Today I went to a brief at the squadron about life in the CAF
(combat Air Force - the "real world" in the AF, not training bases, which is what we've been at previously). This is some crazy lifestyle we've gotten ourselves into, let me tell you.
The brief was given by Mark's squadron commander, Rico and his wife, Colleen, so we could hear the active duty side of things and the spouse's viewpoint. It was probably good for some of those guys to hear the wife's viewpoint. Although Mark's pretty considerate of my feelings, I'm glad he heard what Colleen had to say also.
Because it's easier for me, I'm going to type what I remember bullet-style.
- Once we get to our next base, Mark is going to be working long hours. Longer hours than he has here even. He'll have 12-14 hour days, right off the bat, and often times have to go in on the weekends also. One of the bases in Korea has a mandatory 6 day work week right now. Yay.
- They said in their first 2.5 years of marriage, Rico was gone for over a year on TDY's (temporary duty assignments) and deployments. They told a story about how they were living in Germany and he came back to the States for Red Flag (training exercise) for 6 weeks. Well that 6 weeks ended up being 6 months because he ended up deploying straight from Red Flag, which he didn't know about before hand.
- Colleen and I were talking without the guys around, and she said one of the hardest things for her about the deployments, is the lack of concern for her as a spouse. She said that yes, the guys are in a war zone and in danger, but she said they're also very well taken care of over there. They often times stay in 5 star hotels, they are fed well, etc, while you're stuck sometimes in a foreign country, by yourself (or in my case with Abbie). You're left to fend for yourself, to deal with whatever life hands at you - broken cars, house problems, bills, taxes, being a single parent, etc, and yet any time you talk to anyone, usually their first question is "How is your spouse?". She said that she just wanted someone to ask how SHE was and to send her a care package, because she was by herself and no one else was taking care of her.
- They said that more than once they had great vacations planned, only to find out a day or two before they were supposed to leave that Rico had to leave and they had to cancel the trip. They said if we're stationed overseas that I shouldn't wait for Mark to explore and go on trips because if I do, most likely it won't ever happen because he'll be so busy and his schedule will be unpredictable. They said you have to learn to become very independent very quickly, or you'll be miserable.
- Some squadrons aren't "kid friendly" at all, as in, they don't allow kids to come to any of the squadron functions. I pray to God we don't have a squadron like that, or I won't be able to be involved at all.
- Mark WILL deploy. Most likely he will kill people. Most likely he will be shot at. But that's what he's been training for for the past 2 years and that's his job as a fighter pilot. We both have to be able to come to terms with that.
- There are quite a few things about his job that Mark is not allowed to talk to me about. Sometimes when he deploys or goes TDY, he won't be able to tell me where he'll be going until after he's been there a while, if at all. They also said that if they said they're supposed to be back a certain day from deployments/TDY's, to not hold your breath, because invariably they'll get delayed and will not get home until later. I've also heard from friends to not ever tell your kids that daddy will be home a certain day in case it changes.
- Colleen talked about how difficult it is for spouse's to make friends sometimes. The guys are thrown into new squadrons and they automatically have friends and acquaintances at work. They all do the same job, they dress alike, etc, but the wives don't have that immediate support system 9/10's of the time. It takes us a lot longer to meet people in the area, or our husband's co-workers wives, and it's harder for us to find our place in new squadrons.
- They both kept stressing the importance of communication between husband and wife. I think Mark and I have a very open line of communication, so I'm not too worried about this aspect. He's great at keeping me in the loop as much as he can.
- Rico said that the military basically owns Mark. He's not going to have the opportunity to put his family before his job much of the time, and I'm not sure who that's going to be harder for - me or him. Colleen said that as a spouse it's hard to find your worth since your life revolves around your husband's job and you basically get to tag along in his wake.
They definitely laid it all out there on the line for us. I had already heard quite a bit of what they said, but it's hitting closer to home since this is going to be our life in a few short months. It's very hard for me to think that I'm going to be separated so much from my "other half", the person I love more than anything else in the world, and that most of the time he's going to be doing dangerous stuff while he's gone. I cried for WEEKS before he went to survival training, and that was only 3 weeks long! I really don't know how I'm going to deal with possibly living in a foreign country, where I don't speak the language, with a child, and have him deploy to a war zone for 4-5 months. Just thinking about it is enough to give me hives. But that's the reality of our life, and we're just going to have to take what the Air Force dishes out. We have a very solid marriage and I'm not at all worried about our relationship, but I know for a fact that parts of his time in the military are going to be tough for both of us. Hopefully the good outweighs the bad though and we can remain positive through it all.
One of my friends here has a 3 year old and a baby who's a day older than Abbie. Her husband was TDY to Italy last month, and he was having more fun traveling, than he was doing work related stuff and she was having a really hard time with it. Here she was at home, by herself, with 2 very small kids, handling all the parenting and all the household stuff on her own, while he was basically sightseeing around Europe. She was pretty resentful of the situation, and I was resentful for her. That just doesn't seem fair at all, and it's not, but it's our reality. I know that I will be in her situation and feel that resentment most likely way more than once in the years to come. Colleen said the military spouse is the most unappreciated job in the military.
I'm not sure I would have chosen this lifestyle for myself, given the chance, but you can't help who you fall in love with. Mark is 110% worth all the stress and heartache we'll go through/been through, but it seems like it would be 1000 x's easier to be married to a teacher or an accountant or anyone who's job is more predictable and less dangerous than Mark's. We're in for a wild ride and all I can do is hold on tight. To Mark.