Mission: Living History Book

Being a military child overseas, you go to the local schools of your country or a DODEA (Department of Defense) school if one is available.   Saying this they kids get a lot of world or host country history and little to none of US history.

My mom for the longest time (and probably still does) thinks that these kids should be getting US History as they are Americans and they need to know about their own country.   I have tried explaining to her that at some time in their education whether it be in high school or university that they will get some type of US history and if not, it is not a big deal.   If they are interested in US History that they can do research, go online, read books and watch documentaries.   Though my mom has not brought this subject back up in a few years, I know she really wants the kids to get educated on the history of our country.

On the flip side, my kids have been to wonders of the world (Pyramids of Egypt, Taj Mahal) climbed the Leaning Tower, Eiffel Tower, Mt Ararat in Armenia, tracked the North Pole, hiked the castles of Germany & France, swam in the Congo river- seen things and experienced things most people have only read about in the history books.  They have met world leaders (the Dalai Lama in Paris to Senator Hillary Clinton in Armenia), sat at the dinner table with US Ambassadors and International Diplomats and played in the jungles of Africa.

My kids may never be US History buffs or the next US Senator, but these kids have seen the world, traveled to 66 countries, been in all types of environments and learning by travel.   This is something that history books cannot give our children.   They are living the history one step at a time.

Mission: Sisters, Sisterhood & Service

Never did I think that going to an all girls school in New Orleans would prepare me in more ways than one to becoming a US Army Officer Wife.    After Mercy Academy closed it’s doors in 1991 right after my Freshman year, I was faced with going to another high school.    At that point, I did not care where I would go as the school of my choosing had closed it’s doors forever.   My parents choose the Academy of the Scared Heart (ASH) for me to attend and finish out my high school years.   I was not happy with their choice at first.  Here, they were putting me in a school, with uptown girls who had gone there since birth.   I was from the west bank, my patents did not come from money, they both worked blue color jobs and I did not grow up in the ranks of a Scared Heart girl.    Quickly I found my place making good friends with Age Roth, Anna Sanchez, Ann Heslin, Katherine Cooper, Julie Couret & Gigi Roth.  Though I did not feel like I totally fit into this new world, they accepted me for me and we became good friends.   It was in the walls of ASH that I learned how to stand my ground, deal with rumors and high society,  know that girls started drama out of jealously and spite and where I could hold my head high while making a difference in the world.   It is also a place where the teachers (Leslie Graf, Barbara Mooney & Mrs. Kiefer) and Sisters believed in me, pushed me to my breaking point while being there to catch me and support me and giving me the spiritual and educational guidance I needed for my future.

After graduation I went to Northwestern State in Natchitoches, LA and I joined Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority.  I joined as I wanted a place that I would have a since of family and sisterhood as I was far away from my own family.   Though Tri Sigma proved differently for me, they did teach me how to cope with being stabbed in the back, talked about and rumors flying.   I learned  during that year in Tri Sigma that sister were not really sisters and they would do what is necessary for them to get a head.    You would sing, have fellowship and blow out candles together, yet outside of the sorority house, this was a totally different story.

With the experiences from ASH and Tri Sigma, they were the building blocks for Military Officer Spouses.    Since saying “I do” in 2001, I have made some really great friends who we consider each other “military sisters” and others that I wish to not be with again.   I have learned to deal with gossip and rumors, nip things in the butt, help other wives when they have been ostracized by other military spouses, socialized with high ranking officers and be the best military wife I could be.

It is not easy being a military spouse-we tend to wear our heart on our sleeve, make friends fast & try to fit into our new posts.

I want to personally thank those who I am still close friends with from my years at ASH and my military sisters.  Though you gals, I am the women I am today.  We have laughed, cried and clinked glasses together. We have been together through thick and thin and we are stronger than ever that no matter how much time has been apart, when we get together it is as we never had left.

 

Mission: Finding My Place

As a military child, it is hard for them to find their place in the world.  I think the hardest questions a military child has to answer is “Where are you from?”   For them, it is a very complicated questions that has many different answers….

Do you want to know where was I born? Where my grandparents live? Where were were stationed before? Where we are stationed now? What country are we from?

If you are a military spouse reading this, you know exactly what I am talking about.   My kids have always given the “TMI answer”.   So if you want to know where we are from and you ask my kids, you better have time to sit and listen as you are going to get the full story!

Through the years and with school projects, this question is brought up often.  Though you will still get a “more than you bargained for” answer, this has been consent-Mason says he is from California; Connor says he is American and French (as he was born in Paris and the only one with dual citizenship) and Avery claims NOLA though she has only been there a few times.    The kids have always chosen Louisiana as their “Where I am From Project” and long for the day that they can live in the US, experience US culture that they have only heard about and can proudly say where they are from while they are finally home.

We say “Home is where the Army Send You!”, but in our hearts, we know that NOLA is home!

Mission: A Breach in Security

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Like all things that can go wrong, do go wrong when the husband is out of the country.     It was in the middle of the night back in 2013, Mike was in Germany and the kids and I had gone to bed in DRC Congo.   Avery came into my room in the wee hours crying and saying that her lights were swinging from the ceiling.   I laughed this off, talked with her, turned on all the lights in the house showing her it was nothing and sent her back to her room thinking it was only a dream.   Right as I was finally getting back to sleep, I heard what sounded like someone running in my attic.  I froze!   I quietly got out of bed, grabbed the baseball bat and went room to room waking the kids up and getting them into the safe room and put on lock down.   Then I radioed in to the Marines at Post One at our US Embassy Kinshasa.   As we were friends with the marines, they started laughing when I told them what was going on.  They said they would call it in and send security out.    Three local guards checked the perimeter of the house and roof and said that they did not see anything suspicious.   The embassy’s RSO (Regional Security Officer) never did come to see if things were ok.    After the guards told me there was nothing wrong, I went back to bed, but made the kids sleep in the safe room just to be sure.  Within an hour the running above us started back up and now MY bedroom lights were swinging.

I locked my kids in the safe room and with a bat in hand I ran out of my house and to the guards.  Again, they assured me it was nothing, so I brought them in the house, turned off all of the lights and had them sit until the sounds came again.   Finally they heard it and knew that I was not crazy.  I called Mike who started laughing, but I was not play around.   The next morning I contacted the US DAT (Defense Attache) to see if he could get someone from the embassy to come and take a look.

A guy came from the embassy and got into the crawl space for the attic.  He saw animal poop, but nothing out of the ordinary, so he left.  Again that night the same thing….running, pounding and swinging lights.  The next day I had the embassy guy come back out.  He brought traps and smeared them with peanut butter and tuna however he did not set them, so whatever was in my attic was a fest that night.

I was now day #3 of no sleep waiting for whatever was in my attic to drop through our thin ceilings.   The embassy was claiming mice/rats at this point, but it would have had to been a hell of a rat to make stomping noises and make the lights swing.   Still nothing was found and Mike still was not home.

By day #4 the embassy just thought I was crazy, but I had my gardener get onto the roof and look for any signs of a breach in security.  He found that a piece of the side of the house that was next to the security wall was open…the size of a US football.  I contacted the embassy to tell them the findings and they came over and covered up the hole from the outside, not even checking if the animal was out of the attic.

That night whatever was up there started looking for food and a way out.   You can not only see the lights swinging in the hallway, but a ramming sound.   I just new something would be falling out of the ceiling.   Whatever was up there was now pissed that he was trapped.   This went on ALL night.

By night #6, there had been no sounds for 48 hours, so between the high heat and starvation I figured whatever was up there was dead.  I went to our guard and told him I would give him $20 and a flashlight if he would go up in my attic and try to get whatever is up there out…he refused!!!   So I called the DAT’s wife and she and I would take care of this.  After a few G&Ts for encouragement, we got into the attic to find a large looking dead cat.  We drug it out and we were told it was a 6kg civic cat.   The guards kept it for food and skins.  I was so in shock that I did not think taking a picture of it until it was already cut up.

Mission: In the Ranks

At some point in your spouses career you will meet someone that introduces themselves as “I am COL/GEN so-&-so’s wife”  We have all met this person at one time or another and some of us have met several of them.

The first time I met one of these, Mike and I were just married.  I knew, or so I thought, the difference between enlisted and officers.  I was not sure what to say when this spouse introduced herself as this.  So I stuck out my hand and said “My name is Jen, it’s nice to meet you.”  When I got home that evening, I told Mike of this encounter and had him run down the ranks with me.  To this day, over 15 years later, I can tell the difference between enlisted and officer, but I cannot determine the exact rank.

After years of being a military spouse and meeting these types of women at each post, this is how I look at it.   Though we are all military spouses, we all deserve respect and no one should have to bow down or curtsy just because your spouse is a high ranking officer.   We all put on pants one leg at a time and we are all supporting our husband’s mission while we are overseas and away from our families and friends.   We all are dealing with hardships, have been single parents while our husbands are TDY/deployed, dealt with kid and adult drama, had to “fix” plumbing or electrical on our own, have been a birth coach for another military spouse and a shoulder to cry on.   We ALL are military spouses and none of us hold rank.   Unless someone flat out ask, I do not say or wear my husband’s rank.

I like to joke and say that we hold the highest rank, but in fact, military spouses hold the Silent Rank-holding down the fort and backing up our spouses’ missions while we smile and ask like everything is under control.

Mission: Deployments to Destinations

In 1996, I was fresh out of high school and learning the ropes and ways of university life.   While I was sleeping in, drinking until wee hours with my sorority sisters and finding time to study, Mike was deployed to Bosnia in a peace keeping mission.   Then in 2006 Mike was deployed there again.  While I am dealing with 3 kids under 5 in the UK, dinners of cereal & mac and cheese, Mike was working during the days, eating great at nights and even going to the spa and on the coast with his boss on the weekends.  This was NOT something a military wife wanted to hear!

After 2 deployments 10 years apart, we went to Bosnia as a family in 2016.   From deployments to now a family destination we were able to see a piece of the world that was in conflict and experience to some extent a part of my husband’s military career past.

I do not know if we will ever get to experience Iraq or Afghanistan in our lifetime, but I feel that if families can visit these place where their spouses have been deployed to, it brings the family closer.   As families we do not get to experience being shot at and building being blown up, but we can see first hand where our husbands have been, see the aftermath of what they have been through and feel as we are part of their “deployment stories”.   As in the end, all we have are stories and memories.  ❤

Mission: Barefoot & Crunchie

My 2nd child was just born, we were stationed back in Monterey, CA again for Mike to attend NPS (Navel Post Graduate School) and I was excited that Mason was now old enough to attend the playgroups on the beach and at the Dennis the Menace Park.

Like many new moms, I packed up everything I thought I needed for an afternoon out (more like 3 hours, but the Army in me said “be prepared”).  Had diapers for 2 kids, bug spray, sun-cream, toys, extra clothes, barf bags (as you never know), and snacks….LOTS of SNACKS!     I being still new to the “mom world” packed goldfish, cucumbers, yogurt cups and cut apples…to any normal mom, this was a well balanced, healthy snack for my own kids and to share.

We got to the park and participated in the song and dance of the day.   After 30 minutes or so of playing, the kids came in for snacks.   I proudly pulled out my snacks from the diaper bag and started to give to Mason and to share with the others.   Mothers gasped and gave me looks of disgrace.  One mother said “how could you let your son eat that food?   That is not pure and organic!   In this group we only feed our kids organic foods that will nourish their souls!”   You would have thought that I grew a third eye right them and there or that my skin was changing colors.   The look of horror on these mothers’ faces were shocking.   California Moms-1, Me-0

That was the first and last time I went to that playgroup; but we spent many afternoons at the Dennis the Menace park eating Goldfish & sand, swinging and being fancy free.    Throughout the years Mason has eaten Goldfish and many other processed American goodness along with more than his weight in fresh fruits and veggies.  He is now 14+ years old and thriving.  He has brought home 2 gold metals from a Track & Cross Country meet in Uganda and is flourishing and striving in school.  Yes, I know that process foods are not the best or only  option, but in moderation, American kids should enjoy crap sometimes.

Mission: Baby #1 on the way

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So much for the doctors telling me I could not get pregnant….2 weeks after I threw out the birth controls, we are pregnant!!!   As soon as I peed + on the stick we were telling everyone.   Things were great and going as planned.  We still had over a year left at Ft Lewis, WA so I would have a little Yankee baby.   No a problem, we had everything planned out…or so we thought.

In May Mike received a call from Army HQ asking if he would like to take another direction in the Army.  He was very happy to hear that he would soon be a FAO (Foreign Area Officer) and we would be leaving the US and traveling the world.  This would mean that we would have to move to California for Mike to attend language school (DLI) and then we would be off to Paris, France  for ICT (in country training) and École Militaire where Mike would be a student.

Again, not a problem as the military would pack us up and we would just have to drive down to California with the dog.   We soon realized that the military wanted to make this happen right before the delivery of our first born!!!   I do not exactly remember what I said that day, but I just knew that I would be delivering our first born on the interstate.

Most military wives are concerned and plan their pregnancies around deployments to make sure the husband is how for the birth, I was just concerned that I would not have a highway baby!

We made it to Monterey, CA in 2 days and went into housing.  I can still remember the look on the housing lady’s face.   She though for sure I was going to go into labor right them and there.  Lucky for us, they did not want this to happen, so they put us in a house right away.   I found an OB and the following week Mason was born at 10lbs, 21 inches and healthy.

Mission: It’s PCS time!

PCS (Permanent Change of Station): this is the acronym you either love or hate.  You love it as you will be moving to a new post, seeing new places and making new friends; but you hate it for the same reasons.   After renting a UHaul and driving my things to Seattle, our PCS to Montery, CA was my first of many military moves.   It was great in terms as it was just Mike and I and we were moving 2 states away.   As we were newly weds with a baby on the way, we did not have many things to move and the military came and packed it up.   Though we had a few broken things, this was great!!!    People packing up our stuff and taking it off was icing on the cake.  At that time, I thought I could move all the time and it would be no sweat.

Throughout the years this was proven wrong.   In the 15 years of marriage, we have had 3 children, 3 continents and on our 9th PCS.  We have lost treasures in our move due to poor packing and just recently to water damage.   Most things can be replaced, but our traveling finds and photos can never be replaced.

I have learned through the years and moves that take pictures of everything, put photos and scrapbooks in plastic bins (even if you have to buy $300 worth of bins), hand-carry important documents and write down serial numbers for all of your electronics.   We have had items that have gone missing and if it was not for me writing things down and taking photos, we would not have been able to claim them on the insurance.

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Mission: Alphabet Soup

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After several weeks of being married to the military, I realized that they were not speaking English but in code and I had to figure out this lingo fast as even the wives were spitting it out.  “Hey, nice to meet you!   What is your husband’s MOS?  When did you get here?  When is your DROS? Will your husband be TDY a lot?” W.H.A.T.?!?!?!!?

As I am Mike’s 2nd wife, I just used that as an excuse.   His first wife entered the military with him, so she grew up with all these codes, but I entered military wife life 1/2 way into his career…so I was at a loss.    But I could not hide behind this excuse forever, I would need to learn and learn it quickly.

After my first social solo without being able to hide behind Mike and play dumb, I came home and told him “you need to give me the run down!   These women are speaking in codes and I have no clue what they are talking about.  Please help!”

He started with the easy ones and the ones most used by the spouses…TDY (temporary duty), MOS (still do not know what the letters stand for, but know it means ‘what does your husband do’), and DEROS (another one I know that it means the date we are leaving a post, but again, do not know each letter means).   Then I got brave and when the spouses started talking in code, I would just ask.   These were the days where pen and paper were still around and Google was just starting to come into use.   Now a days you just google what the wives are talking about and you know without sounding stupid!

Here is a cheat sheet for all you new Army wives:  http://www.acronymslist.com/cat/us-army-acronyms-(official).html

You know how to phonetically spell the alphabet when speaking to customer service reps or others:  A=Alpha, B=Bravo, C=Charlie, D=Delta, E=Echo, F=Foxtrot, G=Golf, H=Hotel, I= India, J=Juliet, K=Kilo, L=Lima, M=Mike, N=November, O=Oscar, P=Papa, Q=Quebec, R=Romeo, S=Sierra, T=Tango, U=Uniform, V=Victor, W=Whiskey, X=X-ray, Y=Yankee, Z=-Zulu

Sure would have been nice to have this many moons ago!  🙂