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Milspouse Life, A Better Me

Like many spouses of military servicemen and women, I get caught up in all the reasons why it is not fun to be a milspouse. From deployments, having to spend thousands on hidden costs like the new pinks and greens uniforms and PCS season where essentially everything you own is scooped up into a giant washing machine. And, like a washing machine, everything gets tumbled around, sometimes things are destroyed, and sometimes things are lost (like that one sock).

But while out for a run the other morning at our new duty station, Fort Lee in Virginia, I had time to think about the positive changes military life has brought to me.

Running exposed me to the changes I've had due to milspouse life.

Europeans and their scary way of stating 26.2 miles (Three Country Marathon).

And that’s one of the positive changes—being able to run. I exercise much more consistently since my wife joined the United States Army. The downside to milspouse life is trying to piece together a career that can be picked up and moved, possibly to other continents, every two years. The upside is that while you aren’t working, you have the luxury of time, something very few of us are afforded.

But beyond exercise, I was thinking of something much larger. I got to thinking about it because, as I ran through my neighborhood on Fort Lee (first time living on post), I would wave to every car that passed. The responding acknowledgement was there but generally slow. Not because folks aren’t friendly but because they’ve gotten used to going about their business.

But that isn’t the case for me.

Growing up in the least urban state in New England—Vermont—you would think we’re more country. We have the smallest state population in New England at just 623,989, and our largest city boasts just 42,545 people (yes, Bernie is one of them). Nearly 80% of the land surface in Vermont is forested, and though we’ve never had more cows than people, at one point we did have more sheep than people.

My time in Vermont had me reflecting on the changes I've experienced as a milspouse.

The rural side of Vermont.

But due to our proximity to Montreal (45 minutes), New York City (4 hours), and Boston (2 hours), we have a place in the Northeast persona that most Americans are familiar with, either through firsthand knowledge or through television and movies. We’re comfortable in the woods, but we’re just fine making our way in Boston, NYC, or Montreal on the weekend for some fun.

I state this as a way of explaining that I didn’t come from a place where people are friendly to the point of waving and saying hello to strangers they pass on the street. I come from the Robert Frost state of “good fences make good neighbors” not “good and cheerful greeters make good and cheerful neighbors.”

But, things started to change with my wife’s first duty station. And that’s saying a lot. I routinely think about the inability to change as we age. We become set in our ways. I consciously question my thinking on a routine basis because of this fear. I absolutely believe having the ability to change—change your thinking, change your routines, change your hobbies, change your habits—helps keep you younger.

Her first post was Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and we moved to Pinehurst for three years. Pinehurst is a bit quirky because though it’s in North Carolina, it’s really not the South. First off, every other person you meet is from Ohio (I have no idea how there is anyone left in Ohio based on how many ex-Ohioans have relocated to this town). But more than just Ohio, nearly everyone in this primarily retirement community is from somewhere else.

North Carolina made me a better person due to milspouse life.

This is the only get-out-of-the-car rage you will find in Pinehurst.

With that said, Pinehurst offered the vision I had always had of the South: happy drivers, neighbors that acknowledge you, and strangers passing you on the street and saying hi. During trips back to Vermont, I would regress to a Northeast persona somewhat, with actions such as driving or dealing with poor customer service. Upon my return to North Carolina, I might have caught myself reacting like a Northeasterner just once and that would be enough to remind myself not to go there.

Then we left North Carolina and headed to Germany. The Germans are very similar to Vermonters. They’re blunt and at most times not overly warm. However, what they do have in spades is civility. Part of it is culture, and part of it is their legal system (is that the same, perhaps?).

I thought Pinehurst had amazingly polite drivers. Then I drove in Germany. Thinking about giving someone the middle finger because they did something that upset you. Expect an officer from the Polizei to visit your house if that driver gets your license plate. Not allowed in Germany. Approaching a point where two lanes merge into one? Some drivers merge a kilometer early and some drivers merge at the last minute. Either way, it’s orderly and folks alternate without malice or rage. They have sections of the Autobahn with no speed limit precisely because of these rules and culture.

Oh, and teenagers in Germany? They can be blasting music from a stereo attached to their bicycle handlebars and dressed like trouble, but they will still smile and say hello as they pass you on the bike path.

Germany exposed me to a mixture of small town and kind behavior and changed me as a milspouse.

Not blasting a stereo but rather his voice.

Probably the craziest thing that happens in Germany along these lines happens at the grocery store. It’s an unwritten rule that if the person behind you has fewer items you will let them go before you. And if the person behind that person has fewer items you will let them go as well. And if the person behind the person behind the person behind you has fewer items, you will let them go as well. One of my German friends told a story where she had to stop after letting seven individuals pass her only because she had to get home. Can you imagine the patience it requires to allow seven individuals to go ahead of you at the grocery store?!

But what both Pinehurst and Germany did was have a calming affect. For those that know me and are reading this, remember I said “calming” not that I am “calm.” I’m not Dalai Lama level here. I still have three kids, aged 12, 10, and 8, so I’m as calm as that allows.

PCSing in this milspouse gives us the chance to learn and grow and become better people.

Good sign to see when unpacking during PCS season.

Sometimes I think we make life so much harder than it has to be. How incredible would your day be right now if everyone you encountered previously today had looked at you with a big smile and said hello? I’m not going all Kumbaya with you. There are times when smiles and greetings don’t work for you or the other person. But think about your life today and how often you are smiling and greeting the strangers you pass in your life. Give it a try. It makes the day better for both the giver and the receiver.

I’m grateful that milspouse life exposed me to Pinehurst and Germany and led me to be a more patient, happier, better me.

As I walk and run through the streets of Virginia, not everyone responds to my greetings, but that’s okay. I like the person milspouse life has turned me into.


1 Comment

  1. Sharita Knobloch

    Scot, your adventures and reflections are always so unique and thought provoking. And they often make me chuckle (the crack about Ohioans in NC was great!) Thanks for sharing this.


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The Days Are Long as a Milspouse

The Days Are Long as a Milspouse

If you’ve read any of my blog submissions on Mission Milspouse lately, you’ll likely see a pattern where I have been mostly writing about what I’ve learned being a military spouse for the past twenty years but in presented in slightly different ways. In addition to...

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