This week in the beautiful city of San Diego, CA there was a convergence of what may be the most diverse group of people to exist in a small community: the military spouse. Spouses: male and female, who provide love and support on the home front to active duty as well as retired service members of many branches. I was excited to see four of the five branches of military represented… even Canadian spouses were there! How awesome is that? That is what #MilspouseFest2016 was!
Upon arrival, I was so excited to see the amazing team from MilitaryOneClick at the door ready for check-in and getting us started on a great morning! As a military spouse, I encounter many of the same spouses at these events; I’m referring to more than just the speaker–I mean fellow spouses who have been my friends online or at various other duty stations.
When they say the military world is small, you never realize how small!
As the event started, Jacey Eckhart took to the stage. She shook us all up with a fantastic ice breaker that tested us: how resilient are we? How do we communicate without using our voice? I saw people signing or using their cell phones to get the information they needed. Genius! After all, as military spouses, don’t we all need to effectively communicate, sometimes without saying a word?
Next on the docket was a session about friendships. Oh, how we need friends in this life! As we discussed the various types of friends we have, I realized where some of my friendships lie that may have been in question in my mind. It is not easy to move every three years or have someone else move when you are feeling bonded.
If you looked at your phone’s texts, who would be in your support team?
Mine was kind of short but was exactly who I would call in a pinch. One thing that I struggle with is that I’m an introverted extrovert. Yes, I know: how can I be both? But I am. I’m shy and guarded, until I get the feel of things and then my bubbly self appears. Now to figure out how to use these skills to make the lasting friendships that will carry far beyond military life.
Next, Jacey brought up something that I hadn’t actually thought about: how has your service members’ career redirected your planned path? Have your educational desires suffered? Are you unable to work in your career field because you move every few years? Are you even able to get a job because you will be leaving again soon? Do you want to own a business, will you be happy working a 9-5, and do you see yourself as something more? I always thought, “One day I’ll finish nursing school and work,” but one day hasn’t come. 15 Navy years and 4 children later, I feel like I’m staring down my sailor’s retirement, panicked that we will not financially make it afterward.
In this session, we were broken up into groups where mentors talked about how to achieve what we want most in our careers. This was when I realized I wanted more than a 9-5. I want to be my own boss, and now I am closer to starting that journey.
The last activity of the day was hands-down my favorite. When I married my husband, we didn’t even have our sights set on military life, so of course, if I could go backwards I would have a majestic military wedding. For this activity, we were separated by branch, and asked what things would we promise in our self-written marriage vows to our service member.
I heard a lot of laughing during this part.
As military spouses we have promised to basically do everything in our power to make it possible for our service member to always be mission ready. This was a great opportunity to reevaluate myself and see where I feel I am missing the mark. I often think I’m the Super Supportive Spouse, and yet if the phone rings sending him back to the USS Always Gone, I’m shooting him with daggers out of my eyeballs and grumpily sitting on the couch.
I am human and will feel frustrated that his other wife–the ship–will always be priority, but I can remind him that I am here to support him. I know that if I had my dream nursing job, I would have a lot of time away, I would have to prioritize, but I also know he would stand behind me with his “Proud Nurses’ Husband” hat and hold it together.
For now, I have chosen to do that for him. As for the new marriage vow, I would promise not to get mad on forgotten duty days, missed birthdays, anniversaries, or even the births of our children. None of these promises imply that we are ever okay with this or that we have no feelings; it is that we understand and have compassion that even though our spouses may not be able to be there, they would love to be there.
I came home and wrote my own set of vows, just for my husband, promising that no matter what, we are a team.
The catch phrase of the day was “You be You.” What does that mean? Well, I have already given so much away I feel like telling this would ruin it! If you want to know more, you’ll just have to catch #MilspouseFest2016 in your area!
It was a full day of laughter, kindness, and most of all, empowerment. Spouses aren’t just beings who stand breathlessly waiting for our service members to return. We are men and women who work hard in our own right. We want to be more than what TV makes us out to be. We want to be stronger, not just for ourselves, but for our families. We are here because we love someone more than ourselves, and they love this country more than themselves. Military life is a hard and unique path, but together we make it awesome.
I’m so incredibly thankful for organizations that make military life a little brighter. MilitaryOneClick and USAA did great things with #MilspouseFest2016. If you see the event pop up in your area, you need to go. It will give you that little bit more to push forward!
Marla Barlow is a Navy wife and mom of 4. She strives to help enrich the lives of her fellow military spouse community much like hers has been by fellow spouses before her. She is collector of obscure vintage navy memorabilia, loves to cook, watch military shows with her favorite sailor, and write.