In December, we were lucky enough to have Kelsey, a military woman and a military wife share her wedding graduate post with us. It turns out, a lot of you wanted to talk about the difficulties and sacrifices of being married to/in the military. As a daughter of two military brats, this is a conversation I really wanted us to have. My grandmothers, both military wives, taught me a thing or two about sacrifice in marriage, not to mention a thing or two about grit, a spine of steel, and keeping a hold of yourself while making sacrifices. As I was wading through supporting my family at a difficult job, my grandmother was there to help support me, and to tell me that I’d make it through. Sacrifice was part of life, but something we could learn from and move past. So, on the heels of yesterday’s post about the importance of self in marriage, I thought today we’d have Kelsey talking about being a wife in the military, and the allegiance we owe to things beyond ourselves. You also can find Kelsey at her new project Military Women Speak.
Of all the challenges that a couple may face in the early stages of marriage, we have dealt the most with the realities of military life, and a career change.
My husband, Russell, and I are both active duty naval officers. The military has been a factor in our relationship from day one. We met in San Diego in 2008, when we were stationed on Navy ships.We had dated for about six months when I negotiated orders for my next tour in Washington DC, and Russell was able to do the same. We decided that once we moved to DC we would move in together, but before we could do that, I had to deploy one more time to the Middle East. I felt like we were taking some big risks, and I was nervous… moving across the country together, and moving in together, preceded by a six month separation? We hadn’t even been dating a year! Would things work out for us? Was this a huge mistake?
The reality is that the military doesn’t make things easy on relationships. Taking ours to the next level involved some big risks, but we were ready, and somehow, I knew it was right.
Happily, everything went according to plan. Russell got everything set up for us in DC, and I returned home from deployment. I had only been home for two weeks when Russell proposed, which honestly, shocked me. It didn’t feel like we were rushing, though. In the year that we dated, we had already dealt with some serious things. Our relationship flourished despite work obligations on operational tours and Russell saw me through the death of my father last year. Our year of dating felt like five years crammed into one, and we were ready to take the next step together. We got married in July 2010, at a brewery in San Diego.
Career-wise, we’re always needing to think ahead to the next milestone. We know that Russell is going to serve at least eight more years in the Navy before retiring. Although there are incredible benefits to making the military a career, there are downsides to it, as well. Over the course of the next eight years, we can expect to move at least three more times (to where, we don’t know; it’s not always in our control). We can expect separations due to time underway and deployments. It’s likely that Russell will have to complete an Individual Augmentation, which is an Army-like deployment on the ground in a combat zone. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have dragged on, it’s become common place for members of ALL services to fill billets in these areas. Navy folks are squeezing in IA’s between regular tours and deployments. It’s dangerous duty, and typically lasts a year or more. If (or more likely, when) Russell has to serve this duty, we don’t know… we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. What we do know is that his next milestone is a three year sea tour. Russell will be assigned to a ship, and will go back to that operational schedule again.
Of course, we would love nothing more than to spend all of our time together, enjoying each other and focusing on our new marriage. Although our loyalty to each other takes priority in our hearts, the fact of the matter is, we have other loyalties too. Before Russell and I exchanged wedding vows, we both vowed to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Just as we have a duty to love, honor, and cherish each other in marriage, we also have a duty to serve our country, which is something we don’t take lightly. There will be times when military obligations take us away from each other, but that’s the way it is. We’re proud of this duty; we incorporate it into our lives, and our marriage. I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s not… sometimes it’s really, really hard! But we take it like we always have; one step at a time, working through the challenges of here and now, being each other’s biggest supporter, and appreciating every second we have together.I’ve decided to leave active duty at the end of this tour. Understand, I would leave even if I wasn’t recently married. A lot of the reasons why I joined the Navy in the first place don’t apply anymore, and there are other things I want to try. But what comes next for me isn’t very clear… All the unknown factors involved in changing careers is scary, compounded by the fact that the military makes it difficult to plan ahead. As I said before, we don’t know where we’re going next, or when exactly. It kind of feels like walking off the edge of a cliff, professionally… Also, being married changes things, and weighing my options in light of that has been more challenging than I expected. I’m an independent, type-A kind of woman, and it’s been a little hard to accept that my ideas for myself might need some re-prioritizing. It’s taking some time for me to fully embrace the plans that we have together, when that means adapting my own plans to fit our dream. As excited as I am to have found my other half, it sort of freaks me out that my success and stability is no longer solely up to me. Now, it’s my husband and I, working as a team, which requires give and sacrifice on both our parts. That’s truly a wonderful thing, but I’m finding that the switch doesn’t flip overnight. Along with the giddiness of being in love and newly married comes these realities, and it’s taking some time for me to adjust. I thought it would be an easy, automatic transition, but it turns out it’s not.
So the realities of military life are ongoing, and my career change is still up in the air… but that’s where we are right now. Six months into marriage, we’re incredibly, deliriously happy, and also starting to come to terms with what being married really means. Thanks to APW for letting us have these conversations, where we can share both the good and the real!