good friends. For the most part, we disagree on a number of topics, but we've agreed to respect each other's beliefs.

  23. THANK YOU for posting this- my husband just enlisted in the Marines and he is finishing up with his MOS school, and we are set to move down to Lejeune next month. While I'm not physically identifiable as "offbeat," I'm extremely liberal, and my husband and I don't conform to traditional gender roles at all. I've been really nervous about the move, assuming that I wouldn't find any friends. And you're exactly right; that's the wrong attitude to have. Innocent until proven guilty 🙂 Thank you for calming me down a little bit!

  24. I, too, am a military wife. I'm just curious where everyone is stationed? Have you ever been through a deployment, if so how'd you survive? What offbeat things did you do to kill time and survive on your own?

  25. Oh I wish this had been posted earlier because I think it would have especially helped me last summer, but I am so glad that you have shared your story. My husband's contract with the military (canadian) just ended although he is now thinking of joining the reserves (so I guess that makes me a former/future army wife). I met my partner working on an organic farm over 4 years ago. I identify as an academic feminist hippy and I thought that since we met while farming my partner was as liberal as I was. I was deeply in love with him before he announced his plans to enlist in the army. By the next summer he was in basic training. I would travel on a bus sometimes more than 18 hours to see him (we were living in different countries at the time). The longest we had to go without seeing each other was 6 months (and I realize that I am lucky compared to what some other spouses have to endure when it comes to deployments of over a year). All of that time apart was so hard on me and none of my friends could understand. I went to a very liberal university and not only could many of my friends (not my closest but more of my semi-friends) not understand how scared I was (such as my fears about a possible deployment to Afghanistan that at a time was very likely) but they gave me a hard time for being with someone in the military. I had no community of spouses/ army girlfriends/boyfriends/partners to find comfort in so I started a military family support group which only attracted 4 other students (and that was a comfort). What really helped me was looking at online forums to hear other peoples' stories- to me at the time it didn't matter if someone identified as offbeat. I just wanted to hear about others who were dealing with all of the time apart from their loved ones. I also found a lot of comfort in the show Army Wives despite some of its cheesiness and melodrama. When I graduated from my undergraduate university program my partner and I got married and I moved in with him on a base located in a very isolated region of northern quebec. Although I speak french I am much more shy in it and was not legally able to work as I was awaiting a permit. I felt completely alone. I could not bond with pretty much every other wife that I met whether she was anglophone or francophone because they all had kids and that really consumed their time- whereas I was getting geared up to start my phd in the fall. I'm not trying to overgeneralize about moms- I think moms can be great. Just these moms and I didn't seem to have much in common. I realize I could have tried to meet more people in the community- for example I went to rock climbing groups but I mostly just seemed to fit in with the female soldiers who when they found out I wasn't enlisted but was rather a spouse decided not to talk to me. After that I kind of gave up. I felt really alone and isolated and if there was anything like an FRG on our base, I had no knowledge of it. My advice to anyone who can't seem to find their community on their base is to realize that the web also can provide community and advice for some of the military stuff and it is okay if most of your other relationships aren't with military people too. Just reading everyone else's posts has felt really inclusive.

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