By Kellie Wachter
Ambivalence: simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action…
After thirty years as an active duty member of the United States Air Force, my husband is about to retire. He has opted for a very small retirement ceremony, but even so there will be commemorative gifts given- a flag flown over the Capitol in his honor, a shadow box full of the mementos and honors from a long and successful career in the Air Force- one more thing to hang on his “ I love me” wall. He and likely others will acknowledge that his career was built on the sacrifices of his family and nobody knows the truth of that more than me.
Zach painting his first welcome home sign, before he even knew how to spell!
I have seen him off on more temporary duties, deployments and remote assignments than I can count. The biggest of all was his year-long remote assignment in Korea. My son and I will always remember that year spent alone in Nebraska thousands of miles between us and any family at all. It was the year that Survivor first aired and my son and I sat watching the episode when the cast got to read a letter from their loved ones. We really shared their pain as we sat there holding back our own tears … until we heard them say they had not seen their loved one in weeks. At that point we had not seen our loved one for months nor would we see him for a full year unless we scraped up enough money to pay for a flight home for his mid-tour morale leave. That was a big deal for a young family hovering just above the poverty line, but hey, what are credit cards for right? This was not the first extended absence for us, just the longest. It was however, the first time we really looked at our lives as a military family and realized how unusual (read: abnormal) it really was.
The Tent City my husband called home for several months during one of his deployments.
Being surrounded by other military families, we easily forgot that having our husband disciplined at work because we were late for a medical appointment or getting ticketed by a housing official for not keeping the weeds out of the cracks where the gutter meets the road in front of your own little slice of heaven known as base housing is not something most people contend with on a routine basis. It is however business as usual for a military family. I am not even going to touch the agony and aftershock of having a loved one in a battle zone. That precious sacrifice cannot be summed up in six to eight hundred words and I will not dishonor it by making an attempt.
A surprise reunion at school, Zach was in the first grade. I had learned after his dad’s first deployment not to tell Zach exactly when his dad would be home because the date was always a moving target.
I have known talented, educated, and skilled women who give up their own careers because the nomadic nature of the military family means only one person can have a career. Most spouses either hop from entry level job to entry level job or do as I did and take up the role as domestic engineer with a vengeance. It is no small job considering it involves creating the illusion of stability for your family using the military wife’s equivalent to smoke and mirrors know as one size fits all curtains and family traditions built on a scaffold of mobility. Such as hanging Christmas stockings on the ever-present china cabinet rather than on here and gone fireplace mantles that change with every move. As painful as the downside of military life is, it most definitely has an upside. I want to tell you all about it but I am stymied, not from dearth but from excess. I am spoiled for choice!
1. From left: My first of four (and counting) trips to Paris. 2. Our favorite beach in Hawaii. I would scan the beach to see which side had the most people, the left or the right? It was the side I always carried my body board on for the long, slow haul into the water. 3. My shopping trip to Prague for Bohemian crystal. The Eastern Bloc had begun to crumble and as somebody painted on the Berlin Wall: “We Came, We Saw, We did a little shopping.”
Do I tell you of my years spent in a tiny Dutch village and biking along the dikes and polders, or one of my many trips to London or Paris? How about Oktoberfest in Munich, spending the night in a castle or having the most beautiful beach on Oahu all to myself on regular basis? They are all almost too good to be true, but they have been part of my life as military spouse. My son, born in the Netherlands, and raised around the globe is a citizen of the world and has seen and done more in his 22 years than many people get the opportunity to do in a lifetime. He earned it though; it most definitely came at a price. So I am ambivalent about my life as a military spouse.The sacrifices both big and small were constant, but the rewards were too. Looking back, as my husband’s career with the Air Force draws to a close I wonder would I do it again? The answer is a resounding YES…! I guess I am not so ambivalent after all.