Friday, October 11, 2013

Army Wives

On many of my past ranting sprees about life as a female Soldier, one thing I catch a legitimate amount of flak for talking badly about is the "Real Army Wives" stereotype: Because in at least half of the cases I've PERSONALLY witnessed & dealt with, it's completely true. Now to be fair I'm perfectly well aware that, as with ANY stereotype, there are going to be a large group of people that the shoe won't fit. For the rest of this post, however, I'm going to be specifically addressing the ones that the beer-stained pink Crocs DO fit and why they make life miserable for other military spouses and service-members alike.

There's an unflattering term for this kind of spouse, the Dependapotamus:

Not the kind of wife who tries desperately to manage the house and family while you're away, but the kind who desperately tries to vag-cram her way into EVERYONE ELSE'S as fast as possible before you get home. Not the kind of wife who tries to be your rock of support when your PTSD starts controlling and destroying your life, but the second you start having issues she divorces you and takes half your deployment pay with her. I'd like to be able to honestly say that these are few and far between, but they're just not. I think there might be a reason for this, though, just like the military life itself creates a culture swarmed with it's own horrifying problems: The atmosphere that many military spouses, male and female alike, have to live in is creating a culture of trying to pull "Silent Rank" and ridiculous entitlement complexes. 

Many of us Veterans recall the story of the famous FRG Meeting held by an officer, the specifics of the story vary greatly by there person telling it, of course (Fort Bragg, Fort Gordon, Fort Huachuca, Rammstein, etc..) but the basic story is something like THIS: An officer orders a group of Army Wives to form up by rank, they shuffle around each other like a herd of angry cats and just before they start tearing each-other's hair out the officer screams at them to STOP! "You don't have any rank!"

This may sound mean-spirited, and the story itself is likely exactly that, but unless you're enlisted/commissioned yourself, YOU DON'T HAVE ANY RANK. Struggles at home while your spouse is deployed are nothing to look down your nose at and trust me, I understand that! My Dad was in the Marine Corps until I was 8 years old, I saw what time away for many many years can do to a family. My own husband had shit he had to put up with both while I was deployed and when I got home, and I'm all the more grateful for his support now that I'm out of the Army. BUT...

Military Spouses have ZERO SAY in Military Procedure or Policy.

When our government FINALLY lifted the ban on female Soldiers in "combat roles" (not that we haven't always been there anyway) one common argument against letting women serve as grunts & gun-bunnies was that the wives of the men object to having to deploy with other women: Get the fuck over it! Do you think MY HUSBAND had issues with me being surrounded by males while halfway across the planet? Of course he did! But did any of his complaints or concerns mean jack and/or shit to my Unit or to the Army at all? NOPE. So what makes YOUR INSECURITIES so special that I have to put my career on hold because you don't trust your spouse? YOUR marital problems are not MY hindrance, they are exactly that: YOUR FUCKING PROBLEM.

When I was deployed I was told I had to keep my voice down while a squad-mate was on the phone with his wife because she'd flip out at him if she so much as heard me speak. Bitch, I don't want to be here any more than HE DOES! But I still have a job to do, so you can stuff your sexist bull-shit and get the fuck out of my way! Unless your spouse is wearing the same uniform that I once did, carrying the same rifle that I once did, dodging the same bullets and rockets that I once did, she's not qualified to lick the filth from my government issued boots if she thinks she can try to tell me that I can't speak to my squad-mates from the other end of the Globe just because I so happen to be assigned to the same unit as her husband.

Unless you are enlisted/commissioned yourself, you ARE a civilian. PERIOD.

In a conversation I had with a friend many years ago, who is herself a military spouse who also has concerns about life as such, she once made the suggestion that perhaps female service-members should have to meet-and-greet with the wives of the Soldiers/Marines/Etc that they'll be deploying with as a way of re-assuring them. While membership isn't mandatory in most cases, there's already a kind of organization that does that: The FRG (stands for Family Readiness Group) and they're supposed to include all service-members' families who choose to join. However in my friend's case, her husband is a Reservist and they get next to zero actual support because of it, even though Reserves and National Guard deploy more frequently than Active Duty personnel do.

My issue with her suggestion is that, and at the time I don't think she thought of it that way, it implies that I have to preemptively apologize for being in the same unit as their husbands and that if THEY did something that jeopardized their own marriages, it would somehow be MY FAULT even if they didn't do it with me. I'm not going to apologize to anyone for having a vagina or just reporting in for duty, again, someone else's insecurity is not my fault nor my problem. I'm going to continue to do my job and if you and your wife doesn't like the fact that I'm there, too fucking bad: When I signed up for the Army, I didn't get to pick what unit I'd be assigned to or who my squad-mates would be, the Army decided that FOR ME and, just like you and your wife, I had to be a grown-up and deal with it.

My other problem with this suggestion was that it was solely one-sided: Not one of the male Soldiers in my unit made any effort to greet my husband and re-assure him that none of them were going to try and rape me (and one of those, who was himself married at the time, DID TRY & FAILED) but it implies that female service-members somehow bare that burden alone. At this point in time I'd like to point out that not once had I nor my husband been invited to a single FRG function when I was in the Army, and I would never have gone because I genuinely hated the people I had to report to and still want nothing to do with them.

I'm so glad that I have reasonable and smart friends, they help me see things objectively: Once I (much more politely and calmly) explained these quandaries to her, I think she saw the flaws in the idea and dismissed it immediately. 

I didn't sign up to serve my buddies' wives or girlfriends, or in some cases husbands or boyfriends. And on that note, just to serve as a reminder, women in America's armed forces are vastly out-numbered by men so singling out female spouses is not intentional discrimination, merely a matter of numbers. I wore the flag of the United States of America on my right shoulder, not a picture of your lady-friend. Conversely, since she's a civilian and a Soldier isn't, she is under no obligation to salute THEM and they are under no obligation to salute HER.

In case you need a (not very polite) diagram...

Proper respect for rank is one of those pivotal ideas that many credit for keeping a functioning military unit in good order. Rank, be it among enlisted or officers, determines (albeit superficially) a service-member's position in the leadership scale: A Sergeant outranks a Specialist, Specialist outranks a Private, a Private and a 2nd Lieutenant are only on the same level intellectually but at least the Private knows they don't know what the fuck they're doing. Without rank to tell them apart, you'd have a bunch of people with weapons all yelling at each-other. "Silent Rank" as many military spouses call their station in life, are "Silent" because they don't fucking exist. I don't care if it hurts your feelings, unless you actually stood front-and-center at your own husband's Article 15 hearing right next to him, "Silent Rank" is just a catch-phrase put on t-shirts at Clothing & Sales so you'll buy them: Nothing more.

Now please don't misunderstand me, running a house-hold practically by yourself is no joke. Seeing a person who used to be the man you loved transform into an anger-panicked wreck because of PTSD is also nothing to be taken lightly. There are times I look back at how John and I somehow managed to survive with the ass-load of issues that I had to wrestle with when I go home from Iraq, were it not for some serious effort and communication emphasis I don't know where we'd be right now. Your suffering and struggle, however, does not trump ACTUAL rank or time-in-service.

Being married to a service-member is not the same as actually doing a job, if it WERE you'd be getting up at the ass-crack of dawn and going to PT Formation with the rest of the Unit.

As previously mentioned, I'm not in the Army anymore. I actually ETSed in the summer of this year. I wanted to stay in, I had every intention of re-enlisting. Then after an unexpected spinal injury and all the nonsense that followed just trying to find a competent doctor, I had a good long hard think about what four more years of being told that I'm a lesser being than the guy next to me would really do for me: I did my time, played in the sand-box with the big-kids, I'm done.

Rank does have it's privileges, but only if it's YOURS.

Shout-out to Overly Sensitive Military Wives fan-page, Represent.

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