5 Things I Didn’t Know Before Becoming a Surface Navy Spouse
There’s an old saying in the Navy that goes, “If the Navy wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one.” Luckily, I’ve found this isn’t completely true. Today, Navy life is much more family-friendly and even has its perks. (Tax-free Clinique makeup at the NEX? Yes, please!) Hundreds of books have been written to help new spouses. But there’s no one definitive guide on how to handle every situation the Navy throws your way. A lot of lessons you learn on your own. Here are a few of mine:
1. It’s more than just deployments. When my husband announced he was “going SWO,” I had an idea in my head of what that meant: He’d work somewhat normal hours, except during deployments, when he’d be gone six months. On my second day in San Diego, I learned this was wrong. He told me his new ship was going underway and that he’d be gone for two days. Five months later, two days apart is like nothing to me. But to a newly married girl living in a hotel room who’d never seen a five-lane freeway before, two days felt like forever. I now know that ships can go underway for a day, a week or even more than a month. Sailors also stand duty, meaning they spend a night or two each week on the ship. As for deployments, they’re sometimes longer than six months and can be extended. (When was somebody going to tell me that?)
2. You’ll have embarrassing moments. And if you’re me, you’ll have lots of them. Most of them will be minor, like wearing the wrong shoes when you visit your spouse’s ship for the first time. (Just wear sneakers. They have ladders.) Others will make you smack yourself on the forehead. Just last week, I dropped my husband off at school and headed for the commissary. (Newbie tip: Go when it first opens to avoid the crowds.) As I went to claim my front-row parking spot, two people in a government vehicle gestured at me to stop. Other cars around me had stopped, too. Is there a crisis at the commissary? Is it under lockdown?! I rolled down my window to ask. That’s when I glanced at my clock: 8:00. Colors. I looked back at the people in the government van, shaking their heads in judgment. Of course I didn’t mean to disrespect a Navy tradition; I’m just never on base at this time and plum forgot. (And you can’t hear the music at the commissary! But I digress.) The ability to laugh at yourself is key to surviving this life.
3. They’ve got it at Fleet and Family Support Centers. (For free!) At first, I never paid any attention to those buildings on the hill next to the commissary. But after taking the COMPASS class, I learned just how many programs and services Fleet and Family offers…everything from clinical counseling to how to plan a vacation with Space A. Here’s the cool part: Anything they offer in a workshop can be turned into a one-on-one. I recently took my resume to Career Services for a critique. The career counselor worked with me for an hour and a half, combing through every word on my resume. She gave me tips on how to decode a job posting and even volunteered to look at my resume again after I made changes.
4. You have a built-in support system. Plain and simple, Navy life gets lonely. (See Number 1.) But luckily, you have a support system in place as soon as you arrive at your duty station. I used to think my husband would be my only source of information about his ship. Thankfully, that’s not true. The ombudsman is a volunteer who acts as a link between the chain of command and the families. He or she may run a Facebook page, write newsletters or plan events. I’ve found our ombudsman to be a wealth of information, and she’s sure to be a lifeline during deployment. (Don’t know who your ombudsman is? Click here.) Spouse clubs are also great ways to socialize, and it’s easy to get involved: Just do a Google search to find the next meeting. Personally, I’ve found my closest friends through “unofficial” groups. I used to worry about making friends with other spouses, but in reality, I bond with them more quickly because of our shared experience. These are the people who invite you for Thanksgiving when you can’t travel home and keep you company on duty nights.
5. You learn to appreciate. Let’s be honest: My husband and I have never been sentimental. We never have grand plans for our anniversary, and I’ve never received a present without first sending him a link of exactly what I want. But being a surface spouse has taught me to appreciate the little things. Take Valentine’s Day. As my husband cut into our burnt, heart-shaped delivery pizza, I couldn’t help but feel happy. We’re about to go through our first deployment, which means he’ll miss most holidays this year. Having him here every day now feels special. Plus, being a Navy spouse gives you an insider’s look at what sailors do to fight for our freedom. It makes you proud (and makes this crazy life worth it.)
Christina London is a recent Midwesterner-turned-California girl. Before moving to the West Coast, she worked in TV news. She’s now a self-employed freelance writer. Her husband Solomon serves aboard USS Benfold. Contact Christina at firstname.lastname@example.org.