I recently read a story which painted a rather dismal picture of what it is like to be a military spouse. The author is a young woman, married to a man in the United States Air Force, who details her experience thus far. She married her husband at a very young age and the two of them went on to overcome various problems, such as money management and differing dreams – much like many other young married couples. However, the one obstacle that this young bride seems unable to surmount is how to maintain an identity of her own after marrying.
What struck me most was her implied inability to attend college as a military spouse and what that means for her future. Although she ended on a positive note, saying “As many low points as I’ve gone through, I don’t regret getting married. Marriage has tested my relationship in ways I didn’t expect, but it has also taught me what it means to love,” her story was a far cry from a fairytale.
I should clarify; my issue is not with the validity of her struggles. I have no doubt that these newlyweds went through a difficult time, or that she had to adjust to her new role. Marriage isn’t easy. It forces people to be flexible and learn to compromise. Where we butt heads is in the way that her personal story is presented. I worry that readers will judge her experience and her perceived limitations as representative of military spouses as a whole, when the truth is quite the opposite.
One aspect of my own identity is that I am a military spouse. I got married, at the same young age as the author, to a wonderful man in the same branch of service. Her story and mine started out much the same, but the similarities ended at “I do.”
Since marrying my husband, I have graduated with honors from an elite public college and am currently pursuing a Master’s Degree from another prestigious university. I have had internships, paid and otherwise. Along with a new last name, I now have a full time job and a set of skills that I did not possess prior to getting married.
It was my education that paved my way into the professional world. My undergraduate degree was partially paid for by an organization which funds military spouses in the acquisition of Associate’s and professional degrees, as well as scholarships that came from military sources. I was able to receive in-state tuition at my college, despite my short residency, due to my husband’s active duty status, thus making the degree even more affordable. My graduate degree is being paid for by my husband’s G.I. Bill, yet another benefit of his time in service.
My school was conveniently located a short drive from his station at Langley Air Force Base. Although it is true that many military bases are not located in the vicinity of universities, many partner with reputable schools of higher learning to offer college classes on base, such as the University of Maryland University College and Oklahoma State University. If the schools present at your location do not offer a program that you are interested in, many universities offer degrees entirely online and may even offer reduced price tuition for military affiliated students, like Liberty University.
Quite a few of my friends also happen to be military wives. One of these friends graduated at the top of her class from the University of Hawaii while her Marine husband was stationed on Oahu. Since graduation, she has gone on to become both mother and bread-winner of her family.
Another of these friends took the hardship of her husband leaving for a two-year unaccompanied tour and turned it into an opportunity to buckle down and finish her second degree and is now planning to begin a third.
The final of my spouse friends worth mentioning is a business co-owner, running Legacy Sports, a school of martial arts in Germany, located a few miles from her husband’s base. These women are inspirations to me.
You may be thinking that they are exceptions to the rule, but that simply is not the case. The military makes an effort to guide spouses to success. I have recently taken over the editing and distribution of our squadron’s spouses’ newsletter. One benefit of this job is that I am in constant contact with the accomplishments of these spouses. Aside from sharing information, this publication is a forum to celebrate one another, for which there is always cause. I read and write about men and women who live full and meaningful lives that are enhanced, but not defined, by their marriages.
There is a myriad of organizations that offer funding for spouses’ higher education, such as MyCAA, one of the programs that helped me secure my first two years of college without paying for a single credit hour. We get preferential treatment when applying for government jobs, many of which offer excellent opportunities for career advancement. The experience of this young lady is, frankly, of her own making. Scholarships, training, and opportunities abound for those willing to look for them.
What bothered me most about this article is that it runs the risk of limiting the scope of other women reading it. How would this essay impact its readership? Perhaps a young lady is married to someone in the service and comes to see her options as limited after reading about Maegan. Or perhaps she is considering marrying the man of their dreams, but he is in the military and now she fears that to do so would set her back personally and professionally. I could not sit idly by and let that happen. For although I am a military spouse, I am so much more. We all are.