Reflections of a Military Spouse

I want to share some of the more difficult experiences I have had as a military spouse. I am not looking for sympathy. I think it is important to share because there are so many misconceptions of military life.

Recently I met a military spouse who had spent 7 years in Europe. She had four young kids. People were “oohing and ahhing” and talking at length about how lucky she was and how they would love to have those experiences, etc. They were thinking that living overseas was like an extended college exchange program.

To be sure, there are days when living oversees can feel like that. But after a while of being told how lucky she was, this spouse simply said that when her grandfather was dying she could not come back to see him. Had she lived anywhere in the continental US, she would have driven to visit him no matter the distance. But she couldn’t make the trip from Europe with all her small kids. She couldn’t be with her family at the funeral.

This is one of the reasons why I want to share some of the bad with the good. This is not a complaint. It is an effort to paint a more accurate picture. Instead of listing only the great adventurous experiences I’ve had, I want to also talk about the difficult and even traumatic experiences I have had.

The experiences I am sharing are just my own, however I know many military spouses who have similar stories and feel that people don’t understand their lives. I also am not comparing the difficult experiences in my life with anyone else’s. Each of us has crosses to bear. Many of these crosses are hidden from the outside.

  1. We have made some truly amazing friends and met some truly amazing people.


Most of the time you never see them again, even if you were close. I had a good close friend while we were stationed in the UK. Her name was Tanya. We were both at St. Hilda’s College in Oxford. She was studying physics and I was studying math. I moved to the US. She moved to Australia. She got cancer and was not expected to live long. I desperately wanted to see her but couldn’t. When she passed, no one around me even knew who she was. There was no way to mourn communally. My husband mourns quietly and alone. So the day she died in Perth I mourned her alone while driving around Colorado Springs.

Tanya with my daughter in 2009 or so.

Everyone has people they love who are far away. But when you move so often with the military, almost everyone you care about other than your immediate family is far away. At any one time 95% of your friends are living somewhere else and your friends don’t know each other because you met them in different places.

2. My kids have gone to birthday parties with the kids of ambassadors. They’ve visited temples in Kyoto. We’ve gone to Japanese tea ceremonies. They experienced Thaipusam in Singapore. We took a camper van trip in the Blue Mountains in Australia with a friend. Istanbul and Malaysia are on the list too! Goodness, we have been blessed with these experiences.

On the other hand…

My second daughter has spent so many birthdays on the road in the middle of a move that we have lost count. When my oldest daughter was thirteen, she begged us to move at the end of summer instead of at the beginning. She had spent the previous summer in Covid lockdown and the two summers before that moving.

3.  I have gotten to live in eight different cities in four states and two foreign countries. We lived in the UK and in Tokyo. We know people all over the world, and we keep in touch. For years I have been participating in an international Bible study. We live all over the place, but we all used to know each other in real physical life. For years my husband had my blessing to accept any accompanied overseas assignment.

On the other hand…

There was one period in my life when I moved three times in three years. During this time I had a baby in one place and moved three weeks later. Because of my husband’s job, he couldn’t take the full extent of his paternity leave. (There were two men “manning” a three-man office. And the office was one of those that needed to be manned.) Covid hit right after that, and we still hadn’t made many friends. So we didn’t have a social “bubble”. My teenager and preteen went months-literally months- without seeing other kids their age.  

4. I’ve done several international solo trips. While we were stationed in Europe, it was relatively easy to travel in Europe. While we were living in Asia, it was relatively cheap to fly to different countries there. I know how amazing this is and how many people do not have this opportunity. I feel truly blessed to have had these experiences. I’ve spent time with friends in London more than once. I took a class in Edinburgh, Scotland. I rode horses and stayed in a ger in Mongolia near Tsetserleg. I enjoyed the onsens in Hokkaido, Japan. Bergen, Normay and Istanbul, Turkey are also on my list of travel adventures. Oaxaca, Mexico, too.

On the other hand…

Three of the four times I have given birth I have not had any family nearby. Most of the time I barely had any friends nearby. My first two babies were premies. With my third baby my Obgyn asked: “isn’t there anyone who can help you? You have to get off your feet. It is not a choice.” That was when my cervix was thinning out too early and my other kids were ages two and four. But I barely knew anyone where I lived. I simply didn’t have help. It is as simple as that.

I had a second trimester miscarriage in a hospital in Tokyo where the staff didn’t speak English. I felt so out of control. I couldn’t even ask basic questions before it was time to go into surgery. I couldn’t even ask the nurse a question about my IV. That was the opposite of a vacation or an extended college exchange. It was traumatic. Emotionally speaking, I contained that trauma in an iron clad box for years before dealing with it.

5. We pay less out of pocket for medical expenses than the average American family. When I needed knee surgery, I went to a world class Air Force surgeon. I am blessed to have the health care I have.

On the other hand

Right after having knee surgery in a military treatment facility (MTF) in Japan, we moved to Alabama. Stateside I could no longer see the MTF orthopedic surgeons. I needed to find a civilian provider to check my knee and make sure recovery was going smoothly. I could not find a civilian surgeon within a four-hour drive that would take me on as a new patient right after surgery. I just never got that checkup.

It is hard to see, but my leg had withered and was pretty small.

6. I am profoundly blessed and honored to have known so many military members and their families. Military families tend to be interested in the world. They want to meet new people and see new places. They are willing to take risks. They can make do and have incredible flexibility. They love our country but also understand the world better than most. They are energizing and inspiring.

Being a military spouse is who I am. I feel like it is one piece of my vocation. I am proud of it.  

On the other hand…

I am not alone among military spouses in feeling like I have been a first responder to some pretty extreme mental health crises. Military life often involves greater than average trauma, even for spouses and kids. (See here.) Dealing with other people’s trauma can add to your own. That has definitely been my experience. Jobs are stressful. Moves are stressful. People die young doing dangerous jobs. Some squadrons struggle with high suicide rates. Others struggle with higher-than-average domestic violence rates. Battered people (which can be male or female and could be the active-duty member or the spouse) can feel trapped. They don’t have money to move out. They don’t know anyone who would take them in because they are far from home. Military kids are more likely than non-military kids to carry guns to school. They are more likely to be bullied and physically threatened in school. (See here.) This stuff is some crazy shit. These things have ripple effects. After two decades, it can add up.  

In Japan domestic violence is not necessarily something police respond to. One spouse who was also a combat veteran called me up. He was drunk, violent, and threatened to come over. I could hear things being broken in the background. His wife was out of the country and not answering her phone. My husband was out of the country and not answering his phone. No active-duty members were answering their phones. I knew the drunk guy had two young kids, and I didn’t know where they were. I was scared for them. I called my friend-another veteran and military spouse. There was no one local we could call for help. If there was, we did not know what entity that would be. We decided to try to find the two young kids and make sure they were safe.

That was a crazy day. My appreciation for the system of first responders we have in the US was deepened tremendously. What a blessing that in the US we have people such as police who we can call and get help. That is not something to be taken for granted.

7. We are close as a family because we have spent so much time together. We leave friends and change church and school communities. But our family unit was always together. My kids truly are friends in a way that does not always happen with siblings.

On the other hand…

We were visiting family in a small town. We had visited this town many times and felt like it was really a fixture in our life. One of our cousins informed my daughter that she wasn’t really from that town. It wasn’t really her home. My daughter turned to me and asked where we were from. This was not one of my young kids. This was my 13 year old. My 11 year old turned to me, eagerly waiting my answer.

I told her that Albuquerque could be her home. That was my hometown, but my kids had never actually lived there.

We know military brats and state department kids who become disoriented. After spending their entire childhoods being uprooted, they don’t know how to grow roots. It certainly does not happen to everyone, but it does happen.

My husband and I could see the end of childhood looming for our oldest kids. We decided we really needed to find some way to move to Albuquerque so our kids could have some sense of being from somewhere.

It was time.

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