by Bianca Strzalkowski
It is likely that every duty station will not be your dream destination.
Not every spot can have the outdoor adventures of Hawaii, cultural exposure of Europe, or have a bustling job market full of opportunities.
Plus, let’s face it, military installations do not always have a reputation for being in the most sought-after locations. Training by way of blowing things up for practice is probably best done, say, in the deserts of Arizona. Still, spouses are sometimes guilty of letting another person’s experience cloud their perspective. As much as social media empowers spouses to have access to information, it also forces a preconceived bias about a site due to the overwhelming amount of opinions on the internet.
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg famously wrote a book a few years ago, called Lean In, that encourages women to change the workplace conversation by showing up, speaking up, and going after their goals. The message puts ownership of a situation on the individual rather than the circumstance. Even though it may appear on the surface that military spouses have little in common with Silicon Valley’s way of life, there are intersections between the book’s intent and the military lifestyle. The first point being, it is up to you to make it happen for yourself.
Here are some starting points that likely exist wherever the Department of Defense decides to send you, even in those most desolate of places:
Show-up: Network with the Chamber of Commerce
Chambers of commerce bring together professionally minded people in local communities through membership and events. Within the United States, there are approximately 3,000, according to the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. As soon as you receive orders, one of the first pieces of advice would be to find your local chamber because they can offer a wealth of knowledge about the area. Once you are in town, this is the go-to vehicle for one of the military community’s favorite buzzwords: networking. Grab their monthly calendar to find out what sort of happenings are occurring in your area and challenge yourself to step outside the box.
TIP: BRING BUSINESS CARDS WITH A PROFESSIONAL EMAIL ADDRESS AND GIVE THEM OUT TO EVERYONE YOU MEET. KEEP NOTES ON THE BACK OF ANY CARDS YOU RECEIVE SO YOU CAN FOLLOW-UP AS NEEDED.
Speak-up: Attend a meeting of the city council or board of education
Or, run for a position! Often times, military families look at a military town as us and them, and a divide can exist between local townspeople and their more transient neighbors. Yet, the decisions made by the local elected leadership have a direct impact on your life. Whether it is the education of your children in those schools, or the laws enacted, you are a resident for all intended purposes. Each month, local governments and boards meet to discuss issues relevant to the area. Take a friend and attend a meeting to see what it being proposed, or go a step further.
Christine Gilbreath, an Army veteran and a National Guard wife, decided to run for a city council position in Texas. She says it is the responsibility of everyone to weigh in on their community — even a temporary one.
“It is extremely rewarding to help shape the community where you live, regardless if you are there three or 30 years,” she said. “For me, running for and getting elected to Crowley City Council is just an extension of my support of my friends, family, and my Soldier. It is being directly involved in, and helping to create the environment I want to live in and leave for future generations.”
TIP: HOMEFRONT RISING, A PROGRAM CREATED BY MSJDN – MILITARY SPOUSE JD NETWORK, TEACHES MILITARY SPOUSES HOW TO RUN FOR OFFICE. VISIT THEIR WEBSITE TO FIND OUT ABOUT EVENTS AND RESOURCES: https://www.msjdn.org/ homefront-rising
Dress-up: Explore the culture
What is the area known for? Each location, even in the most unknown places, has some niche that it prides itself on, so find what those are! Cultural events, the arts, festivals, museums, and the surrounding environment — parks, beaches, mountains, etc. — are memory creators, especially if this moment in time is the only opportunity you will have to be there.
Army husband Dave Etter, whose wife is stationed at Landstuhl Air Force Base in Germany, says to take advantage of sights and sounds while you’re on the military’s dime.
Traveling the globe with my military wife is so breathtaking,” he shared. “Sure, outside of military orders, we could have saved a bazillion dollars (or won the lottery) and been able to spend two years in Germany, seeing all these incredible history-seeped castles and monuments. But, the military sent her here, and we got to tag along. I’ll never get another deal as sweet as this.”
TIP: CREATE A BUCKET LIST OF ALL OF THE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO WHILE YOU ARE AT THIS DUTY STATION. AND LET THE KIDS HAVE A SAY.
Step-up: Try a class on base
Military installations offer so many things to do, but the programs are often underutilized. By checking out the base offerings, you are automatically guaranteed to get connected with someone who has a shared experience — another military spouse. Maybe you won’t like the first or second class you try, but your next best friend — or hobby — may be inside that fitness center or classroom.
Navy wife Elishaba George was disappointed when she learned her family would be moving from Maryland to North Carolina. She forced herself to start exercising after the relocation because she was diagnosed with depression. A stranger suggested she try a Zumba class, advice she says changed her life.
“As a military spouse, adjusting to a new duty station can be very life changing. My most recent one was to Camp Lejeune. I kept thinking this is one awful old western movie. A few months passed and I was diagnosed with depression … at that moment I knew I needed something — a hobby that would just take me to where I can just leave the house and laugh — to see what Camp Lejeune has hiding up its sleeves,” George said. “I took myself to the gym to go for a run and someone said ‘oh, are you here for Zumba?’ I said, ‘I guess.’ Till this day, I don’t know who that was, but they must have been an angel that knew where to lead me.”
Sign-up: Find a MOPS club
If you are a military spouse with kids, finding other parents to connect with can help you to find out the go-to’s of the area along with the best resources for children. MOPS – Mothers of Preschoolers (but not only of preschoolers), is an international group where moms have meet-ups. And, they have a specific focus for military. A search of their site can help you to find a location near you: www.mops.org/.
Don’t have one near you? Spouses’ clubs, churches, and Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) are other great ways to get to know other parents.
Look, loving where you live has an enormous impact on how you feel about this stage of your life, and eventually has an effect on your military marriage. On the surface, maybe you don’t want to invest a piece of yourself into somewhere that seems like a temporary stop. Nevertheless, these moments — weeks, months, years — will forever be engrained in the history book that is your life, so make them something worth writing about.