Category: Military

Dealing with Disappointment

The Army sometimes feels like a secret society – complete with it’s own language and set of social customs. Conversations are peppered with acronyms like PCS, MOS, OER, and OPSEC.  A few times a year my husband puts on high-waisted pants and toasts the Army. Our guest room closet is filled with Kevlar and other bullet-proof gear. He likes to text me selfies from various military aircraft and he still manages to surprise me with some of his stories, despite having been together for 17 years. We spend significant time apart, we rarely live in a place longer than 2-3 years, and we’ve learned the subtle art of having important family conversations via FaceTime. But for the most part, we enjoy the adventure that my husband’s association with the Army brings to our family.

Over the years, we have encounter a handful of people who have difficulty understanding why we feel it is the in the best interest of our family for Clay to remain ‘in’. And our answer has simply been, “…because the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.” Of course the tangible benefits such as ‘free’ healthcare, a pension, and the GI Bill are considerable but for us – it’s the abstract benefits that have traditionally carried us through the not-so-fun aspects of Army life. The camaraderie, the adventures of living in places we wouldn’t necessarily choose to live ourselves, and the unique experiences that often accompany outside-of-the-box assignments. But what happens when the intangible benefits no longer overshadow the perceived drawbacks?

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Clay took a day of leave earlier this week. We had planned to do something outdoors but the weather forecast teased us with thunderstorms throughout the day – eliminating our desire to go hiking or paddle on the water. So we settled for walking around Tysons Corner after dropping the kids off at school. I wanted to try a highly-rated coffee shop – POST Coffee Bar so we pretended that we weren’t suburban parents in our mid-thirties and did our best to blend in with young professionals and those who wear knit stocking caps in 80-degree weather.

Over coffee and doughnuts we talked about the next few years. We continued the conversation as we browsed winter coats in L.L.Bean and swiped screens at Apple. For the past month, I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that my hopes of a grand overseas adventure for Clay’s next assignment will not be realized. Over the summer, he was given an offer he couldn’t refuse and because we weren’t tracking it as a possibility, it felt a bit like a curve ball. I have no doubt that my husband will knock the assignment out of the park because he is amazing but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little disappointed.

I did my best to explain to Clay that while I am thrilled for him and his professional accomplishments, I need time to grieve the loss of my proverbial carrot, so to speak. In Army folklore, his current position often accompanies a follow-on assignment of choice. So as we dealt with the not-so-fun aspects of his job that disrupted the flow of our lives, I’d been dreaming of Oktoberfest in Munich and wandering around the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. Right now, I am trying to my best to deal with the disappointment of those dreams not being realized. And for whatever reason, I am not handling it as well as I have handled Army-related disappointment in the past. At a pragmatic level, I realize that his next assignment will be an amazing opportunity. But then there is that side of me that is hardened from the experiences we’ve gone through at the hands of the Army and wants a tangible perk for sacrificing so much over the last 14+ years.

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I realize that complaining about the opportunity to stay in Washington DC is eye-roll inducing to some. We don’t consider it a bad thing because we really do love living here. But I am disappointed. And that is okay.  However, because I am such a positive person, when I do find myself in a situation where I find it difficult to view the glass as half-full, it feels that much harder to push through to the other side.  Is it because I am getting older? Or perhaps I’ve grown tired of always looking on the bright side? I understand that nothing is guaranteed in this life and the Army certainly doesn’t owe me anything. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my moments when I want to stomp my feet while shouting, “It’s not fair!” into the void. After all, it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. In the meantime, I’ll just have to settle for making my own gluhwein at home and buying bottles of Weihenstephaner at World Market.

When One Year Turns Into (Likely) Three

With anything military-related, especially anything having to do with potential assignments or relocations, I don’t publicly post anything until it’s official because about 286,305 things can change between receiving initial word and having actual paper orders in hand. And even then – things can still change. Back in April, we were made aware that we could possibly relocate this past summer. We spent the following few months in limbo but moved forward as if we were staying because life doesn’t stop even if you have no idea where you may call home at the beginning of the school year.

Seeing as we’re still here in the national capital region it’s obvious that we didn’t relocate. Our son is attending the same elementary school two years in a row for the first time and I didn’t have to memorize a new zip code in order to pump gas. Both are wins in my book. When we received orders here last summer from San Antonio, we knew it would likely be a year-long assignment. It was a short-notice move so we scrambled to find a house – eventually finding one in our desired neighborhood and elementary school zone. And for the first time every in my husband’s 14+ year career, we experienced a true door-to-door move. Our attitude was simple; we reminded each other of the following phrase whenever a situation felt difficult – we can make anything work for a year.

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But what happens when one year turns into two? And then when two years turns into three? Back in 1950 Dwight Eisenhower wrote “plans are nothing; planning is everything” in a letter to a US diplomat. He referenced the sentiment during a handful of speeches in the following years, ensuring that the quote be attributed to him in the age of internet memes. We arrived here with the plan that we would be staying for one year – possibly two. We dreamed of the exotic locations we could go next. Then a few things happened as the year progressed and it became obvious that we would stay for two years. And then a few more things happened and now it looks like that our tenure in Washington DC this time around will likely clock in at three years.

Because of this development, my attitude toward our time here has changed. I’m no longer looking at our house and thinking, “Eh – it’ll do for a year” or balking at long-term volunteer commitments because I don’t know if we’ll be around or not. Last year, I was a little tepid when introducing myself to new people because our time was so temporary. Apparently multiple year-long assignments will do that to a woman in her mid-30s looking for fellow mom friends.

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Our original plan to be here for one year now means nothing. But our years of planning – teaching ourselves to be flexible and learning from past experiences that curve balls from left field can yield opportunities we could never dream of ourselves – means everything. I am putting myself out there – immersing myself in the community more so than last year. It helps that we really do enjoy living in this area and because it is the longest we’ve ever been stationed somewhere (when counting our time here previously), it does sort of feel like home. I am more than a little bummed that we won’t have an adventurous assignment in a far off land before my husband competes for battalion command but that is the way the Army cookie crumbles sometimes.

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Besides – I’d follow this guy anywhere the Army sends him. Even if it means staying put for a couple more years.