If you were to say, “Thank you for your service” to me, a military spouse, I would say “you’re welcome.” My husband, personally, doesn’t care much for being thanked, probably because he joined the Army for himself. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t have chosen it in a million years.
Some women have strong feelings about saying they didn’t serve or that they are not a part of the military as a spouse unless they were active duty or National Guard themselves. They say they aren’t out there risking their lives, and they don’t go to work every day and train.
That’s fair. We are still “civilians” because we didn’t swear in, and we don’t possess the abilities to defend our country as our spouses do.
However, when I am thanked for my service, I’m not accepting praise for fighting Al Qaida. Obviously, I wasn’t there for that, and we can all assume the person thanking us doesn’t think we were.
When I’m thanked for my service, I take it as an acknowledgment of my support and sacrifice.
Most of what happened to my husband in the military happened to me. No, I didn’t get smoked at work, I didn’t have to do stupid workouts at 6 am, nor did I have to sleep in the woods. But all those experiences impacted who my husband was which impacted me.
The depression and frustration changed the temperature at my house. The person he became changed the reality of my marriage.
When my husband was deployed, I was the one home alone for five months, seeing no one but old people at the gym and strangers at church on Sunday, pregnant and clinically depressed.
When I moved to Fort Bragg, it was my career trajectory that plummeted.
When I moved across the country, I was the one missing out on pregnancies, weddings, and relationships, without being able to replace those experiences where I was.
Everything that happened to him, happened to me.
I think the difference in me and those other wives who shun that praise is that I didn’t want this. When my husband was in Army Basic and started writing sentimental letters about getting married, I was still trying to decide if I should marry him with my expectations of military life.
I did not want to be a military spouse. Period. I didn’t want my life to be dictated by anyone but us. I was ambitious, I didn’t want to forfeit my career, especially when my husband had never really shown ambition for his own.
As a person who grew up isolated from family because half of it was in Nigeria and the other half distant and somewhat estranged as a result of my mom’s childhood of abuse, I wanted to create that connection on my generational level. I wanted to put down roots and be close to our moms and have our kids grow up with their cousins.
But more importantly, I wanted my husband to be present and engaged. My dad wasn’t either of those during my adolescent years.
There was a family who took me to AAU track meets with three of their kids after my senior year of high school. Dad and mom were always there, they always paid for my food and lodging, and people thought I was their oldest child even though they were white.
I wanted that for myself. Not a random child of a different race, but they weren’t rich by any means, yet the unity they had as a family was priceless.
The dad, Richard, became my ideal for a husband/dad. He and his wife worked hard, he trained his daughter to be a track star, and he was always there for the trips. And everyone was happy and had lots of memories to regale me with on long drives.
When I was in college, I briefly and casually dated a friend of a friend’s at a different school, but I had no ambitions for a serious relationship with him because he was a pre-med student, and I didn’t want to marry a doctor. Because they’re gone too much.
Everything I feared or dreaded about being a military spouse came to be reality. Did I speak it into existence? No, because everyone else was going through the same thing. I sacrificed.
Other spouses may not have wanted differently for their lives. Or they were able to replace the things they lost like careers or friendships, but I wasn’t. For me, it was a sacrifice the entire time.
As a result, part of my identity became my service to my husband. I was unemployed for a year after I arrived at Fort Bragg, and my purpose became to serve my husband. I was dedicated to that. The house was clean, every meal planned, and I even had the vigilance to make sure his water bottle stayed sanitized. He still asks me to buy him toothpaste or order him something on Amazon, which he has access to, because that’s how dedicated I was to serving him.
I arrived in February. In November, he went to Ranger School for the second time. I found myself lost without him. Purposeless. I felt worthless being unable to find a job and not needed for the job I had assumed since Spencer was gone without contact.
When he was dropped from the course after six weeks, I was upset. I was let down. The sacrifices I had been making felt very real to me, only to consistently not amount to anything.
I was hard on him when I drove the seven hours to pick him up from Fort Benning, Georgia. And I had tried to tell him that the reason he was failing was because he wasn’t being the leader he was capable of being. I thought that was the same answer for why he wasn’t selected for the Special Forces Q-Course.
No, I didn’t know what those courses were actually like. I certainly was speaking out of turn to tell him how to be as a soldier, but it felt like my business to uncover his personal secrets for success because his success was all I had.
I eventually found a job, which took away my ability to perform the role in which I did find value. This job I disliked and had no ambition for. It inhibited me from enjoying my life on a day to day basis, making it back home to enjoy friends and family, or serving my husband. And those were my sacrifices.
In my vows, I promised to be fair in what I asked of my husband because I knew much of our life would be out of his hands. I had my moments but didn’t usually complain about things my husband could not change. And I was hurt when he didn’t change the things he could, as we all fail to do in marriage from time to time. I think the inability to hold him accountable resulted in resentment, as many experience.
Who would my husband have been without me? Who would I have been without the Army?
I’m happy with where I am today, and believe hardship creates better stories, but those are relevant questions when talking about sacrifice.
And I wasn’t unhappy all the time. It was a cognitive dissonance: I was happy being with my husband and at times liked the isolation and removal from the melodramas of familiar life. But on a deeper level, I dealt with the loneliness and hopelessness of it.
Some military spouses don’t sacrifice. Some don’t move and instead stay home with their families so they can have the support they need, or they pursue their dreams in a different city. Some never knew what they wanted or thought they could achieve it in the first place. Some wanted exactly what the military provides.
Then there are some choose to lay down their dreams and ambitions for the sake of their spouses. That’s service to me.
So when someone says to me “Thank you for your service,” I say “you’re welcome.”