first : Thank you so much for the encouragement and thoughts on "making a home feel like home" on my wall painting post. It was so nice that so many can relate and I was happy to hear how many military people read this blog. It's something I don't talk about a lot, but something I want to share some thoughts on today.
So to begin, I feel like a fraud writing this post. We don't really know too much about military life yet. But this is the story of our (well, mostly my) relationship with the military so far.
Paul joined the US Navy after college. He applied to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (say that 5 times fast) for medical school and got in. This program offers med school "for free" and pays you while you attend for four years. Afterwards, you do a one year internship at a military hospital and then do a two to three year General Medical Officer tour (this is what we are about to start). After that, you complete a four to five year residency program and then you owe at least four to six additional years of service as a military doctor.
Did you follow that? No? Welcome to the club!
After his commitment is over, Paul can get out of the military and become a civilian doctor. Or he can continue for about 8 more years, retire with military benefits and then be a doctor in the civilian world. We have no idea what we plan on doing. It will depend on the health care climate and how much control we feel we have over our lives.
Paul and I started dating after he had already committed to the military medical school program, but before he had left for Maryland to actually start. At the time, I had just finished up my junior year of college. I was a business major and very excited about becoming a high powered person for a major company. (Feel free to laugh out loud - though at the moment I am exceptionally high powered in my company of one.)
Even during those first couple days, both Paul and I knew we were never going to just be a fling. I remember a conversation at 11'o clock at night on the sidewalk in front of my parents house before we even started dating. I told Paul I didn't know if I could commit to a life where we were not in control of where we lived or what we did. I told him I wasn't sure I could be married to someone who didn't have weekends off or had to go to war zones for eight months every couple years.
What can I say? I was only twenty-one. I didn't know anyone who was in the military. I wanted my future job to be important too.
Paul totally understood. On the sidewalk, in the dark, he told me that he had already committed to this path. He was on it for good. He thought we could be something amazing, but if I didn't want the life he had already signed up for, that was fine. There was someone out there who would.
Obviously, I decided to roll with it.
Paul moved to Maryland that fall and I went back to USC for my senior year. My senior year was awesome social-wise, but sucked career-plan-wise. I didn't get any of the random corporate jobs I applied for. Around February, I decided to take the show to Paul and look for work in Maryland. In August, I moved in with Paul. We had been dating for a year and had never lived in the same city. Some people thought I was crazy. Fortunately, I didn't care. SIDENOTE : people sometimes ask how we dealt with the long-distance. The answer is, we didn't. We (mostly me) were not very good at maintaining a new relationship from across the country. I moved to shorten the distance and really make the relationship work.
We spent almost three years in Maryland. We were 3000 miles away from our families and best friends. We had each other, but that was it. Other than the fact that Paul wore a uniform to work and had to get permission to travel, our lives didn't feel very affected by the military. I told people Paul was in med school. I never said he was in the Navy. I certainly wasn't ashamed, that just didn't factor in when I thought about him or our lives.
We moved out to San Diego after our wedding and Paul's graduation so Paul could start his intern year at the Naval Hospital at Balboa. We were married now, so I got a military ID and health insurance that paid for doctors appointments, not just catastrophes. We started grocery shopping on the military base. That is the extent of how our military lives changed. Soon after we moved, I went to a military spouses event. I left in tears. I hated (and still hate) being lumped into a group just because my husband does something. If I made a list of things I am, military spouse would not make the top twenty. (Though wife would be up there, along with really organized.) Plus it was all so intense. Paul had never made the military a big part of our lives and so strangers trying to do it stressed me out.
So fast-forward another year to TODAY. In some ways, things are still the same. We still go on base for groceries. Paul still wears his uniform to work. But things are also totally different. At the end of June, Paul will graduate from the intern program and begin his two year stint as a General Medical Officer (GMO). He is leaving for four weeks of training in Mississippi in early July and then will deploy towards the beginning of August. We are not sure yet where he is going (though it looks like Afghanistan) and don't expect him to return until mid-February.
Nothing sounds more "military spouse" than "My husband is being deployed to Afghanistan."
Obviously, I am terrified for Paul to deploy. I have a hard time not knowing what the "mood" will be over there. My biggest fear is obvious : that he will not come back. I know that at the very least, he will come back changed in a way that I can't understand. He will have experiences I will never be able to relate to. I am frustrated that him being gone puts part of our lives here (like starting a family) on hold. It is difficult to be committed to a man that is committed to the military and all the fear for me starts and ends with deployment.
And yet :
I am so glad that because of the military, we spent three years as an island of just us. It formed our relationship uniquely and made a bond that I doubt a deployment or five can break. I am glad our kids will have the opportunity to live in different states (and hopefully countries). I moved twice during my school years because of my dad's job. It improved my social skills and made my family of four very close. We relied only on each other during those years and I am so grateful for that.
I am glad that because of the military we do not have any debt. Paul built up savings during med school and not many people can say that. I am glad Paul will always have a job, even in a changing medical world. Because of Paul's job and its stability, I am able slowly carve out a path that I love without worrying about bringing in big paychecks (...yet. I fully intend on one day bringing in the big bucks.). And mostly, I am so glad Paul enjoys his job. I find strength in the fact that he is looking forward to his first deployment.
I know we will get through those long months apart. I know we will get through all the moves we have coming. I know I am strong enough to be there for Paul. I know I am strong enough to be on my own sometimes and raise our kids solo for months at a time. And I know he is more than strong enough to be there for me and all the little ones we will have.
We're blessed. A little scared, but blessed.
(PS - Paul read this before I posted it. I don't do that a lot but it was important to me that this post had his stamp of approval and that it came from both of us, not just me.)