Wednesday, April 10, 2013

q&a about joining and getting out of the military

One of the most common emails I get from readers is about military life. Particularly about a husband either joining the military or getting out of the military. Both are huge decisions. Both require huge transition. And seeing that we've done both, not once, but twice, I suppose I should have the answers, or at least some advice.

First, a little background on our life in the military: Ben and I met only a couple of months before he went to boot camp. Once he graduated, he was transferred to the east coast, while I was still in high school in Las Vegas. We dated long distance for about 2 years and then decided to make it official. Soon after our engagement, Ben was sent to Iraq for 4 months. As soon as he returned home, we got married and just 2 weeks later, he left for his second deployment. When he got home, his contract on the east coast was up and we moved to San Diego, where he was stationed at Camp Pendleton. After a short year and half there, which included yet another deployment, his 4 year contract was finished and we left the Marine Corps and headed back "home" to Las Vegas. We spent a miserable year there, Ben moving from job to job while I worked almost full time and went to school full time. We were desperate to find what God wanted us to do, but had become absolutely certain, it was not in Las Vegas. In March of 2006, Ben signed his second contract with the Marine Corps. And we returned to lovely San Diego. He got extremely lucky and we were able to spend his entire contract at Camp Pendleton. No moving, but 2 more deployments. (If you're counting, that's a total of 5 deployments in 8 years). After a lot, a lot of prayer and discussion, we felt that the Lord was calling us back out of the military. It was hard for me to believe. But we followed His call and for the second time, we made the transition into the civilian world.

You can read our entire story in more detail in this series.

Questions about joining the military.
Let me first say, if you or your spouse is joining the military, I want to emphasize what an honorable decision that is!

Is it as lonely as everyone says?
Military life can be difficult and lonely. You'll notice right away that civilians don't quite understand your lifestyle but that military wives are pretty clique-y. So, in the beginning you're left trying to find where you fit in (sounds like high school, right?). But, it doesn't have to be lonely and it doesn't have to be hard! It really is all about your perspective. Be willing to step out and make new friends. Connect through a church military ministry. Go to events on base like LINKS and battalion events organized by your FRO. Volunteer for a ministry that means alot to you and get to know the people you work with there. Make friends at work. Join a small group at church (this one is essential!).

If you make the most of your situation and make friends, then when your husband deploys, it isn't as lonely as you might expect. Of course, there are nights when you are lonely because you miss your husband. But if you surround yourself with good friends, both civilians and military wives, the time will pass quickly and you'll have plenty of support while your husband is away. My simple advice: get plugged in and develop deep, meaningful, supportive friendships.

Is it hard on your marriage?
As with the previous question: it can be but it doesn't have to be. Again, it is all about your perspective! There are situations that cannot be avoided: long training cycles, intensive overnight schools, long seemingly never-ending deployments. But they don't have to be bad for your marriage. I am a strong believer in "absence makes the heart grow fonder." I also found that a balance of time really helps: when he's home, spend time together, enjoy one another, make amazing memories. When he's away, take that time for yourself, get things done around the house, set goals for yourself and get them done! Make the most of your alone time.

How did God sustain you when your hubby was away?
I probably need about 934 blog posts to answer this question in its entirety. God is so so faithful to those who desperately reach out to Him and lean on Him. I can honestly say that the times that I've grown the most in my "walk" with the Lord have been while my husband was deployed. I had a lot more time to myself and so I spent a lot more time in the word, a lot more time in fellowship with other believers, a lot more time ministering to others and a lot more time in prayer. And whoa did I see results.

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Questions about separating from the military.
It's been 2 years since Ben got out of the Marines and we are still in this process.

Is there's any advice you could give me on making our transition out a little easier on us?
Separating is hard. I don't know else how to put it. But, if you plan ahead of time, it can be done. Just be ready for a challenge. My first piece of advice in this area would be to make sure your husband and/or you (depending on what your plan is) has a job lined up. And go where the job is. Especially in an economy like this one. You don't have to move "back home" like most people do unless, of course, you already have something lined up there.
My second piece of advice is to be flexible and patient. Transition takes time; often times more than a year. We are nearing 2 years back in the civilian world and we're still working day in and day out to make it work. We have a long term plan and we are working toward it. But it takes time. And patience is not one of my favorite things to learn. My husband on the other hand, is incredibly patient. And I thank the Lord often that He placed us together for that reason.

Not only does it take time, but plans can potentially change, often. Job changes might have to happen. And just because one of both of you has found a job, that may not be your career. So keep looking! But go where the work is. Move your family if you have to because in times like these, you can't afford to be picky. That's where flexibility comes in.

Third, have a back-up plan in case things don't work out. The first time my husband separated, we didn't have a plan A, let alone a plan B. When things didn't work how we had imagined, the only option we had was to re-enlist. And there is nothing wrong with that. I actually think that's a great plan B, if you have nothing else to fall back on. As I've said before, my husband's second re-enlistment ended up being the best decision we ever made. And it was a spur of the moment, dive into it, all or nothing, decision. What you want to avoid is making a spur of the moment, stuck in the corner, crunch-time type of decision. Know your options from the beginning.

Consider having multiple job opportunities lined up (if at all possible). Your husband may consider using the GI Bill to go to school and receive BAH. Maybe you will have to work a new job, a different job or more hours. Start a side business. All I can say is brainstorm, make a list, talk it over and pray, pray, pray!

And that's my last piece of advice: pray, pray, pray and pray some more. Ask for confirmation from the Lord about your decision to get out of the military and if possible, have scripture. Pray for guidance and His provision. He is faithful. He will provide for you so long as you are seeking Him and His plan for you and your family. And with any major decision, seek wise counsel from others who have already made the transition.

Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
Yes! The first time Ben got out, he hadn't done any job research beforehand. I don't even think he had a professional resume. He struggled to find work for the first 3 months we were back in civilian life. Luckily, I was able to transfer from my job in Oceanside to Las Vegas. But I was going to school full time and was only working part time, so we didn't have the income we needed to pay rent. We moved in with family, initially with the intention of moving as soon as we could. 3 months turned into 1 year and it was hard.

If we could do it all over again (the first time he got out), Ben would have separated from the Marines with a job lined up and others on the back burner. He would have had a clean, professional resume and it would have been nice to also have a government resume put together as well. When he separated the second time, things looked a little more like that (although not exactly). He was offered a position in Texas, a place neither of us had ever lived. But he took it and was able to attend school there too. Things have changed again since then. We're now in Vegas and long story short, we've had to be quite flexible.

What advice do you have? 
Other than what I've just shared, my only other piece of advice (and perhaps the most crucial piece of advice) would be to follow the Lord's leading on your hearts. In order to do this, you'll need to follow your husband's lead. You need to be plugged into His word. You should be in prayer often. You should be plugged into His church and community so that you have support and a place to turn for wisdom. And in the midst of all that, He will guide you and your family. He'll show you what to do if you ask Him and you listen. He had to change my heart in a big way after Ben shared with me he was feeling called out of the Marines.

Oh, and one last thing: Don't expect everything to happen overnight. It will take time for things to be normal again and for life to settle down. Like I said, we're still in that process and I don't have any idea when it will be over. But then again, isn't that just life?

1 comment:

  1. Love your wisdom, friend. Even though I'm not in this position, it's so good to read your perspective. Helps me to appreciate what you and other amazing families have been through. Thank you!

    Loving your new blog design :)

    Love ya!