I was a military spouse for more than 20 years. The love of my life served in the Army for 33 years before retiring. It’s not easy being a military spouse. You move away from loved ones and then continue to move every few years. Your partner is away often and for long periods of time. You have to make new friends every few years. You have to find new schools for kids, new hairdresser, new doctor, new dentist, new job. But we do it. And we try to do it well. We stay strong, get on with things, with the minimum of fuss.
Your partner gets deployed; some are deployed on a regular basis. Depending on what is going on in the world, if you get my drift. Brad has been deployed twice. First time was after 18 months of being married and he was away for a whole year. He was deployed to Cambodia; it was 1992 and the country had just been through 20 years of hell with the Khmer Rouge Regime, followed by Vietnamese occupation. The country was war-torn and ravaged. Brad was deployed with the UN and they were sent there to assist with the country’s first free and fair elections.
It was a tough year for both of us. We had not long been married and were living in Townsville. He came home from work one day and said that he been deployed. Where to, I asked. Cambodia, he said. How long, I asked. 12 months, he said. Then he was gone. No email or internet or mobile phones back then. Snail mail only. He was in a remote part of the country, so no phone calls either.
How was I going to get through 12 months on my own? I had no idea. It was fucking tough; I won’t sugar-coat it. But we did our best. We tried to make the most of a shitty situation.
Six weeks into the deployment and I still hadn’t heard from him. The mail was taking a while to get sorted out. One day an Army Jeep pulled up out the front of our house. Two soldiers in ceremonial uniform got out of the Jeep with a letter in their hands. I knew what it was. I’d seen the movies. He was injured or dead. I was sure of it. I had convinced myself of it and by the time they reached my front door I was a mess. I finally opened the front door and they handed me the letter. It was an invitation from the Army Padre to attend a morning tea. Are you fucking kidding me? The Padre had no idea the impact this had on us spouses. It was horrible.
The second deployment was in 1999 to East Timor. Brad wasn’t scheduled to go, but because of a last minute change of plans within the Regiment he was sent. How much notice did we have for that deployment? 2 days. And then he was gone. Thankfully this one was only 3 months, but just as stressful. He was the first Unit to arrive in Dili, and was met with a hostile reception. Enough said about that.
Being a military spouse teaches you so much about yourself. You learn to be independent and you find a strength within yourself you didn’t know existed. Your military family becomes your own family. You find support from fellow spouses and that support becomes your lifeline. You know you can pick up a phone or drop into someone’s house and pour your heart out. No one else really understands, apart from these people. Your ‘civvie’ friends certainly don’t understand. ‘I know how you feel’, they would say. Or ‘hasn’t the time gone quick’. Or ‘oh but the money’s good’. Well intentioned, but completely the wrong things to say.
So my 20 plus years of being a military spouse was hard, but I loved every minute of it. It had many ups and downs, and has made me the person I am today.