Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On The Fringes of Army Life

S has been under a lot of stress since the beginning of June with the battalion's current mission. It's a lot of really weird hours and work, and on top of that, his current commander is getting ready to leave, so he's also doing a lot of inventory for his platoon. Last night while eating dinner, S mentioned that he and the other officers in his company had been given the in-coming commander's mission statement--this is totally not about the mission statement, but I think the new commander's enthusiasm and excitement is a little much for the already exhausted company to take in...

...Anyway, that reminded me of the upcoming change of command ceremony, which he had previously mentioned he would like me to come to. I have gone to all of the change of command ceremonies since we got to this battalion a year and a half ago... which seems kind of weird. I am the only one, other than the battalion commander's wife, who has gone to them all. Or... any of them? I was feeling kind of concerned that perhaps I really wasn't supposed to be going to all those events since, well... no one else does.

He assures me that not only am I invited, but that the fact that I go to everything has been noted, is very much appreciated, and even the battalion commander has commented on how wonderful it is that I participate in that kind of event. I'm still a little skeptical, but S was quite adamant that it's a good thing. Okay, well.... cool.

This got us talking about the changing social climate of the Army. It's changing, it's been changing, and it's going to continue to change. Apparently, having spouses at change of command ceremonies was not only welcomed in the past, but it was expected. A lot of things were expected, even in the last 6 years, when he left his enlisted obligation for ROTC. Now? Not so much... If your spouse comes, great. Otherwise, no biggie.

It made me realize that I had no idea what it is to be an "Army Wife" anymore. I mean, obviously, the basics are true: be female, be married to someone in the Army. Duh. But there used to be so much more than that... For frontier Army wives, it meant being married to a West Pointer (enlisted personnel were unable to marry), having horrible living conditions, traveling in a rocking chair in the back of a wagon, and befriending woodland creatures (I kid you not... One of the best-kept frontier Army wife diaries chronicles all of the pets the woman kept... to include a squirrel and a deer). In the twentieth century, it included a lot of social obligations, especially if you were an officer's wife, donning a hat and gloves... Drinking lots of coffee... Even when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started, it meant FRG meetings, yellow ribbon magnets, strong sisterly-bonding.

But, now... Now, I have no idea. I have a few friends who are Army wives here at Fort Lewis, but none of them are in the same unit as S. My husband hasn't deployed since 2006 and there is not even rumor that he is going to in the next couple years. FRG meetings are quarterly affairs, and when they do happen, only a small handful of the other spouses bother coming, and those that do come are rarely people with whom I can be friendly without getting my husband in trouble for fraternization. Once a month, I am lucky enough to get together with the other officer wives for our coffee group, which is wonderful, but it just doesn't feel like enough to make an "Army life."

I've often wondered if the fact that we don't live on post has something to do with it. I don't feel like much of an Army wife because I am so far removed from it. I don't know what it's like to have neighbors in my same situation. Or hear the bugle at 1700 or Taps at 2300 (although, sometimes we can hear those things coming from the AFB). I want to have friendly neighborhood barbecues and watch my kid walk to school in the morning. Really, I'm probably looking to live in a small town in the South sometime during the 1950s minus sexism, racism, and more high tech gear--you know, people sitting on their front porch at dusk, watching their children catch fireflies and yelling to the neighbors across the street. But you know what I mean.

So, I guess this leaves me somewhere on the fringes of the Army life. I'd like to blame the lack of on-post housing (or even adequate on-post housing... but that's neither here nor there), but I'm not sure that would make a difference. It could... but who's to say for sure? It'd be nice to say "we'll just give it a try at our next duty station," but that's unlikely. Even if we didn't want to try to buy the next time around, we have too many pets to get on-post housing at most installations. Fort Lewis is the only one to take more than 2. It's just not in the cards for us, at least not in the near future.

Anyway, this is an identity question I have been trying to answer for myself for awhile. Am I an Army wife? Or am I just married to someone who happens to serve in the Army?

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