Cutting off our nose to spite our face

My 'Metamorphosis' story is coming along but this one was really nibbling at my brain so it needs to go up.

- hfs

A short while ago our FRG (Family Readiness Group) sent out a flyer advertising a Brigade-level social event. The flyer specified "E-7 Spouses and above, please". This is nothing new and maybe it was the phase of the moon or the direction the wind was blowing at the moment but it *really* (for lack of a better term) pissed me off.

A little background on me to set the stage for my righteous indignation: MacGyver was enlisted before he was accepted into flight school. He spent the better part of 3 years as a crew chief and then a flight engineer in the back of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter up in Alaska. Anyone who has ever flown on a Chinook understands how integral the crew in the back are to the function of that aircraft - the relationship between the pilots up front and the crew dogs in the back is a symbiotic one. They ALL work together to keep that ugly school bus in the air. And that relationship really blurs the line between officer and enlisted. It took years before I realized that other MOSs didn't see E-4s and O-3s/O-4s chilling together at family BBQs on the weekends.

I understand the need for the rank structure and the formalities that go with it in certain MOSs but it's not often like that in aviation, especially in the Chinook world where the playing field is a little more level based on the circumstances of the beast.

So there's that.

As such, social events in the Chinook community tend to be open to everyone. And, because of the nature of Fort Wainwright and its distance from the proverbial flagpole, that was pretty much the same throughout the aviation community during our time up there. It never occurred to me that social events would be open to some spouses and not to others. Ignorance is bliss, it seems.

There's an old joke about spouses and rank. At a meeting of military spouses, the LTC running the event issued the instruction for all of the spouses to line up, according to rank. They begin to do so and the LTC stopped them, pointing out that they were spouses - they had NO RANK. I have no rank. I am not in the military. My husband has rank - he earned it through hard work and sacrifice. (Of course, there's always the theory that the spouse's authority supersedes the soldier's rank but that's a different blog post) My point is that, as spouses, we have no rank. We are ALL 'dependents' (and that's another word that lights my fire but, again, I'll save that for another post) - nothing more, nothing less. And yet, some of us are prevented from attending social events based on our husband's rank.

I understand the rationales behind the policy even though I do not agree with them. I'm sure there is concern about younger spouses not adhering to the code of 'acceptable behavior' (I'm sure I was one of them. Probably still am.). And it's possible that the policy is in place to keep the number of spouses attending such an event to a workable number, though I highly doubt that a Brigade-level social event in the middle of a workday is going to exceed the capacity of the venue. Call me a pessimist.

But what about my friend, D, who is a veteran military spouse of 25 years? Twenty-five years. Yet her husband is an E-6 and she would not be allowed to attend this event. What a loss for the military spouse community. My friend D is a wealth of knowledge and insight whose experiences and perspectives on military life would be a gold mine of information for just about every spouse around her (not to mention she's just good people). And yet, she would not be able to attend this event because her husband is 'just' an E-6.

What a disservice we are doing to our junior spouses. For those of you who are military spouses, think back to your early years on this wonderful adventure. Did you have someone - someone with some experience as a military spouse - take you under their wing and show you the ins and outs of military life? If you can even just think of ONE person who did this for you, you are fortunate. Many younger spouses have no one to guide them, no one to offer them perspective, no one to set a positive example. They are left to flounder in a very foreign world.

Because, let's face it...military life is freakish. Our spouses come and go on training exercises, staff duty rotations, and deployments, with such frequency as to warrant consideration of installing a revolving door. We live a nomadic and transient life. We write names in pen and addresses in pencil. Our customs are not the customs of the civilian world. Many of us deal with 'anticipatory grief' on a regular basis. We've probably been to more funerals and memorial services than weddings.

A good friend of mine from childhood has a job that takes him away from home overnight on occasion. He's married to another good friend of mine and I remember talking to her one day about his job and how she has a really hard time being home alone on the nights when he is gone. Oftentimes she will either go spend the night at a friend or have a friend come spend the night at her house. And I chuckled. Having MacGyver gone for one night just means I get the ENTIRE bed to myself and can eat waffles for dinner with no one raising an eyebrow at me. After a 15-month deployment followed by a 4-month TDY, and 2 rotations to training centers - all in the span of a 30-month period - having him gone for a night or a week barely registers on my radar.

So our lives are different. And, for a new military spouse, this new life can be overwhelming and isolating and frustrating. And rather than open up as many possible avenues of support, we close those doors because they don't have the correct rank.

And we wonder why military marriages are so quick to fail...


- hfs


D2 said...

Biggest Pet Peeve about the military! "I" can't do this or that or be friends with so and so because of His rank! Whatever!

Crista said...

I've had ONE spouse in 13 years that cared enough to guide me when I really needed it...as a new and young Army wife. She is my constant example of who I want to be, who I should be, and a reminder of the example I need to set for others.

Her husband was Mac's battalion commander right after he graduated ROTC and got commissioned. Today he is a retired BG, but his wife is just as down to earth today as she was back then.

She's a role model for all.

Here at Carson I've seen the worst brought out in people. I've seen a few good ones but they've been rare. And I've had my life destroyed by some who are older, allegedly wiser, and sure as heck know better.

My new mantra: be the example that wasn't set for you. :)

Homefront Six said...

That's a wonderful mantra. I've seen the worst as well - I think we all have our horror stories. But I've also seen incredible mentors - in and out of FRGs and command structures. And I was blessed (or cursed...depends on your perspective) to be a part of an incredible FRG at our first duty station. Part of the reason the FRG was so wonderful was because the commander was so wonderful. The commander often sets the tone. Sadly, wonderful commanders are about as common as wonderful FRG leaders.

Val said...

A hearty A-freaking-men here!!!

I can name two milspouses who came alongside me and helped me navigate the ropes and one of them wrote this post and another commented... ;)

In person though, it's been few and far between. Our little pocket of the military has a very THICK line between officer/enlisted and even Jr. enlisted/Chief level. It makes making friends extraordinarily tense. AND I just get really tired of being expected to be an idiot because of my husband's rank. I can watch the light switch off with some people when they hear that he isn't a pilot, but that he maintains the jets. It goes from, "You seem like an intelligent, worthwhile person," to condescension in a split second.

It's not ALL the time, and I've met some really great line-crossing friends along the way in spite of it all, but it's enough that I'm sensitive to it.

Homefront Six said...

I have another Navy spouse friend who said pretty much the same thing. And the thing is that - like you - she's one of the spouses I look *up* to!

Marcus Erroneous said...

My wife enjoyed taking the new team members wives in and showing them the ropes. Life was tough enough without letting it be even more difficult. We spent a large amount of time overseas and we were aware that it was just us in the middle of a foreign land.

We were gone a lot even though it was "peace time" then. She used to say that she didn't even notice me missing until after I'd been gone two weeks.

The SF community was too small to exclude anyone. We all pulled together as did our wives when we were gone.

Nice post, you really captured it.



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