i've mentioned before that me being a military wife was far from am obvious conclusion. i'm scared of guns, loud noises, and men in uniform. i had all the respect in the world for the men & women who were brave enough to put on the uniform and serve their country and was incredibly proud of my grandfather who served in the navy in WWII, but it was not a part of my daily life. then, i meet this amazing guy who decided at 17 he wanted to serve his country, endured four years at the naval academy (no walk in the park), two years of rigorous flight training, and now has an eight year commitment to the navy. i couldn't imagine my life without him, and that meant i couldn't imagine my life without the navy.
i wish i had a neat and tidy lesson from this year of being a navy wife and my path here, but instead, all i have are stories:
when ryan & i started dating, he was in his last year at the naval academy. i will never forget my first time there and walking around thinking "i didn't even know this world existed!!" i was struck a hundred times by how different his college experience was from mine (he was behind a gate all week, every week; had to run 10 miles in the dead of winter with a 40 pound pack on his back ... need i keep going?) i would sometimes drive out to the academy in the middle of week from d.c. to bring him pizza or pumpkin bread and beyond falling in love with him, i was just so grateful he would go through all this to keep us safe.
then, ryan went to pensacola to start flight school and i learned a million new things. to propose and marry me, he had to request leave (i.e. vacation). i actually have his leave chit that says, "i respectfully request permission to get married." the navy granted him one day of leave for our wedding. when he was coming to d.c. to propose he had the same amount of time. my favorite part of that story is he was getting bumped from his flight to d.c. after a series of weather related delays. he literally went to the ticket counter, put his ring and military id on the counter and said, "i HAVE to get to d.c." (isn't that the most romantic thing you've ever heard?!)
i remember right after we got engaged his friends all said two things to me -- the usual "congratulations!!" or "i'm so happy for you guys!!" and then this incredibly heartfelt "welcome to the navy." it was as if i was joining this giant family -- our first year of marriage has proven that true in so many ways.
our wedding day was absolutely amazing and i felt emotional the whole day-- that said, there was only one moment when i got choked up. we had literally just gotten married and walked to the back of the church. we let all our guests get outside and then we were going to do the traditional sword arch that welcomes me to the navy. the coordinator from the church came to tell us they were ready. as i peaked around the corner i saw our good friend, mack, call our five other friends who were in their dress whites to attention to begin the sword arch. i don't know why every time i had imagined that moment, i assumed they would just go stand outside in two lines -- of course they would march out there. watching them march out brought me to tears. mack, who was now leading the sword arch, had also driven with ryan twenty-two hours round trip to indiana (in one weekend!) to keep ryan company as he asked for my hand in marriage. these guys were at one of their best friend's weddings, but they were in uniform, and rightfully took it very seriously. i felt so unbelievably honored to be in their company.
ryan and I shared a car the first four weeks of marriage, which meant almost every day I drove him up to base and dropped him off for a test, or simulator flight, a cross country, or an out and in flight… and then I’d pick him up. on weekdays and weekends, I’d begin and end my day by picking up and dropping off my husband on a navy base -- this alone was sort of unbelievable (still scared of guns, I sort of jump every time I drive up to the gate). one crisp Sunday night close to midnight, I pulled in the parking lot and could see the planes taxiing on the run ways. i could see aviators walking across the tarmac, intently listening to their instructors. i could see inside the squadron building and there were young guys standing earnestly waiting to brief, or to hear their scores, or waiting to go fly. i was overwhelmed with pride and gratitude. grateful for these young pilots who so wholly commit themselves to serving their country. grateful for the chance to get a window into this world through my husband. overwhelmed by the sense that “only in America” was this possible. overwhelmed by seeing my husband leave and come home every day, not in a suit and tie, but in a flight suit and dog tags.
and then there have been a hundred small moments in the last year -- the woman we met on a flight back to indiana who i was chatting with about all sorts of things and it came up that ryan was in the military. she all of the sudden stopped, reached for ryan's hand, and said "thank you for your service, young man." i've listened to lots of people say that to him, and it touches me each time, but that time, it made me cry. i think about when ryan brought home the form for us to write down our wishes if something were to happen to him. it was this surreal moment of going "can i even imagine this?" and realizing this is one of those "only in the military" moments -- you don't join a law firm and fill out a piece of paper like this.
and then there have been a lot of moments of me feeling totally inadequate. military wives are incredibly strong women. i am literally bowled over by the brave, independent, unwavering spirit i've seen in them (many of you reading right now). they literally feel like personal super heroes to me. (remember this one?!) i sort of sit back and go, can i do that? can i one day explain to my five year old why his dad has to leave again for eight months? can i make sure that child doesn't worry too much? can i pack our things again? make all new friends again? not know when or for how long my husband is leaving? there's comfort that literally hundreds of thousands of families have gone before us and that i have a husband who is so unbelievably patient, supportive and understanding. he bends over backward every day to make this work for us.
i also had one wife explain to me the tension that exists so well in "understanding" all of this. she said, "when he deployed, i stayed near the base. the best thing about that was everyone understood what i was going through. if i broke down crying in the grocery store or ran out of work because he finally called from iraq, i never needed to explain myself. at the same time, the worst thing about it was that everyone thought they understood what i was going through. people would offer "helpful" advice, but all it felt like was they were minimizing my emotions -- the military is a different experience for every single family." that advice was so helpful to me. i've been grateful for the opportunity to learn from other wives, listen to those who've gone before us, and i've sought out that advice. but at the end of the day, i've also kept in mind that ONLY ryan & i can know what this looks like for us and our family.
two quick asides: one, i'm positive i will look back in a few years and laugh at what i've written here (& some of you more experienced military wives may already be laughing) -- there is such a steep learning curve with being a military wife -- but i also know this is where i am right now, and maybe some of you are here too. second, these are my experiences -- i recognize it is different for every single military family and only mean to tell my story. the navy is a blessing in our lives and i'm so proud of my husband and his service.