“You don’t wear your service member’s rank.”
“All spouses are just that- spouses.”
“You didn’t earn the rank. They did. Spouses are all equal regardless of rank.”
As the wife of an active duty Marine I hear this quite often, and I believe it fervently. But in the politics that surrounds the military lifestyle, those lines can become blurred, and spouses find themselves holding on to their service member’s rank when conflict (good or bad) arises. So how do military spouses combat this idea when everything about the social policies of the military say otherwise?
One of the wonderful things about the military lifestyle (in my opinion) is the opportunity for military spouses to become directly involved with their service member’s unit. Whether it’s volunteering at different events or holding a social get-together, military spouses are able to play key roles in the family readiness climate. Personally I love being involved in family readiness and with other military spouses, so I always try to be active no matter my husband’s current position. Recently, however, I was put in a position where my husband’s rank and job caused a conflict with another spouse.
My husband is in a training facility. The last go-round he was directly in charge of 40 Marines. This time, his position takes him away from the Marines and puts him in the command element. Given his change in jobs, I went from having direct relations to a group of spouses to having no one particular group of spouses with whom to interact. I didn’t see any major role change for me, though, since we are all spouses. I had planned to be as involved with them as I had the first time, but others did not feel the same. I was quickly told by another staff spouse that given my husband’s job I should reign back on the types of interactions I had with the student spouses—that I shouldn’t engage as much and I shouldn’t offer help unless other resources or people had been utilized first. I was told that when the students enter their new units after training, the spouses of those in the command element do not interact with lower ranking spouses except during official events, so I should be promoting that divide so they know what to expect.
The Battle Between Military Spouses
To be honest, I was taken aback. We are all spouses, correct? Our service member’s rank and position should have no bearing on the amount in which we interact among ourselves. And every command climate is different- some units will have many spouses involved while others may be a little distant. Either way, I felt as though my personal choice in my level of interaction with other spouses should not be dependent on my husband’s rank and position. It should be my choice, seeing as I don’t wear a rank on my shoulders.
I feel as though situations like this are specific to the military lifestyle. Only here will you find spouses of co-workers fighting to engage with other spouses on a leadership level. Only here will you find spouses taking time out of their busy schedules to form social gatherings, and special events to help others dig their way through the information overload that is the military.
But you know what you also find? Support. Love. A listening ear. A helping hand. Someone who barely knows you who will drive you to the hospital when you’re in labor. A stranger seeing the stickers on your car, struggling to fit something in your tiny trunk offering to stick in the back of their SUV and deliver it to your home. Groups of women cheering you on from the sidelines while you run your first race.
We are a tough breed, us military spouses. Many of us are Type-A personalities that want to be involved and in control, because we often have to take the reins when our service members are gone. But in the end we are all just people. We all live and breathe the military, and we all want to support each other to the fullest. I hope I can continue doing just that for my fellow spouses.