What Does It Mean to Be a Military Spouse?

Written by Valerie McCarley


We drive for almost an hour, winding our way through the base. We pass rolling hills, a neighborhood we once called home, and wildflowers blooming after an unusually wet winter.

As we round the last bend, the ocean sparkles its greeting. We pick up a few items from the commissary, carefully watching our grocery budget. We look for coupons and price compare to a national chain, making somewhat wise choices while our growling stomachs tempt us to grab even more.

We wind back down the base, to a restaurant we haven’t yet tried. A restaurant that, although new, holds so many memories. Wildfire. Evacuation. Neighbors, friends, and pets surround us, uncertain when or if we’ll ever return home.

We’ve been stationed here once before. A historic drought and overgrown vegetation caused multiple wildfires that threatened our small on-base community. With only minutes to spare, we grab our pets and neighbor’s dog, making a run for the closest meet-up spot—a diner on base. The cafe has long since closed. It’s now the new restaurant in which we sit, safe and sound.

As we drive home, we reminisce about old friends. A military wife who opened two restaurants when she found herself stationed at a remote location with few employment opportunities. A female veteran who founded a non-profit. A service member who lived with us while recovering from a difficult divorce, substance abuse, and PTSD. And so many more.

We talk about the struggles I’ve faced in my career. Lost promotions. Starting over with each relocation. Five moves and counting.

When you think of military life, you think of patriotism. Of honor and support. But it’s so much more.

It’s financial hardship and frequent transfers. It’s stress. So much stress.

It’s nights, weeks, or months alone. It’s being thousands of miles from family. It’s missing milestones, reunions, births, and deaths.

It’s the fulfillment in mentorship, the admiration of inspiring colleagues, the disappointment of toxic environments, and the sigh of relief when you find your place.

But it’s also joy. It’s learning you’re so much stronger than you thought. A resiliency that can’t be taught but must be learned.

It’s a life. It’s our lives. The lives of those who serve and those who love them. It’s all those who have come before and all those who will come after.

What does it mean to be a military spouse? After almost 20 years, I’m still learning. What I do know is that I’m thankful for this life even with its highs and lows. And although we’ll still be connected to this community in retirement, I’ll miss it.

It’s easy to see the polar opposites to this military lifestyle from the outside: devotion and loss. What’s hard to see — and what matters even more — are the small intricacies that weave together to form this experience.

May is Military Appreciation Month and May 12 is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. How can you show your support for military spouses?

  • Learn – Ask a military spouse to share his or her journey; every story deserves to be heard.  Read books, articles, and blogs on military spouse life to better understand the complexities faced each day by our military families.
  • Help – Lend a helping hand. Volunteer with organizations that support military families. Hire military spouses to help further their careers and draw on their resiliency. Find a military spouse-specific need and fill the gap.
  • Be There – Many military spouses find themselves geographically separated from family and friends. Create a circle of support to help them feel connected and cared for. Invite a military spouse out for coffee, offer to rotate after-school pick-up, or simply welcome them to their new community. The little things often mean the most.

The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) offers military spouse support programs in addition to serving the larger active-duty service community. Providing an avenue for military spouse voices through the Military Spouse Writing Program on this blog and through various outreach services, the ASYMCA ensures no military family is left behind. Visit your nearest branch or click below to learn more.


Learn More About ASYMCA

Note: If you’d like to support the business and non-profit mentioned in this blog, check out The Sassy Biscuit Co. (with locations in Billings, MT, and Dover, NH) and The Painted Buffalo Paint Can Project and MakersSpace, encouraging veteran healing through artistic expression.