My husband and I got married days before my 25th birthday. While I was older than other wives in the same peer group, I felt so young and inexperienced. I felt like a fish out of water.
All the acronyms. All the different uniforms and which one was used for which occasion. The rank! I spent days trying to memorize the rank insignia. I wanted so badly to fit into this new lifestyle and I absolutely wanted to make sure I was a knowledgeable Army wife.
But, let’s face it. It’s a lot of information. Especially when you are jumping two feet in and have never had a day of experience in the military world.
I needed to meet people and I needed friends. A tribe. People who could help me traverse these new waters.
I have been blessed that I have never had the “bad FRG” experience. All the FRGs I have been affiliated with have been nothing but supportive and helpful, and I work hard to not get pulled into any of the drama that seems to float in the undercurrents of the positive work the FRG tries to accomplish.
Within our unit FRG, there was a sign-up for a book club. Perfect! A few of my favorite things were involved: reading books, talking to people, and drinking wine. Sign me up! This was, without question, the best decision I think I made as a young Army spouse.
Within the group were ladies of all ranks and all backgrounds as well as probably more than 60 cumulative years of Army life between all of us. Some of these older wives had much more experience than me, were in different life stages than I was, and their husbands far outranked mine, but they all held one common denominator that was never outwardly stated but I picked up on instantaneously.
I’m not even sure they realized what they were or what they were doing, but there they sat across from me on couches and dining room chairs and they were mentors. We talked life over books. I listened. They shared stories and I realized that they had run the gamut of Army struggles and joys. The hard deployments, the long TDY’s, the Finance Office screw ups, the friends that became family because they brought soup when one was sick and felt like death. We laughed and I learned. I learned what it meant to be a military wife.
I know for some of you younger wives that this sounds very 1950’s. Ugh, I’m so old school and I promise I’m not actually antiquated, but I do find the value in women mentoring women.
For me, I didn’t seek it out and these “mentor” women never sought to fill that role, but there they were. By the way they conducted themselves, how they treated others, the ways they managed negative situations (within their own families or the unit), and how they navigated the Army wife life stuck with me.
I think we sometimes slip into an ideology that civilian life and Army life is one and the same and one translates seamlessly to another, but it does not. Mentors share their wisdom and they can be invaluable when you have questions like:
“What do I wear to a hail and farewell?”
“We are PCSing to Timbuktu; do you know anyone who has been there before?”
and talking you down when the life can feel overwhelming or just so frustrating.
Mentorship is a lost art that I find more younger spouses just aren’t interested in learning and senior spouses aren’t interested in providing. Maybe it’s the meteoric rise of social media and “anything and everything” you could possibly want to know, learn, discover, or find (and then some) is available at the click of a button.
But I urge you to get away from the computer (this blog post not-withstanding, of course) and engage in the human connections again.
Be a mentor to a young wife just getting into this life. You don’t have to seek her out. Heck, you don’t even have to send her a Facebook friend request. Your mentorship is leading by example. Being open when someone has a question or concern.
There is no end-of-year grade issued here… we’re all in this life together and just making it through, one PCS, one deployment, one uniform at a time.