As a National Guard spouse it is very easy to blend into my civilian world, going on in life not standing out in any crowd. This would be fine if there was never a time my husband went away for a TDY, training or a deployment. If we never had to deal with health insurance or missing drill pay. Even if we live in our hometown, with all of our friends and family members there with us, we cannot make our way through this military life unscathed. This is why it is imperative that we do not sit around and wait for a stressor to jump out at us, until we are deep in a hole with no education or experience to get us out. Putting ourselves out there can be scary, but it can be one of the good parts of military life if you let it. In the 2014 Military Lifestyle Survey conducted by Blue Star Families and IVMF (Institute for Veterans and Military Families), one of the top stressors with 51% was isolation from family and friends. National Guard and Reserve service members and their families can feel this same isolation.
As a young military spouse I went into this life with a romantic view of it. I won’t lie and pretend I knew it all, that I walked into this new world knowing or understanding everything. I didn’t, and we didn’t. We faced things that we couldn’t have anticipated – war, deployments, training and an op-tempo that moved at the speed of light and hasn’t slowed down over the past thirteen years. What little I did know about military life in no way translated to my National Guard life, even though we were ‘uniform every day’, ‘shine those boots,’ full time. There was no commissary, no base housing, no child development center and in my case, no real families we served with. The blessings of the online community that was really growing at that time ended up highlighting what I was missing. So many of those spouses would show up at a new duty station and either be reunited with old friends or suddenly have this built in group of friends. How did they do that? How did it happen so quickly and why couldn’t I replicate it?
National Guard Spouse: Don’t Be a Loner…
It’s true that many National Guard and Reserve service members serve where they grew up. Their families live near-by, their workmates are people they went to high school with. But this isn’t true for everyone. And even when it is, that doesn’t mean it is enough. So when faced with this situation what do you do? You have to reach out to the community you have, the one in which you live. I hated that I didn’t have what a ‘typical’ military family might have access to, but at that point it became my responsibility to find the care and support for my family.
So what can you do?
- Volunteer – By finding a group to volunteer with you create a small community of people with a shared interest that can create a potential pool of friends for you. There are also many military organizations that have chapters in your area, get involved in either civilian or military – or both!
- Attend Conferences – How did HUN founder Angela and myself meet? At a military family conference! As a National Guard spouse, you have a blossoming community at your finger tips. Get out there, let people know who you are. You are a apart of the same military family, some of the best friends we can make are while networking at conferences and military related events.
- Church – For me this was vital, and I realize that this doesn’t apply to everyone. When I needed help with my children, when I was lonely, my church family was there for me.
- Mom’s Groups – One of the first things I do when I move (yes, even National Guard families move to different states!) is look for a MOPS International group. Like church and volunteer groups this is a wonderful replica of the ready-made friendships you might find on a military base.
- Extracurricular Activities – Take a class, or join a book club – the ideas are endless and a great way to find other people out in the community with the interests!
Your civilian community is ready and waiting to support you. Everyone goes through things in life where they need comfort and aid. That isn’t unique to military life, and though it may be different then what we experience, it doesn’t mean that our community is unable or unwilling to stand with us in this life.
The civilian/military divide can only truly be bridged when both sides build their half. We cannot simply stand on our side and wait for them to come to us. So I issue you a call to action, from one National Guard spouse to another. Don’t sit idly by waiting for someone else to reach out to you. Don’t wait for the support from military support organizations that may never come. Instead, reach out to your community, be a representative and an advocate for yourself and make the first step. From that could grow valuable relationships, support and even a greater awareness of what we go through in our unique situation. You just never know what one action on your part can accomplish.