Art Career

A Civil War: A War Between My Jobs and Education

The hiatus from posting has stemmed from a series of life happenings. Recently, I lost my one day off from work because I am transitioning into full-time work beginning in July while training my replacements at my now second part-time job. Furthermore, my second masters program began, and I decided to start in summer, which condenses the graduate course into 5 weeks instead of 15. C has also decided to switch careers and transition in AF Reserve and try to retrain. As a result, my brain feels like melted butter. 

A common misconception with marrying military is that the airmen can provide for you so you can depend on them for financial support as well as support from just being in a relationship. However, lower ranked enlisted do not make enough money to support a family without there being tension and financial stress. C finally told me how his paychecks work from how he receives his BH check to how the GI is pulled from his salary. My jaw dropped. All I saw each month for the purpose of our household budgets was $1500 every two weeks go into his bank account. I didn’t take into account the additional BH was included in this salary check nor did I think money would be removed from the sum that I thought he was receiving each month. I was baffled at our lack of communication, but I also knew how much my paycheck mattered to our lifestyle. Even though his paycheck can provide basic needs, it does not provide anything extra like nights out or travel money. 

I never was raised to be dependent-I hate that term being associated with me, which is why I found two part-time jobs to pay for my share of the bills. It has been overwhelming though waking up each morning, working 7-9 hours a day, coming home, taking care of household chores then studying for 5 hours before going to bed and beginning again. But that’s the nature of working part-time jobs: low pay and no pay for days taken off. It can be intimidating and seem worthless to other dependents who have one source of income and benefits from their airmen, but working at least one part-time job will help relieve the financial stress or even the stress that comes with being cooped up in the house all day. 

My decision to go back to graduate school was partially inspired by C being military. A career in the arts is not always available if we were to PCS, but a job involving Library and Information Sciences would be a more likely an option. In an ideal world, I would find full-time work in an art museum’s collections management. It is an online program so my program could travel with me. I love school, but losing my one day off from work then coming home and needing to critically think is difficult. I understand why dependents choose to not go to school afterall. However, my advice for other dependents who use these reasonings as a way to avoid getting their education is this: online programs are available so take advantage of an education that can PCS with you, coming home from part-time jobs is exhausting but after you earn the degree full-time vocational work will be available, and your spouse may not tell you he needs help, but he needs the financial help. 

C is also potentially switching to Reserves, which threw a wrench in the plan. I just earned full-time work at an art museum working with living artist, and now there is the potential that we will have to move in the Fall. At first I was angry and rejected the idea of moving. After getting my education, working part-time 55-60 hours a week for over a year and finally catching a break, he now decides to throw my hard work away by PCSing and retraining in Reserves. But then I thought about and thought about and thought about. A new city is a new fresh start with new opportunities. Just because my opportunity here in Tucson may end short from my expectation does not mean that I will not find work that is equally as satisfying or better. My game plan is to apply to art museums in the area of the Reserve base options and hope to transition into full-time work in my field. If not, I will find work in my new area of study. Or just create new opportunities. I learned to not be afraid of the unknown. Life is too short to avoid moving in fear of what I do not know. As dependents we should know the value of life more than others, especially after deployment orders. 


Marrying military can be overwhelming. It can be easy to lose your identity and camouflage with your significant other whose career is demanding and just as unstable as it is stable. The important thing to remember is to never give up on yourself, your aspiration, or on the military. Always think of the positives and find or create solutions to resolve the negatives. It requires extra mental effort and extra hard work to accomplish both careers, but it is well worth the effort.  What I won’t do is give up on my education, on my career, and on C. 

Never give-up. 

Air Force · Travel/PCSing

The “What Ifs”

I have never experienced a deployment with C. The closest I came to separation was his orders to PCS to Turkey, which were canceled a couple weeks before his departure date. However, the six-month process of preparing to say good-bye for 15 months, as he packed half our apartment in preparations to move to a war zone, triggered fear, doubt, and all the “what ifs.”

18301184_1425661970827682_8565984390128360197_nAirmen enlist. They literally sign a contract stating they want their profession to involve deployments with risk of death. Military wives sign up for the same reality in a different way. I chose to marry C and knew that deployments were part of the package deal. However, we did not discuss if he should enlist or if he should be active. We did not discuss if he should be a military cop that is combative or a safer, slower deployment tempo job. We did not discuss the pros and cons of each branch. He already had 6 years in and wanted a career in the Air Force. The choices were to accept immediately the military lifestyle or move on, and I knew C was “the one.”

Deployments are an abstract and a distance concept for dependents. If it is not experienced, the idea of deployment is what the news constructs or tv dramatizes. And even when you know it is part of the military lifestyle, there is a small part of you that still thinks oh that won’t happen to us. 14446019_1198362870224261_8038537904569355037_n.jpg

It was not until the Turkey orders that a light switch clicked. This will happen to us. Then what do I do? How do I change my routine? What if something happens to him? I’m not there to help. I just have to sit and wait and hope and pray that something doesn’t go wrong for six-months.

I was upset. Nervous. Anxious. Emotionally distraught. I never experienced a moment before when I was assisting the one I love in packing for war. It was no longer a stranger on the tv news overseas, it was not my fiancé and our life; it became personal. And that sounds unpatriotic and unsupportive, but one does not understand this moment unless they live the moment themselves.

C was frustrated with me. He kept saying, “You knew this would happen. You just need to deal with it. I am military and if you can’t handle that then we shouldn’t be getting married.” He was in a mental space that was trying to be strong for himself so his head could be overseas while trying to be strong for me. The tension leading up to  PCS or deployment is indescribably thick. You desperately want to make the most of your time with each while also learning to be independent with a new routine to make the good-bye easier. You’re both irritable, scared, nervous, and anxious for the departure.

18010829_1405652102828669_316589664589169979_n.jpgI did not want to waste any time that we had left together in case something terrible happened. Leading up to his orders being officially canceled, I felt that he was going to be taken from me at any moment. He was constantly told that he would be leaving, not leaving, leaving, not leaving, leaving, not leaving over and over again. One night he would come home and say, “I am not leaving anymore, they do not need me overseas.” Then the night after that he would state, “I am going. My orders are still processed.” It was the highest sense of relief flooded with fear over and over and over again.

After his orders were canceled, I still found myself clinging to him. My schedule revolved around his schedule rather than just doing our own separate tasks each day like before his orders. He was not PCSing or deploying yet. The light switch flickered in my head: well, now he is still on tempo for deployment. We met two years ago and the tempo is two to three years. At any moment he can get a six-month notice and be gone, again.

I am still on high alert and constantly stressed. And now I notice the news stories of soldiers dying overseas. Or the potential threat of another war. More red flags in my head, more fear of what could be. And I cannot do anything to change the situation. C always tells me, “Nothing will happen. I trust my training so don’t worry about it,” as I think everyone trusts their training, but there are still casualties in war.

Our whole life balances on the “what ifs.”

  • What if C did not reenlist? 
  • What if he went reserve?
  • What if C were to PCS?
  • What if C were to retrain?
  • What if he is sent back to Afghanistan? 
  • What if he is sent to Syria?
  • What happens if he gets injured?
  • What happens if he dies? 

12642480_10154533541739278_6588572716638728714_nThere is no simple solution that can guarantee his safety or our future plans. It is difficult to live as a normal life when you know a deployment is pending. It is difficult to prepare for the worst and even harder to stay optimistic for the best scenario.

I am still grappling with the “what ifs” and trying to communicate with other military wives who have experienced deployments. How do you cope with the six months leading up to the deployment? How do you stay strong for your love in preparation of war? What do you do to keep your mind off the news and danger overseas?

 

My military wife friends were calm about deployments since they have experienced their husbands leave multiple times. They stated, “It is easier when they are gone and a new routine is established. You just have to avoid the news, keep busy, and thank God for Skype and Facebook.”

 

 

Travel/PCSing

Home Is… Where You’re Stationed

Prior to meeting C, whenever I said “home” I was referring to northeast Wisconsin. Even though I lived in other states for undergrad and grad school, I would always go “home” on summer, winter, and spring breaks. Every holiday had annual traditions performed by the whole family, and every season included must-do activities with the same friends you knew since elementary school. It was a safe zone with generational friendships–my friend’s parents are friends with my parents, my friend’s siblings are friends with my siblings etc. Northeast Wisconsin is where I grew up, the place where my parents and extended family (98 people total) still lived, and the state that molded me.

I knew I could always move home if I did not like the west coast. In my mind, it was better to experience other parts of the country then just settle. After two years of graduate school, my intentions were to move back “home” to Wisconsin. I missed the friendliness of the Midwest, seeing family on holidays, visiting friends in nearby Great Lake states, and being close to large rivers and lakes.

I sought adventure in the wild west and ended up on an adventure that would not let me 11021060_864915566902328_7825093385006981812_nreturn home–I chose to marry military. I quickly learned that home is wherever the Air Force stations you. There is a “dream list” with base preferences, and there are luring options across the globe in Europe, Asia, and the United States. However, wherever the Air Force gives you orders is where you must go whether it was a top preference or a city you would not even want to drive through on your way home.
The Midwest was no longer an option. Tucson, a city that lacked employment opportunities for me, was now my home. At first I was resentful. This was not where I was meant to be living. I was supposed to apply nationwide to jobs, full-time career positions as a curator, but instead, I found myself living paycheck to paycheck just to stay where C was stationed. I was angry and frustrated and wanted to move immediately. C told me we could do distance if that is what I wanted in order to get hired somewhere else. And that is when it hit me. At the end of each work day, it is family waiting for you at home, and when your career ends, it is family that is with you during retirement. A career is only for 40 years, but a family is your legacy, it is forever.

The only thing left to do was make Tucson my home and accept C and the Air Force as my family.17352179_1370890026304877_3047710494179343960_n

First: decorate your apartment and live off base, if you can. Removing yourself from all the rules and regulations from base helps leave work at work. And although you will be moving frequently, unpack and decorate your place. Fill it with furniture that could be easily transported into a different house’s room. Hang pictures on the walls. Make it your space.

Second: broaden your job searches to include all talents and interests. Do not just settle for a random job that does not apply your education background. Even if it means working a couple jobs you love, it will be better than resenting your significant other for having to work one full-time job you hate just because you’re stuck in a city you hate. I began working at a tennis center (former Horizon League tennis player) and part-time at two art museums (Tucson Museum of Art and Tucson Desert Art Museum). It was a hectic schedule, but I was still resume building. I also applied and received a certificate that allows me to teach art history at Pima Community College, if I needed extra money. Although the jobs may be part-time, it is always a possibility they will become full-time if you put in the work. If there are no other options then look into going back to school. 17991219_1405651942828685_6940330078920028557_nOne of the reasons I decided to go back to school (online program so it is military friendly) is to complement my art history background while broadening employment opportunities into collections management and library positions. Every city has art museums and every city has libraries.

Third: make a bucket-list of all the activities you can only do in that location. Take leave and travel around the area that you are stationed. Visit all the tourist destinations and see what there is to see there. Appreciate what the city has to offer rather than viewing what the city is taking away from you. Tucson gives me wide horizons with gold and pink sunsets over purple mountains. I got to hike Saguaro National Park and take selfies with cacti. I got to experience a desert summer, view millions of stars on top of Mt. Lemmon, eat the most delicious Mexican food, live in a stucco structure, and see lizards running around my feet. Even broader, Tucson had an Amtrak station that let me visit a friend in Los Angeles and travel up the west coast to Seattle. I was also in driving distance of Phoenix and Flagstaff and viewed the glorious Grand Canyon with C. 12733479_10205821600211195_7763789315499590807_n.jpg

Four: plan trips to your hometown whenever you have the finances. Airplane tickets are expensive to fly from Tucson to Milwaukee; however, it is important to also visit home and family. It is a great way to refresh yourself and escape the chaos that comes with the military lifestyle.14670828_10207389666931883_8042705054549989163_n.jpg

Five: always look forward. There is a lot to look forward to being military. Just because you’re stationed in a city you dislike does not mean that will be your permanent home. Nothing in the military is permanent. Plan options for potential employment opportunities near each base. Make your own opportunities where you’re located and keep working towards your life goals from where you are stationed.

Keep making memories with your loved one rather than waiting for change. Never take the time you have together for granted. Think of it as a once in a lifetime adventure because home is wherever the Air Force stations you.

 

 

Air Force · Education

Independent-Dependent

Some days I did not see C for more than 30 minutes.

18222000_1420737927986753_2384868387020813616_nWhen I was a student, I would have my classes, work, and internships in the mornings and afternoons with weekends free. However, during those two years, C had to work nights (6pm-6am) including every other weekend. Some mornings, I would set my alarm for 6:30am just to see C for 5 minutes if he wanted to stop by on his way home from work because my apartment was near base. Otherwise, we would not see each other until the weekends he had off, and on those weekends, I would flip my sleep schedule to be nocturnal with him.

Although my professors thought this would hinder my studies, his lack of availability kept me focused on homework on the days I knew he had to work. Unintentionally, his schedule was incentive to not procrastinate so when we could see each other, I could be free of responsibilities. We could just be.

This past year after graduating with my Master’s degree, I have been working 2 to 3 part 18222592_1420737797986766_9084673677864931464_n.jpgtime jobs 6 to 7 days a week on average of 50-60 hours per week. It was just when I began working weekends that C was switched to a different flight that had every weekend off. Our roles reversed.

Some days I don’t see C for more than 15 minutes.

The complications of our work schedules can be frustrating. We are limited to running errands together on Saturdays when I get off work in the evenings. We cannot hike or do any outdoors activities together because it is dark by the time we reunite in the day. We have to be conscious of when we complete laundry so we do not wake up the other person while trying to put clothes away. And when I cook dinner, I need to plan my meals so we can both eat a hot meal despite the fact that we come home from work five hours apart from each other. It is simple and small tasks that most couples do not view as obstacles, but military couples do.

Some day I won’t see C for months.

To add further frustration, there is always the deployment tempo in the back of our minds. With a short notice, C could receive orders to deploy and then be completely gone for six months at a time in a war zone. This adds pressure to make the most of the time we have together while he is stateside and not PCSing or deploying. It becomes a temptation to simplify our life and quit my jobs to be what the military wants me to be: a dependent.

18268576_1420737694653443_2153369251584837844_nIt is at this point that a military wife finds herself at the fork in the road. One path is simple: stay at home, be a wife and mother, avoid any schedule complications by not going to college and not finding work. The second path: keep busy with work, school, and hobbies because as a military wife you do spend a lot of time apart, especially with deployments, training sessions, retraining, PCSing etc. It is with the second path that you build your own dreams, have some tasks to help pass time quicker while separated, and help relieve some financial responsibility from your significant other who is military.

It is not an easy route to follow. However, the time apart should be used as an incentive to make the most of the time you do have together and the most of the time you have apart. Be an independent-dependent.

 

 

 

Art Career

Butterflyheart Collection

Butterflies are associated with spirituality in many cultures. Often they symbolize transformation and migration since these beautiful creatures cross both liminal and literal boundaries. The fluttering of wings are also a metaphor for the internal feeling of love.

Long-distance and love were catalysts for the San Francisco native Anne Cooper to create the unique yet stunning Butterflyheart Collection jewelry series. Her husband was in the military and received orders to go overseas. In love letters they drew butterflies and hearts on the paper, which were the initial designs used in the jewelry pendants; there are 5 different designs. Each pendant is made from sterling silver. The material’s weight and texture from the designs were an intentional combination to act similarly to a worry stone. Whenever you’re nervous or anxious, rubbing the pendant produces a calming effect.

It is a unique jewelry idea with military wives in mind. When our loved ones are sent overseas, it is difficult to sort out the truth on the news and in papers. It is difficult to keep our minds off the war and the potential dangers our troops face while deployed each day. Military wives worry and rightfully so. The distance is difficult, but the Butterflyheart Collection is a positive product that developed from these moments of worry.

Here is a link to the website: Click Here

One can also purchase these necklaces in the Tucson Museum of Art Store.

 

 

Air Force

Salute to Love

“I love the Air Force. I love everything the Air Force has given me, has given us,” C stated. “The Air Force has given me you, the ability to afford this apartment, that ring on your finger…so don’t ever say I don’t care about the Air Force.”

His stern eyes looked directly into mine. I looked downwards.

“I wouldn’t be who I am today without the Air Force. I would have never met you.”

Guilt seeped into me. He was right. C enlisted while living near Los Angeles, California. Although his intentions were to see the world, directly after Tech School he received orders to station to Davis-Monthan Air Force base in Tucson, AZ, where he has been stationed for the past six years despite efforts to PCS elsewhere.

 

I met C a month after he returned to Tucson from his deployment to Afghanistan. It was my third month living in Tucson after I moved from Indiana back to Wisconsin then to Arizona to attend the University of Arizona for my Master’s in Art History. I was freshly graduated from college, a Tri Delta alumna, and a former division one tennis player. Life was easy–I studied, partied, and worked out. My voyage was a cross-country car trip with my parents–my dad’s car filled with my necessities for starting a new life in a new location alone.

When our lives collided, I knew he would be someone special, but I never knew the path I had chosen would take an expected curve.

“Mom, I should probably tell you, I am seeing someone new,” I told my mom shortly after C asked me to be his girlfriend the day before Valentine’s Day.

“What does he do?”

“He’s a military cop for the Air Force,” I replied

“WHAT? Shut up. You’re dating someone in the military?” I could hear the shock in her voice. 

“Yup, I know. I’m shocked too. But he’s different. He’s like a unicorn.”

My mom stated, “What do you mean by that?”

“He’s very liberal–not the stereotypical religious conservative that typically joins.”

 

We became the epitome of opposites attract:

  • Urban vs. Small Town
  • West Coast vs. Midwest
  • Exposed vs. Sheltered
  • Street Smart vs. Book Smart
  • Confrontational vs. Passive
  • Introvert vs. Extrovert
  • Military vs. Activist
  • Physical vs. Intellectual
  • Masculine vs. Feminine
  • Blue Beret vs. Flower Crown
  • Camo vs. Tie Dye
  • Carnivore vs. Vegetarian
  • Night vs. Day
  • Black vs. White

It was only towards graduation that the reality of the Air Force lifestyle hit me.

How can I plan a future if we don’t even know when he will receive orders to retrain, PCS, or deploy?

We aren’t even married. The Air Force does not know I exist. I cannot PCS with him or even live on base. We cannot receive any of the benefits the Air Force provides to married couples even though our lifestyle is intertwined with each other as if we were married.

What do I do for a job? Tucson doesn’t have a lot of opportunities in my field that are hiring right now. How am I going to pay bills? I just bought a car so we could stop sharing, we have an apartment together now, I have my own insurance, and what about student loans?

When he proposed on July 4th, 2016, the Air Force complicated life even further.

How do we avoid a stereotypical military wedding at the courthouse? That isn’t us. But how can I plan a huge wedding a year in advanced when I don’t even know what post he is working tomorrow?

“Can you just try to look at the positives, Aubree, and stop being so negative,” C demanded.

The anger would eat me alive. I was frustrated and stressed at attempting to live like a civilian couple when the fact of the matter was we both weren’t civilians. He may shed his uniform after coming home, but it was not just a career, it was a lifestyle. It was now my lifestyle. C was just the unanticipated curve in the road.

Likewise, our careers weren’t in competition with each other. They were in need of each other.

The Air Force gave us a stable income, a home, an opportunity to see the world and travel, meet new people, and provided a pension and an education for C when he was ready to retire. It was my art museum career that was unstable, expensive, competitive, and low paying. C always supported my career and now I needed to do the same for him.

“I wouldn’t be who I am today without the Air Force. I would have never met you,” C stated.

“And I couldn’t imagine my life without you,” I replied.

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Education

Dependent on Education

Only 21 percent of military spouses have a Bachelor’s degree.

The following are major factors as to why military wives feel intimidated and/or feel discouraged to pursue higher education:

  • Their military spouse’s career lacks concrete scheduling.
    • It is not uncommon for the work schedule of a military personnel to fluctuate from day to day. Most receive their post for the next day at the end of their shift. So, this could be the difference of getting off work at 6pm or at 11:30pm. It makes a difference in the daily lives of military wives to plan the evening accordingly.
  • The military attracts people from disadvantaged backgrounds
    • People typically enlist in the military to pay for college because they grew up poor or to have a respectable career without further education because college is not for everyone and is not always promoted in every household. Most military couples are high school sweethearts with similar backgrounds.
  • The military increases the service-member’s salary if married
    • Increasing the service-member’s pay after marriage encourages military personnel to marry young, which most do. Other perks include being able to live on base with your significant other and being able to PCS with your significant other.  The point of a degree is to increase chances at a higher paying job. If the military already financially provides for the family then there is also less survival stress for the spouse and less motivation to find a vocation, have a career, and obtain a higher education.
  • There is always a possibility of PCSing
    • Most military spouses do not want to start their education without the guarantee that they will be in one location for the four years it will take to finish with a Bachelor’s degree.

13165901_10206382560674856_2100158456922171746_nThose factors are often used as an excuse with some resentment towards the service-member as to why the spouse feels they can neither have a career nor a higher education. It is difficult balancing school with military stress, especially when scheduling trips, evenings, and the future. Marrying military was one of the reasons I did not apply for PhD programs right after graduating with my first Master’s degree. Graduate school credits do not transfer, and there are not a lot of online programs for graduate school. However, rather than letting the difficulties of location affect my career, I did intensive research to find an online graduate program for my second Master’s that could complement my career path while opening more accessible career opportunities in any state, if we were to PCS.

American Military University is a top ranked online university with undergraduate programs for veterans and spouses. However, there are also other amazing options for spouses to continue school online–>Click Here

Furthermore, the military also provides some financial aid to the spouses. Below is a list of programs established to assist dependents’ education:

  • The MyCAA (Military Spouse Career Advancement Account) provides $4,000 over two years for a military spouse to receive an Associate’s degree in a portable career. It is supported by the Department of Defense’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program.
  • After 9/11, service-member’s can transfer their unused G.I. Bill benefits to immediate family members if they have put in 6 years of service and promised 4 more years.
  • Dependents’ Education Assistance Program (DEA) offers a possibility of 45 months worth of education benefits for eligible dependents towards a degree or certificate
  • Furthermore, the Air Force offers scholarships for dependents to apply towards their college degree.

If a military spouse wants to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in a traditional college setting then it is also important to remember that undergraduate credits transfer. It is possible to start your degree in one location and graduate from a different school in a different location.

There will have to be some compromises with the military whether it be studying online, transferring credits, and/or studying part-time during deployments. However,compromising is always better than never trying.