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.

 

 

Travel/PCSing

Dodged a Bullet

His melancholiac eyes stared at me as I sat on his bed on base. It was as if a darkened cloud loomed over him.  The first thing C did when he got off work was take off his uniform, yet his boots were still laced on his feet.

“Aubree, I need you to stop what you’re doing. I need to talk to you.” I kept frantically typing, attempting to finish my thesis edits. “I’m serious, you fneed to stop what you’re doing. I need to tell you something.”

I looked back up at him. A packet of papers were in his hands. “I got orders,” he said. Orders? Deployment? Where? What? When? Why? “I’m PCSing to the Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey for two years.”

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My heart sank.

“And you cannot follow. Not even if we were to elope. Spouses had to evacuate this base back in March,” he stated. “But after two years, we can move wherever we want. I get base preference.”

I sobbed. Tears and snot drenched my face.

C held me in his arms for hours as my body shook like an earthquake just turned my world upside down.

This can’t be happening. Not now. Not when we were just apartment hunting, I was graduating, job hunting, buying a car, working three part-time jobs and interning. We were just beginning our lives together.

Every word felt surreal. I denied it. “No…No…No…Don’t go, please don’t go. Don’t leave me. Please,” I kept repeating over and over and over again. “I’m sorry,” was all he could say.

I knew he was military. I knew the uniform was not that of a toy soldier. I knew he would go to war multiple times in our lifetime–his blue beret signifying a combative career. I knew he would receive orders…eventually. But not now.

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We had lived the past year and a half like a civilian couple with work schedule quirks. However, we were not a civilian couple. I was marrying military, and he was moving to Turkey for two years.  I needed to relearn to live without him after I spent the last year and a half learning to depend on him. But I did not want to waste the time we had left together.

 

We moved into our new apartment–our first apartment owned together. This space used to symbolize our future together, and now it was an empty shell filled with tears, heartbreak, stress, anxiety, and attempts at positivity.

We will appreciate the time we have together more. We could potentially live overseas together after the two years. I did have two jobs that kept me busy while he was away. The deployment tempo might slow down for him. It is not dangerous, yet. He will be safe. We do have technology and can Skype or email each other frequently.

I decided to create an Air Force wife journal with a career section and a travel section. In the PCS section, I recorded every base possibility in the United States, and every art museum in the area that had potential career opportunities for me. In the travel section, I recorded every international Air Force base and began a bucket list for each country.

After we shipped half our apartment across the world to Turkey and spent two months not knowing when or if he was actually PCSing, C’s orders were cancelled. We dodged a bullet, literally. Shortly afterwards, news broke of the coup and increased dangers of being near Syria, the country that was a 100-miles from the Incirlik base in Turkey. I was relieved. But now I knew what it meant to be a military wife.

This PCS section of the blog will include personal experiences and highlight each Air Force base and the art museums in the surrounding areas of each base. It is difficult finding a job in the arts, but it is even more challenging when your husband is Air Force. Both demand you move to location, but we all know the Air Force takes priority. Rather than giving up dreams, it is best to know all options. Hopefully, this section will inspire other military wives who pursue a career in the arts.