Monday, May 27, 2013

When I Married into the Military (The First Year)

A series of "welcome home" signs outside of the housing area we first lived at while stationed at Camp Pendleton
When I think of Memorial Day, I think of my family and the families I've met through being a Navy brat, marrying a Marine, and being an Air Force officer.  I have had so many experiences with the military.  I have known what it's like to not have your father there for your birthday and not understand because you're three years old.  I know what it's like to miss all of the major holidays during your first year of marriage because your husband is deployed.  I also know what it's like to have to pick and choose which special occasions you attend because you have alert and the mission is more critical than flying home to see a friend's wedding.  Everyday we are given choices.  Sometimes they're made for us and sometimes we have to choose the less of two evils.  We are taught quickly to appreciate the concept of time and to not worry about what we can't change.

When I married Ryan, I had spent years away from the military.  I had just started the AFROTC program at the University of Wisconsin and apart from that, I hadn't known military life in quite some time.  My dad ended his career with the Navy when I was a little kid and we moved to Wisconsin where he hoped to find better employment.  Moving to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California was this exciting adventure to me.  I had been watching episodes of Army Wives and I'm a huge fan, if you didn't know.  I sort of expected Claudia Joy to stroll in with some military flavor pie to help relinquish any of the stress that came with being a Marine wife.  Of course Claudia Joy is an Army wife and the obvious, not real.  When we first moved to California we stayed with friends in their apartment and I could not have been more awkward.  It was weird living with people that I barely knew and I just really wanted to have a house of our own.  When we moved into a housing area of C.P. called Serra Mesa, I was ecstatic.  Of course, there were stories.  Stories that involved new Marines with very young wives who were far too loud and rambunctious for their own good.  There was even a story of of a guy who killed his wife and tried to bury her in the wall.  I hadn't been with Ryan when he chose our house, but he was given three options and he chose a house snuggled into the middle of the housing division.  It was a smart choice.  We were surrounded by older service members and their families.  They were never too loud or rowdy.  Our house had been renovated and I was convinced it was because a woman had been buried in the previous walls.  No pets were allowed, but people still snuck in dogs.  I don't blame them.  I spent a ridiculous amount of time by myself and I would have appreciated the company of a friendly puppy.  Of course, when I moved back to Wisconsin at the end of that summer, dogs were allowed in our housing division.

Military housing is set up like a duplex.  Two houses often share the same walls.  Sometimes they back into other houses as well.  That's how our first house was; we shared multiple walls.  We had very little money.  One thing you should know about military folks, especially enlisted members is that they don't get paid nearly enough for what they do.  I submitted application after application trying to find some element of work in that area.  We only had one car, which we still have today.  I have a few pictures of our house at the time, which was small but still nice.  We didn't have a lot; just livin' off of love ;)


Right when you walked into the house, you were in the living room with a staircase directly in front of you.  Past the living room was a decent sized kitchen and a half bathroom to the left.  Up the stairs was a loft style bedroom that also had a full-sized bath.  There wasn't a door upstairs, only doors on the closets and bathrooms.  We also had a very small concrete patio that was more like a storage area for military equipment.   

Most of Ryan's income went to groceries and bills, we didn't really have anything extra to spare.  We saved and some of the extra money went into an end of the summer trip to Disneyland which I had been looking forward to for that entire summer.  Our decorations were things we received from our wedding and things that were supposed to be a part of our wedding.  We received a ton of gift cards and most of those were used to buy kitchen supplies and things like hand towels.  We started off with nothing, except for a Ninja Blender, a fancy platter, and a few other things.  

Despite being newlywed-military poor, I took great pride in decorating our house.  I was so proud of the bathroom upstairs and coordinating the towels with a military theme.  Our kitchen was red & white (Badger colors) and even our pots and pans stayed with the motif.  I was thrilled to make friends and one of the first couples that I just fell in love with were our friends Jeff and Meagan.  They were dating at the time but are now happily married (they got married earlier this year).  We've been through a lot together and they're fantastic people.  The picture above is when we had them over for dinner and we went to the county fair the next day. 

Like I said, when I first got to Camp Pendleton, I thought making friends would be a breeze.  I'm a Theta and went through so many recruitment processes that I could small chat with anybody (but seriously, I loathe making small chat).  However, I was rightfully put in my place as I learned that my housing area really wasn't set up in a way to make friends.  People kept to themselves and the hospitality that my Wisconsin neighborhoods were known for, were seriously lacking on this military base.  Of course because I knew no one, the Marine Corps needed Ryan to train all of the time.  He would be gone during the week and even weekends and I was by myself.  I soon became incredibly lonely and filled my hours with cleaning our small house (well that took an hour) to working out and going to the library.  The large base gym was down a hill from where we lived so I would walk there (since we only had one car) and the library was just past it up a very large hill.  I would often go work out and then head towards the library to check out books and movies.  We also had a neighborhood pool that I would frequent to either swim or tan.  I desperately wanted to make at least one friend and so I looked to the online Facebook groups.  There are a ton of military support sites and information pages.  I joined several and learned that many of them had more drama than support and found it more discouraging than helpful.  One of the wives needed a ride to see the chaplain and I offered to give her one.  Of course she was at a friend's house on the other side of base (C.P. is huge- like the size of San Diego) and when I got there, her friend was there with a baby in tow.  Apparently all three needed a ride to the chaplain.  I was already there and didn't really know what to say so I gave them a ride.  The same woman would text me constantly asking for rides and so after that first one, I learned to ignore the number.  That being said, that's not like me.  However, I quickly learned from people that I met that not all military wives are the Claudia Joys that we'd like them to be.  One of my good friends from back home was already a military wife for several years and taught me a lot about the base and military life.  We all come from varying backgrounds and education levels.  Some of the wives were straight out of high school and had never been out of their hometowns.  Others met their spouse the day before at a club and got married (I'm not even kidding).  We're all just really different.

However it was in one of those groups that I met one of my best friends, Ashley.  She was moving into a house across the way from mine and I was so excited to meet her.  A group of wives already living in Serra Mesa were introducing her around but to be blunt, I didn't like the group.  It turns out that Ashley didn't either.  The ladies were rude, catty, and just plain mean.  Ashley and I became fast friends and I love her style and personality.  We went to base classes together, painted pottery at the Hobby Shop, and saw movies.  We even met Tom Hardy together.

Our husbands deployed around the same time, so when I went back to Wisconsin, she went back to Texas.  Of course, we met back up again at C.P. the next summer.  No longer were we living in the same housing division (which sucked) but we had girl dates all of the time.  But back then, we were in the same boat- living in Serra Mesa and no monies.  We did everything free on base and had a ton of days spent at the beach.  We even spent the 4th of July together watching the fireworks with other friends.

We had so many memories back then that I just love and cherish.  A lot of that time I spent frustrated because I spent most of that summer by myself but the thing about military spouses and significant others is that you learn to be resilient.  You have to because if you don't learn how to be independent and flexible with whatever the life throws at you, it'll swallow you up.  At the end of the summer we took a trip to Disneyland with our friends, Meagan and Jeff.

Ryan had never been to Disneyland and it was a really fun trip.  I got my Duffy the Disney Bear and in that picture you can see me wearing a name tape bracelet.  That summer I became completely military-obsessed.  I wore the shirts, got the bracelets, supported small businesses that sold military stuff, etc.  I was all about it.  Nametape bracelets are a really popular accessory and I actually made some for awhile for friends and family.

It was such a cute trip because we got to sport our "Just Married" buttons and Ryan went on all of the rides.  I went a little picture happy with him and took hundreds of photos of everything but I know that he loved it.
There are a ton of memories to be made in this crazy military life.  You meet people from all over and they contribute to your experience and those memories that you cherish.  Living in Montana now, I still keep in contact with all of our old friends and they living in California, Texas, Wisconsin, Colorado, etc.  It's a challenging life and presents many obstacles.  But when someone comes up to me and thanks me for my service, which happened three days ago, it completely takes my breath away.  I am honored and those little things mean everything to us. 

Have a great, happy, and safe Memorial Day.

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  1. I love this post! You have been through a lot but its always nice to look back at the fun times.


  2. Thank you for allowing us inside the life of military wife! Great post! And Happy Memorial Day. Yes, many thanks to you and your husband for your services.

  3. Thank you Jessica! It was a lot of fun for me to reflect on that very first summer together. So many new experiences in just a few short months :)

  4. I think these types of experiences build character and perspective. As an officer now, I understand what it was like being an enlisted wife and working with an extremely limited budget. I appreciated the free programs and base activities because it helped many of us adjust and meet other people. Thanks for commenting AJ :)

  5. I love meeting new people! It was a funky transition but because of that, I always try to make myself available to the new ladies that I meet. Thanks for leaving a comment! :)