Being raised by hippie feminists, educated by women's colleges and women's studies classes, informed by Jezebel.com, cultured by big cities and traveling the globe creates well-rounded individuals. My fellow Army Wives, Echo and Kilo (who helped write this post) and I, are political progressives, feminists, and romantically involved with soldiers in the US Army. It's a crazy effing life. One might even say round pegs for the square hole of the US Armed Forces.
We are absolutely committed to telling it like it is as professional women with complicated sexualities, careers, aspirations, non-traditional religious affiliations, and cultural clashes with the military… as well as the love, support, and strength we draw from our significant others, ourselves, and our close and ever evolving friendships. And yeah, we had a couple o' gaps in our zeitgeist that we hope we can help you with.
In no particular order…
A is for Alpha, N is for November, P is for Papa, V is for Victor…
One needs to know the Military Alpha-Bravo, I mean, Alphabet. Why? Because no-one will be able to spell your (new) mutually-hyphenated last name in the Army without using it, and you will look like a tool if you can't do the same.
Here's a hot tip: Get on Netflix or Hulu and watch The Dollhouse. All the Dolls have call-signs in the Military Alphabet; NOVEMBER sex plots + Joss Whedon = LEARNING! Or download this Militaryspot.com article on the formula and history of the Military Alphabet to your Smart House touch-screen wall and have it follow you around reciting itself. Whichever works for you.
Consider getting married before your wedding
We did a poll, and 97% of all military couples we spoke to were legally married before they had a wedding. Now for full disclosure that's a sample size of 3 plus a >3% margin of error. So yeah, we all did it. Not a one of us planned to have two wedding dates, and while Bravo thinks of her wedding date as her anniversary, Kilo thinks of the marriage date as the anniversary. One of us is in the closet about it. Why? Because families are strange. Oh, why did we get married before we got married? Simple: Recognition, love, ability to live together, healthcare, spousal benefits, dire need, inability to finance the wedding without Basic Allowance for Housing, hospital visits, recognition, love, shared responsibility, practicality in the event something terrible happens.
Don't try to impress anyone but you… and bend, don't break
Know that life with a partner in the Military is full of surprises and be ready to roll with it. Embrace the reality of your friendships and familial relationships, and your budget, and uphold those specific parts of the experience that will make you joyful on your wedding day.
Echo had a military wedding including a Sabre Detail on a farm with all-vegetarian food and cinnamon buns for dessert. Bravo got hitched by not one but two female rabbis — first in her parent's living room and then in an IMAX theater (hey, the seats were built-in). Kilo is having her wedding at a restaurant so locavore and seasonal she doesn't even know what the menu will be at her reception in a month's time.
Keep your personal documents close
Need that Military Dependent ID? You will need your social security card, your birth certificate, your spouse, your spouse's ID, the signed marriage certificate… my Master's degree diploma might have been involved. Just make sure you know where all the things are before you get hitched. Put all the documentation together into one or more safe, fire-proof, lockable locations where you can access it when you need it. And make copies for when you misplace it all in your safe, logical location. You WILL need it.
Say “yes” when you can and say “no” when you can't
Living this army life means saying yes to new friendships where you find them. And it means drawing a hard line when things aren't for you. Try the Family Readiness Group. Try the Young Professionals group. Try Meet-up.com. Try Sunday Google-hangouts with your distant buddies. Try new Amtrak routes. Try coffee shops and hiking trails in your state. Try planning the wedding where you can have control. Try trusting your friends and family to help you plan, run reconnaissance, taste-test, negotiate, haggle, threaten, pray or pay where you can't. Trust in the adventure. This is not a boring ride.
Own a ball gown, or a professionally-appropriate outfit in which you feel comfortable being introduced to high-pay-grade people
If you own a handbook — and see, I do because when my husband proposed I thought I could use some self-help — it will use professionally negative language. Sometimes even nasty slut-shaming language. See “Top 10 Tips for Choosing a Classy and Not Trashy Ball Gown” in which you are advised not to pick a dress which requires boob tape or duct tape or tape of any kind. Wow. Not at all insulting. Check out a post I wrote on my blog about new dress codes at the Commissary, for more on the Army's attitude on how to train 18+-year-olds from poor, working class, and middle class backgrounds on how to be “professional” without using those words or implications or any sort of clear expectations. At. All. For visual confirmation watch Army Wives Season 1, Episode 1… otherwise known as the Ball Scene.
Research. Comparison Shop. Ask.
Why do Military Discounts exist? Because your spouse's pay sucks. Why do Military weddings exist? Because they allow people to take their unique circumstances and implements a full wedding program, fast and inexpensively. Why do Military couples have specific tax regulations or are exempt from registering their cars in their current state of residence? Because someone fought for making your life just a touch easier at some point in the past. Do your homework but there are vendors and venues out there who look out for Military families.
You signed no agreement and made no commitment beyond loving and honoring an individual
So you're marrying an Army member… Big Army is going to tell you that you are entering the FAMILY, mafia-style. Oh, and by this act you are also adopting all the protocol and standards of behavior that your partner is expected to adhere to, minus actually experiencing Basic Training yourself.
This. Is. Bullshit.
You signed no agreement and made no commitment beyond loving and honoring an individual. You can participate if you'd like. You can look for a Government Service (GSA) job on Post if you'd like. Think of your role as that of a Political Spouse… is it wonderful if the Senator's hubby accompanies her to a Party Fundraiser or comes to watch her vote on the Floor? Yes! But really, he's got his own thing most of the time and her job isn't his job. Be you. Act like you. Speak like you. Try not to deliberately insult or embarrass your partner. Be aware that some people in the Military still believe boys and girls can't be just platonic friends. Beyond that, love and honor and keep it real.
Learn how to fight fair
Love is something you will always feel for your partner, but sometimes when you live with someone who shaves/irons/gets up at zero-dark-thirty every day, and speaks in ACRONYMS, and is gone for long periods of time… Yes, Virginia, love and severe annoyance are flip sides to one coin. So what should you do?
The best advice is this: LEARN HOW TO FIGHT FAIR. Followed closed by: FIGHT FAIR, JUST DO IT. Some things can't be un-said once spoken. Winning some battles means losing the war — or trust — the real heart of your relationship. Breathe deeply. [Editor's note: Read this post from Offbeat Home & Life.] Think before you speak/act/throw things. And always remember: no hitting.
Future and current Military spouses: What are your ABCs (Alpha, Bravo, Charlies) of marrying into the Armed Forces?