We have a few friends who are waiting on the Centralized Selection (Command) List to be released. Those who I have spoken with have shared concerns about whether their spouse would be selected for this crazy gig and if so, where would they be stationed. It’s a very familiar and exciting feeling.
Prior to Tony taking battalion command we spent a week at Fort Leavenworth, KS at what is commonly referred to as PCC, the Pre-Command Course. We participated in joint and individual sessions designed to help prepare us for the ride on which we were about to embark. It was a good week. Exhausting, but a good week set aside to begin to formulate a plan about how we would approach Tony’s time in command as a team.
I’m glad we had the opportunity to attend PCC but here’s the deal--it’s very difficult to truly prepare for what’s headed your way. While I acknowledge the experience is unique for every family, I think those of us who have been there can all say it’s pretty darn intense. I am by no means an expert but here is what I think someone should have said to us spouses while attending PCC.
1. The unbelievable stories are the true stories. Sure there will be the run of the mill things that you expect and some of those things may happen. Then there are the “couldn’t make it up if I tried” stories and those are the ones that really happen. There will be days that are truly bizarre and you will shake your head in disbelief. Just hang tight because it will get weirder. It will all make for good laughs in a couple of years.
2. Make real friends at your duty station. I am not talking about people you chat with in passing (those are good too but stick with me here) but real friends. Real friends that you can laugh and cry with, share ideas, help each other out with kids, and just enjoy some downtime together. Most important to me were a couple of ladies within our brigade—people who knew the nuances of our larger unit and simply “got it” without a lot of back story, a group of neighbors from outside of the brigade who’s spouses were in the same type of position, a few people totally removed from command life but with an understanding of the Army, and then those tried and true friends from home who rarely, if ever, wanted to talk “Army”. You are going to need these people more than you would ever think, and they are going to need you.
3. Please don’t try to compete with the other command team spouses in your brigade or installation. There’s not too much to say about this besides that nobody likes a snake. It’s ugly and it’s wrong and people know exactly what you are up to. And while we’re at it, can we get rid of the Military Spouse of the Year/Volunteer of the Planet awards? It’s gross.
4. People are going to die. Whether your spouse’s unit experiences a deployment or not, people still die. Accidents happen. Poor decisions happen. Soldiers may die. Spouses may die. Worst of all, children may die. It is heartbreaking whether you know the Soldier/Family personally or not. Allow yourself time to grieve and know when to take a time out.
5. Try to set aside a night each week to have dinner as a Family at a normal time. It doesn’t have to be the same day each week but give it a shot. I held dinner for Tony most nights because our oldest child was just in pre-school and bedtime could be flexed, but that isn’t the case for most Families in this position. You have to make time to reconnect during the week. Plan to do a weekly calendar scrub on this evening. Calendars = life, even if they do change before the dishes are cleared from the table.
6. Don’t let bitterness take over. I admit it. There were some weeks when I was BIT-TER. Bitter about the lack of Family time. Bitter because I felt like a single parent. Bitter because it seemed that every other Family in the unit came before ours. (Let’s be real. Many times they did.) Bitter because sometimes Soldiers and Leaders make bad decisions. I hate that I felt that way and I hate that I hung on to it longer than necessary. Bitterness helps nothing.
7. Ask for help if/when you need it. I had multiple friends who used their unit’s MFLC or a professional counselor when shit got tough. Don’t be afraid to reach out. It might be once during the entire tour or it might be twice a week. Use them and encourage others to do the same. That’s what they are there for.
8. Battalion connections are priceless. If you are willing, you will find spouses and Soldiers within your unit that you absolutely adore and form a true connection with. After seeing your spouse doing what he loves, this is hands down the BEST part of command. There is the potential for these to be friendships that you will treasure for the rest of your life. Be open to them and then thank God for them. They will make the tough and ugly times worth it. There might also be a few you would like to punch in the throat. Over and over again. Don’t do it. It’s not worth scuffing your mani.
9. However you choose to embrace the role, you are still the senior spouse in the unit. Back in the day the Army used to call the person in this position the “leading lady”. It’s all kind of ridiculous and hilarious but the bottom line is there are going to be some ladies looking for guidance on how to make their way through this crazy Army life. No one expects you to have all of the answers and everyone approaches this role in their own way but make no mistake, how you treat people matters. It matters a lot. Maya Angelou said it better than I could ever dream of saying it…”I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Treat them well. Treat them all with some grace and whole lot of humility.
10. Don’t take it all so seriously. Looking back, there are many times I can think of that I wish I would have just loosened up and enjoyed the ride a little more. Often there was so much on my plate and so little time to do it. That can become a dangerous combination. Towards the end of Tony’s command time I started to ask myself, “Will it matter in a month?” If the answer was no, I relaxed a bit and enjoyed my own Family and the battalion a little more.
Our Army is a unique organization. We view our experiences over the 18 years we have shared together as some of the very best life has to offer. There have been disappointments and many difficult times but looking back, I truly could not imagine our life any other way. I wish those who are about to experience one of the most unique parts of Army life nothing but the absolute best. Your Family will make significant sacrifices for the rest of our Army and our nation. We are so incredibly grateful. It’s tough but it’s a beautiful thing.
Enjoy the ride!