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.”

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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