For almost 4 years I was married to two “women” at the same time. I would spend my nights with one and my days with the other. One was a living, breathing woman who I had been with for 10 years at the time. The other unexpectedly came into my life – the United States Army.
“You’re full of it” some may say, but this is my story and I hope it helps spouses understand what goes on from a soldier’s point of view.
I lived, breathed and slept a soldier’s life only to come home to the most supportive woman I have ever known. I love my wife more than anything in this world.
When I joined the Army, I didn’t realize I would be married to it as well and start a different kind of love affair. Of course, with the Army, it tended to be much more of a love/hate relationship.
Let’s take a look at some of the similarities so you can see where I’m coming from…
In a relationship, there is a phase of dating that takes place. The period of time doesn’t matter – just that there is a courtship before “I do” is actually said.
With the Army, the courtship starts by walking into the recruiter’s office. The flirting begins and they make sure they put their best foot forward. You see all of the positives and the negatives are hidden from view. Best behavior only when you’re dating the Army!
They woo you with fancy uniforms, a paycheck, hopes of making rank, different schools you can attend and the GI Bill. Like a true relationship, this is where some little white lies are told as well.
My favorite of all and the one that has turned out to be the biggest serving of BS:
“Yes, this will allow you to get a job in the real world when you get out.”
Guess what, the only job an infantryman with several combat deployments and Airborne wings can get is traveling back overseas where you are again stuck in some hell hole and you never get to see your family. Yeah, the money is good but when the contracts dry up you’re back at square one with a lot of expensive toys, no money in your bank account and no job back in the states – so thanks, but no thanks! But that’s a story for another day.
Every woman dreams of the proposal and some guys truly make an effort to make this moment one both of them will remember for the rest of their lives. There’s planning, anticipation and plenty of expectations on both sides. I personally really wanted my then girlfriend to cry when I proposed – I thought I had it planned out perfectly. She did cry but it wasn’t until she was recounting the moment to her friends that afternoon!
The same holds true for the Army. Once the ASVAB is complete, the Army makes the “proposal” to you in terms of MOS and ship date. Sometimes it’s not an immediate yes – in fact, with mine there was negotiation involved to ensure I got the right contract. It’s a little anti-climatic compared to a real proposal but they did ask and I did say yes (eventually).
Before the big day, a marriage license must be obtained, making the contract legally binding. Meaning if you want out, you can’t do it without lawyers and judges. So before you go through with it, you better have your mind set for a long term commitment.
The Army has their own version of this as well – the soldier’s contract. Unlike the marriage license, it’s not a contract without an end date. No matter how long you’re active for, you’re typically initially signing for an eight year commitment. And there’s no easy way out. It’s not like you can just say I quit or even I want a divorce. With a few exceptions, you’re legally bound by your contract.
Whether it’s performed at the local courthouse, on a beach or in a church, a wedding ceremony is performed in which both parties stand in front of someone who is entrusted to pronounce them husband and wife.
The same holds true for any soldier, no matter the branch of the military you decide to join. At MEPS, everyone with a signed contract is marched into a room and you are required to say “I do” to someone that has been entrusted by the government to swear you into military service.
Once the wedding and reception festivities have subsided, it’s time for the honeymoon. Low key or luxurious, it’s a time to get away from everything and begin your married life together.
Well, again this holds true with the Army. You may leave immediately for basic training, or as I was, you may be delayed for several months. But in the end, you eventually take off for the honeymoon known as basic training and leave everything else behind. Not exactly the rest and relaxation of your honeymoon but it certainly will change your life forever.
Married life, as you all know, is full of ups and downs. You move in together and then start to really get to know each other in a different way. There are typically new surroundings to adjust to and new habits to learn. In the case of the husband, you’ll generally learn everything you know is wrong. No matter what you may think, it’s just more peaceful to go with the flow and assume your wife is always right.
The Army is no different. You’re thrown into a brand new culture in basic training where you also need to adjust to your new surroundings and the people who come with it. Through AIT and any additional schools, you’re in a constant stage of adjustment and trying to find your place in this new lifestyle. You’re certainly learning all of your old habits were wrong, you need to relearn everything (even basic skills like eating in record time!), and the drill sergeant is always right. Accept that fact right away, regardless of what your instincts may tell you and things will become infinitely easier.
Then it’s time to head to your first duty station where you *think* you’re home free but that’s when the fun really begins! As a new private, you’re thrown into a culture and life that you’ve never had to experience before in your life. You are forced to adapt to the habits of your new spouse – your unit.
And depending on the unit, this transition may need to be made quicker than you are ready for. The “honeymoon phase” is officially over (if it even lasted this long). It’s now time to settle in for the long haul and know that no matter what happens, there’s an obligation to this new spouse. It’s time to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work.
There are great times (some forced – mandatory fun, anyone?), grueling times with training (“If it ain’t raining, you ain’t training”), times of conflict both emotionally and physically, and incredible times of sadness when a brother was lost. But each experience makes you who you are and you wouldn’t be complete without all of them.
My Time of Commitment
While I openly admit I was indeed doubly married during my time in the Army, in no way am I saying that my commitment to the Army was more important than my commitment to my wife – though I’m sure it felt that way at times.
Like all military couples, we endured deployments where holidays and special occasions were missed. Where the phone rang in the middle of the night and I had to report within two hours. Where my training and my unit was put above all else. There was no doubt the Army came first during those times, regardless of if that’s how we wanted it to be.
But the fact is, there is a special relationship a soldier forms with his/her brothers and sisters in arms. And in fact, it’s a very important relationship and it’s crucial to your success when you’re on the field of battle.
One of my most important lessons (and probably my wife’s as well) was learning how to balance the two as much as possible and make every moment count when we did have time together.
Dealing with Deployments
Did I like leaving my wife behind for training, schools and deployments? HELL NO! But it was a part of the job that we knew about when I signed the dotted line. It was yet another time when my commitment to my other spouse took precedence over the one with my wife.
But let’s face it, I would be lying if I said I hated deployments – I actually loved them.
I didn’t like the fact I was leaving my wife at home while I deployed to a combat zone. This was perhaps the hardest thing for her to understand. I was excited to deploy but incredibly torn about leaving her behind. It took several deployments for her to begin to grasp that both sets of emotions could occur together.
Deployments definitely were part of the ups and downs of both relationships and certainly where the love/hate part came into play with the Army.
To All of You…
I would like to say THANK YOU to all of the spouses who support us while we serve. I tip my hat to all spouses who stay back in the states while their soldiers are flown off to a foreign country to fight a relentless enemy.
Not knowing when the next email or phone call is going to come through is something that never gets easier, no matter how many deployments you’ve endured. This is not an easy life to live and I hope I can shed a little light on what a soldier experiences through their marriage with the Army and their spouse.
My hope is my stories and perspective will help spouses and soldiers know they are not alone in this journey. I hope I can encourage those in uniform to share their stories with others, if not through spoken words than through writing.
Please share your thoughts in the comments and let me know what topic you’d like to have covered next from the soldier’s point of view.