The more I look around the internet, the more confused I get.
I watch people get into relationships with members of the military, then break up a few months later because they didn't realize how much "work" it would be to stay together. I've seen people move across the country to be with their military man, only to realize that the dreams they had of countless military balls and oodles of money were never grounded in reality. They quickly divorce and start slamming all army-men.
I'm here to attempt to set the record straight.
What are my qualifications, you ask? I'm a former military brat myself. My dad was an officer in the United States Army, and we moved all across the U.S., and even once to Germany. He retired right after my eighth grade year, and we moved to a permanent house where I could complete high school in one location.
I'm also in a long-distance relationship with a member of the U.S. Military. Charlie and I met in Germany (our dads were both stationed in Wiesbaden at the same time), and then lost touch in 2007 after we both moved away. In October 2010, we found each other on Facebook. In March 2011, I visited him in Kentucky for Spring Break. In March 2012, he came to my house for his Spring Break - and also as an apology for not being able to go to my prom. The night before he left, he asked me to be his girlfriend. And I accepted. In April 2012, I went to his prom, and we both graduated in May. We see each other about once every two and a half months.
Long-distance was hard enough, but now Charlie's enlisted as an E4 in the United States Army Band. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with military terms, that means Charlie's three ranks ahead of most new-enlistees, because he's in the band.) He's been wanting this for seventeen years (he's nineteen), and I knew this day was coming soon.
He ships out for Basic Training on March 25th. I'll spend that day in my dorm room, eating a pint of chocolate ice cream and binge-watching Doctor Who.
People don't seem to realize that the military is a long-term commitment. Sure, there are some who do a four-year tour of duty, then leave to go on to civilian life, but for most people it's a life-long job.
Here's what you've got to know before getting into a relationship with a member of the U.S. Military:
- His job will always come before you. It's nothing personal, I swear. It is his job to defend the United States to the best of his ability; sometimes that means he'll have to go off to places and not tell you anything about them. Sometimes he'll have to vanish for a long while. It's not your fault. He's a member of the US Army, and he has to jump when they say so.
- There will be long periods of limited interaction. This really depends on which branch (and what rank) your military-man is, but every single one of them will have to go to Basic Training. That requires them to be away from all civilization for ten straight weeks. They can write letters in their free time, but phone calls are going to be rare, used only as rewards for good behavior. Sometimes, their job requires that they have absolutely NO contact for months on end. Sometimes their job allows them to see you every day (or nearly every day). It really depends on their rank and their duty station.
- You'll constantly be playing the PCS-lottery. Every so often, his job will make him change duty stations. If you're simply a girlfriend, you'll have to stay behind as he moves even further away from you. (Occasionally, he'll move closer, but don't hold your breath.) If you're his wife, you can move with him. There are certain exceptions to even that rule, though, so before you walk down the aisle, make sure you've got your head on straight.
- There's a good chance he'll get deployed. One of my classmates, graduate of 2012 just like me, is shipping out to Afghanistan this week. (What's that, Obama?) He's a rifleman in the U.S. Marine Corps. He'll be gone for ten to sixteen months. My dad was deployed for a year. You thought Basic was bad? Wait until you see deployment.
- It will probably be one of the hardest things you'll ever go through. Military life is HARD. Depending on which branch he's in, it'll be even HARDER. So before you have those fanciful dreams of travelling the world and whatnot, get your head straight and read up on military life. (This website, the US Military website, is a good place to start, but check Google for other ideas.) Ask questions. Find out all you can about what he's going to be doing, if possible. Whatever you do, don't just jump in and think you'll slog it out. You can, but it'll come with severe consequences.
- If he's enlisted, his pay will be terrible for the first two decades. Charlie's dad was enlisted. My dad was an officer. My dad's retirement pay is more than Charlie's dad made when he was active duty. Look at this 2013 pay chart. Plan accordingly.
Now, that sounds like a lot of gloom and doom to be sure, but I'm also here to tell you the benefits of having a relationship with a military man.
- Post. Going on post is like going to a tax-free heaven. Sure, the clothes are cheap quality and the movies are four months old, but look at the prices. My parents will sometimes take a trip to our nearest military base (two and a half hours, one way) to spend three hours in the commissary (that's the grocery store) stocking up. There's no tax, and things are usually cheaper than you can find them at Wal-Mart. When we were in Germany, we'd go to movies all the time. It would cost just under $20 for four tickets (two adults, two children) and a large bag of popcorn. That's total. When I needed a computer for college, we headed down to the military base and got me a MacBook Pro for $1100. The original asking price? $1700. That's no tax, plus the military discount, plus the student discount. That's better than anything you'll see at an Apple store.
- Discounts. A lot of stores will do military discounts if you ask them. A lot of amusement parks will, too. (Seaworld? We got free tickets.) Your military ID will be just as good as a book full of coupons in some instances.
- Travelling. Believe me when I tell you that moving is terrible. (By the time I graduated high school, I was in my tenth house, and my ninth school.) However, depending on where your husband/significant other gets stationed, you'll be able to go out and see the sights. (Germany was the best place we ever went; we got to visit different countries on day trips. Is that not awesome?)
- Support groups. If you're living with your man on-base, you'll find all sorts of support groups to help you along. There's PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel), a Christian group that meets on specific mornings, for example. There are a ton of forums online as well, for both military wives and military girlfriends.
- Healthcare and Insurance. My dad has TriCare and USAA. That means we have health insurance and car insurance, and I'll inherit the USAA insurance because I'm a military kid. It'll take some time to find a doctor who will take your insurance, but it's a real benefit at some times. (You're on your own for dental insurance, though.)
- Loyalty. Most of the time, the military relationships I've seen last because the husband is absolutely loyal to his wife. He's loyal to his country, he's loyal to his family, and he'll always be there for you. Of course, I'm sure there are a few exceptions to this, but I haven't had to deal with any of that personally yet.
So, what does this all boil down to?
YOU SHOULDN'T DATE A MILITARY MAN IF:
- You can't deal with long absences.
- You don't want to come second to his job.
- You don't do well with long-distance relationships.
- You don't want him to go away from you, ever.
- You can't live on less than $23,000 - $30,00 a year.
- You are uncomfortable around weapons, especially guns.
- You don't do well with broken promises.
- You don't like to move.
Personally, I wouldn't give up my boyfriend for anything in the world. However, there are so many people who come up to me and say things like this:
- "You're a smart young girl. Why are you dating a loser like him?"
- "How are you so comfortable with murder?"
- "Hey, baby. Since your boyfriend's gone MIA, why don't you come and hang out with me? *winkwink*"
- "You do realize that this won't last, and you'd be better off finding someone closer to home right?" (Thanks, Dad.)
And many other things besides. They don't seem to understand that I love him. I will support him no matter where he goes. I know it's a hard life. I lived with the military for the first thirteen years of my life. I KNOW HOW THE MILITARY WORKS.
Of course, not everyone says things like that. There are a lot of people who smile and thank Charlie for what he's doing for his country. (Although when he goes out in his kilt, they congratulate him for being so brave to wear it in public. Then they look at me with something akin to, Poor girl. I laugh.)
Charlie and I would like to get married one day. However, there's no promise out there yet. We both know that the military will likely screw us over (it's the military; that's what it does) and there may be heartbreak in the future. For the time being, we're just living one day at a time, with a secret hope that things will work out. (That's why both of us don't make promises: we've had to deal with too many broken promises before that we realize they're absolutely useless things.)
Now, I realize that this is a very long, list-heavy rant. I felt like it was the only way to get my point across. I'm so sick of people saying that they want to date a military guy, and when I ask them why, they look at me funny and say, "Have you seen Dear John?" There's a whole lot of crap to shovel through before you get to the romantic part of the military, though (actually, if there's a romantic side to it, I have yet to see it).
Charlie and I will essentially be in a Dear John situation, though I shudder to think about it. (I've never seen the movie, and never will. I hate romance movies.) I'll be in college, he'll be in the military, and we'll be writing letters back and forth.
I apologize for this really, really long post. (It may hold the record for being the longest one yet on SparkLife, I bet.) The main reason that I began this post is because of this column. I couldn't even begin to fathom it. (Of course, I've been in a LDR for so long, I'm used to not kissing people. I've also been in a military lifestyle before, so I know about distance.)
Thank you so much for reading this. If you have ANY questions, or if you're a military girlfriend yourself, go ahead and talk to me in the comments. I'll respond to everything, I swear.
Credits: The main image is from the U.S. Military. It's made of the different seals of the five different sections of the military - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.
Bonus! Want more posts about being a military girlfriend? Check out my blog. I try to update it frequently, although there's no promises about that, of course.
EXTRA BONUS! Wanna know what your boyfriend's going to be doing while he's in Basic, or maybe what he'll be doing the entire time he's in the army? Check out THIS WEBSITE. The link I've given you goes to the Basic Training section of the site, but the rest of the site is just as good.
Originally published on February 25, 2013.