Whomever said “War is Hell!” could have been speaking of an Army divorce, as well.
As an Army veteran and then later an Army spouse, the correlation between being a soldier and being a dependent are very similar. When a soldier “signs on the dotted line”, their life is no longer their own. They transition- often through physical and emotional duress- from civilian into soldier. Every soldier’s basic needs are met through the Army, they need food- they go to the mess hall, they need shelter- they’re assigned barracks, they need clothing- they’re given a uniform. A soldier doesn’t have a private life while serving in the Army. A soldier literally gives their life to the Army- so what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours should more accurately be what’s mine is the Army’s and what’s yours will be the Army’s as well. When you marry a soldier you become a dependent- a label I still despise. But factually speaking, you are the dependent of a soldier who’s basic needs are met by the Army, to the Army you’re just another mouth to feed. I used to joke with my soon to be ex-husband when we argued about the overwhelming role the Army played in his daily life that the Army should have assigned him a better wife! It wasn’t difficult for me to understand this influence, having been a soldier myself. I had a drill Sgt. that explained it best- “Being a soldier is a 24/7 responsibility. No matter where you are in the world, you represent the Army in all your actions and words- so choose them carefully. Know that the Army is you and you are the Army!”
What they don’t tell you when you marry a soldier is that your life will be regulated, ordered and provided for by the Army through your soldier. You will have access to all of the privileges which will include health care, housing, a commissary for groceries, access to discounts, and even educational benefits. You will even have the honor of knowing you’re supporting your soldier in times of war. What they fail to print in the brochures is that all of this comes at a hefty price. You’ll have to accept deployments and long absences for duty as the norm, you’ll be expected to keep a neat home that you’ll uproot and move every three years or so without much support, you’ll become a geographical widow as your spouse will miss all of the important milestones of a regular marriage because duty calls, and if God forbid the worst should happen you’ll become caretaker to an injured soldier with little to no support from the Army. Being an Army wife is not only a full-time job, it’s a calling.
I watched during 14 years of marriage countless other women (and a few men) struggle against the rules, regulations and stress of being an Army spouse. I got pretty good at being able to tell which girlfriends or new brides would survive and which ones were doomed. It came down to a simply choice- either accept the reality of your marriage or fight a losing battle against a literal Army of opposition. There is a protocol, a rule, a regulation or a cultural norm for everything in the Army. From how a soldier wears their uniform to what greeting to give a general at a military ball. The bad thing is that there is no Basic training for Army spouses, you either learn it on your own or rely on other spouses to help teach you. Those women who were open to learning usually had marriages that lasted, those who believed it was all unnecessary posturing didn’t last long. I was one of the lucky ones, having served myself I understood that balance could be achieved. But balance comes at a price as well. Those of us who survive a military marriage find a balance between a happy marriage and the obligations of the Army.
What happened to me probably isn’t typical or maybe it is. For 14 years my life has been focused on the needs of the Army and the needs of my soldier. I set aside my own needs, my own dreams and my own aspirations to follow my soldier. I worked overtime to keep my marriage together, to honor my commitments to the Army and my marriage. The scariest part of all of this is that once I’m divorced… my ties to the Army end as well. Not only am I losing my marriage, but I’m losing the institution that has provided for my physical well being the last 14 years. As my soon to be ex-husband faces his military retirement I can only imagine it’s a similar process. The difference being that he’ll have an Army transition officer guiding him through the maze of a new life. I have no guide.
I don’t know yet how to handle this. I don’t know how to be anything other than an Army wife. And just as there was no Basic Training to prepare me for an Army marriage, there is no transition office to prepare me for an Army divorce. It’s one of the great injustices of Army life… no one to help you enter it, and no one to help you exit it. As military spouses we rely on each other- we hopefully (not always) support each other in times of hardship. It saddens me to know that by ending this marriage, I’ll no longer be a member of that group- I’ve already lost friends because I won’t be carrying that ID card anymore. But I think it’s time we opened ourselves up to the discussion of this aftermath- I know there are a lot of ex-military wives. Maybe we should start referring to ourselves as veteran wives… even if we don’t have the same privileges as a veteran, we’ve faced our own battles. We’re not just an ex-wife, we’re an ex-military wife… we’re a Veteran wife!