I am a proud card-carrying member of the Fort Knox Spouses and Community Club. Before that the Marne Community and Spouses’ Club at Fort Stewart was home. Before that I knew very little about spouses’ clubs and chose not to participate. Several friends sent invitations, but I always said no. I didn’t think the clubs would be for me. Even though my nickname is Mr. Army Wife, and most of my friends are military wives, I didn’t think an official gathering of these remarkable ladies would have much to offer someone like myself.

Heather and I at Super Sign Up. I’m Rosie the Riveter!

I was wrong. Incredibly wrong. Stupendously wrong. Ridiculously wrong. If I knew then what I know now, joining the spouses’ club would have been the first thing I did when I became an Army husband. The truth is I didn’t even join my first club willingly, I was kind of fooled into it. A board member asked me to work on one event, which turned into a board position. Bam! I’m in the club. Sometimes you have to look for opportunities. Sometimes they just find you.
After that first experience, I considered walking away. In fact, I did for a while. I’d made some friends, but they left. That’s the nature of our business. I volunteered with off post groups instead. I worked on my health and my personal interests. But I couldn’t stay away for long. While I loved what I was doing away from the military community, something was missing. There was one aspect of my life that I was losing. There was one thing that my brain just wouldn’t let me forget. YOU!

Meeting new #spousters.

I am one of 640,000 active duty military spouses, and the other 639,999 are the most important reason I join the spouses’ club. They are my ride or die. They are my battle buddies. They go through the good times and bad times of military life, just like I have. They face challenges too intense to mention. Some have lived this life longer than me. Others are just starting to understand just how all of this works. But their length of military service doesn’t matter. Military spouses, past, present and future are forever united. And I join the spouses club because the club helps keep that bond strong.
We are a unit. Together we can accomplish anything. We can deal with any struggle. If you’ve been a military spouse for any length of time you know what I’m talking about. You’ve made a meal for a family in need. You’ve watched other spouses’ children when an emergency comes up. You’ve sat in silence with a friend because words won’t come and aren’t necessary. We are stronger together than we could ever be individually. The spouses and the opportunities presented in the spouses’ club has shown me that.
We are a unit. We accept one another unconditionally. The spouses’ clubs know no race, gender, religion, political affiliation or any other discriminating factor. In a world where people let personal proclivities rule their relationships, we accept one and all. Your significant other’s rank doesn’t matter. You don’t even need to be a military spouse. Most clubs around the world reflect this by calling themselves “spouses and community club.” We welcome you, no matter who you are, what you do, where you are from, or how long you want to stay. Come one, come all…there are no conditions on that.

Making friends is what we do.

We are a unit. We’re nurturing because we care about your growth and development as a military spouse, and a member of the community both on and off post. We know that our involvement, whether it be in the lives of others, in on post groups, or in off post organizations help us just as much as they help those we are looking to support. They give us purpose during our time here. They provide friendships and opportunities we won’t find at other installations. Excuse me for borrowing an old Army slogan, but they help us be all the military spouse we can be. As members of the spouses’ club we nurture one another toward this goal.
We are a unit because we are invested in the lives of fellow members. While there is no “right” way to be a military spouse, there are tricks to make life easier for yourself, your Soldier and your family members. I learned a lot of these tricks by trial and error, but once I joined the spouses’ club, I learned a lot more because of the wives who’d been there before me. They took an interest in making sure younger and less experienced spouses didn’t have to make the same mistakes. Now, I get to pass on that knowledge. I invest in the lives of spouses and their families because at some point, spouses invested in me.

We like #frames too

We are a unit because we are timeless. From Camp Followers during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars to the Spouses and Community Clubs of today, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the fighting men and women of the US Armed Forces. Whether it’s by cooking and cleaning, taking on your spouses’ responsibilities while he or she is deployed, or just being there when tragedy strikes, we remain committed and strong. If you’re like me and have read stories about spouses from the past, you would know they did the same things. They began the timeless legacy we live today.
You’re probably not surprised to hear a lot of people ask me why I join the spouses’ club. Most of the time, the questioner isn’t a member of the club. They’ve made up their minds, just as I once did. They don’t think it’s for them. They don’t think an organization whose membership is primarily female would be the place for them. They don’t understand that the club has something for everyone. They’ve never experienced all it has to offer. So now, when someone asks me, “Why did you join the spouses’ club?” I just say come and see. You’ll join too!

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I thought I knew how to answer this question.  I mean, I have the experience.  I’ve called myself a member of the military spouse community for more than 18 years. I’ve spent time with hundreds of military spouses from all branches of service.  I’ve volunteered with military spouse organizations.  I’ve laughed, cried, and prayed with military spouses through all the challenges of this life.  I’ve faced deployments, health scares, and housing issues.  I worry about the same things military spouses worldwide are concerned with.  Yet, when asked by a civilian friend what a military spouse is, I couldn’t think of an appropriate answer.  Why is that?

Statistically speaking, it’s easy to tell you what a military spouse is.  According to a 2017 survey by Public Opinion Strategies, published in a report on uschamberfoundation.org, a military spouse is one of 640,000 women and men married to an active duty servicemember.  If you want the simple picture you would see that a military spouse first and foremost is a female.  92% of all spouses are women.  51% are under 30, but the average age for all military spouses is 31.5.  There are a lot of children in the military community, but only 41% of military spouses have dependent children.  Those dependents tend to be younger.  70% are under the age of 11.

I don’t know if these statistics are still accurate, but they do paint a picture.  They show that a military spouse is a woman in her late 20s to early 30s with the proclivity to have a family.  They give us a snapshot of what we might see when we walk onto a military base. For the most part, if you went to a group gathering of military spouses, this is probably what you would see around the room.  But, in my mind it doesn’t answer the question.  What is a military spouse?

Maybe that’s not the right question.  Maybe he should be asking something else?  “What” is too general.  What is a military spouse?  It’s a person married to a servicemember.  There’s no information in that.  If you asked my civilian friend to draw a picture, chances are you will get the statistical picture above.  You’ll get the young female that is pregnant or holding hands with a young child. Again, there’s very little information in that.  It doesn’t tell you anything about the actually military spouse.  Maybe he’s asking the wrong question.  Maybe he should be asking “Who” is the military spouse.

Who makes it more personal. Who makes you think about the individual person.  When I joined the Army in 2001 most depictions of military spouses were little old ladies who sent the Greatest Generation to Europe to fight Nazis in World War 2.  Even though they weren’t little old ladies back then, that’s how we were taught to see them.  But military spouses aren’t little old ladies, not even close.  Military spouses are everything.  That’s why I don’t think he can ask what a military spouse is.  I think he should have asked who each military spouse is.  Maybe, to answer the question my buddy is asking, I need to tell him who I am as a military spouse.

I am a former Soldier.  Heather and I joined the Army together, four months before 9/11.  I completed my enlistment contract, while she decided to reenlist and become an officer.  I am a military spouse who finds joy in supporting her career.  I like cooking, cleaning and doing anything I can to take tasks off her plate.  I am a military spouse who, after 10 years of marriage, realized that making the bed every morning can be therapeutic and life changing.  I’ve made it ever since, and I know how to fold a fitted sheet into a perfect rectangle too.  I’ll do whatever she needs whether it means taking the dogs to the vet or switching cars for her oil change.  It is absolutely the very least I can do

I am a military spouse who’s spent time trying to figure out who I am as a military spouse.  After my four-year stint as an Army Broadcast journalist I did a lot of different things.  I was a bar manager, a morning show radio DJ, and a direct sales consultant. I have a Masters in Religious Education, am an ordained minister, but I refuse to go to church.  I’ve tried stand-up comedy, performed in musicals, and written plays.  I’ve learned that I love volunteering especially when it comes to causes related to female Soldiers or other military spouses.

Today, I’m a military spouse who plans luncheons for the spouses’ club, and brunches for my friends.  I’m a military spouse who will take getting a cup of coffee with another military spouse over pretty much
anything else.  I love moving new places, but not leaving old friends.  I believe in learning from those who’ve been there before and teaching those who are new. I am a military spouse who knows I have to be available for others.  I want military spouses and their families to be able to count on me, and I hope I can count on them.  For the most part that’s been true.

The main thing, I’m a military spouse who is a pretty average American.  I like going to the movies and watching sports on TV.  I struggle with my weight because pizza and cinnamon rolls are delicious.  I believe politicians lie, the media is biased, but most people are good.  I’m a husband who doesn’t listen as well as he should, who wants to be left alone during the game, and who tries to avoid upsetting his wife at all cost.  It doesn’t always work because I don’t listen as well as I should and she sometimes needs things during the game.  I’m trying. In 19 years of marriage, hopefully I’ve gotten better.

In essence, who I am as a military spouse is exactly who I am as a person just with a military twist. That’s the community in which I live. If I wasn’t a military spouse, I’d still try a lot of different things to figure out who I was as a person.  I’d still fold the laundry so she wouldn’t have too.  I’d still want to watch the game in peace.  Being a military spouse adds certain challenges to that, but it doesn’t change me.  It just gives me a different reason for being who I am.

As I look over my social media contact list, I can see that same sentiment in the dozens upon dozens of women and three men who share this military spouse life.  They are moms and dads.  They are Christians, Jews, Wiccans and atheists.  They are gay and straight.  They are full time employees and stay at home parents.  They are who they are, with the added benefit and struggle that comes with living in a military community, and they can’t be put into a box labeled military spouse.  What is a military spouse?  It’s a person.  Who they are? Most likely, they’re folks you should get to know.

An Open Letter to the Private Housing Companies on Military Bases

Dear Housing People:

You seem to be in quite a pickle, because military spouses have found their voice. You thought you could contain the issues or cover them up with a quick coat of paint. You believed taking our Basic Allowance for Housing meant fixing things in the most basic ways which meant the cheapest ways and did nothing to keep us safe or secure on the most safe and secure installations in the world. Now all that is changing.

Leadership knows the truth. The politicians on both sides of the aisle, who can never agree on anything, agree on this. The American people see another group of greedy companies worried more about their bottom line than their customers. You are in the news. You are all over social media. You control none of the conversation. What you do next will define how military housing is run for decades. Like I said, times are changing.

Right now, around the country military leaders at the highest ranks are inspecting every home on every base. They are looking in every nook and cranny. If there is a molding so much as off center, they are going to discover it and have you pay to fix it. They are looking for safety and health hazards. They are holding townhall meetings your employees are no doubt attending and they are listening to the horror stories about mold and smells. They are taking pictures of the neglect. The truths are all over Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Nothing in this world is hidden anymore. Times are changing.

Personally, I’ve never experienced the atrocities I’ve seen displayed. I’m one of the lucky ones. I never saw mold. I never experienced moisture problems. My Soldier and I have lived on three military bases for a total of 7 years of our 18 years of service. After seeing the conditions my peers have posted, I feel blessed it hasn’t been more. But don’t think for a second that means I’m not just as angry as my fellow spouses that have had to watch as their children and families suffered while you made excuses.

However, I’m not one to complain without offering a solution and this morning it came to me. If you truly want to fix this, and make sure it never happens again there are two very simple things you can do.

1. Fix every problem and make our homes like new. Spend the money to make sure that whatever issues are there, never come back. And when they do, because issues always arise, promise to spend the money to fix things correctly the first time. Without fail, without question, without concern of whether your bottom line is going to be affected.

2. HIRE MILITARY SPOUSES!!! HIRE THEM FOR EVERY POSITION AT EVERY LEVEL WITHIN YOUR ORGANIZATION.

a. Hire a military spouse to run the leasing office
b. Hire military spouses to help new families integrate into their communities, and help families transition away from base with ease.
c. Hire and train spouses to fix maintenance issues.
d. Hire military spouses to inspect homes before families move in and once they move out.
e. Hire military spouses to clean the homes in between residents.
f. Hire military spouses as liaisons to your company and your contractors.
g. Hire military spouses in your corporate offices at the highest levels. With teleworking, the internet and working from home capabilities nothing is impossible for military spouses.

Yes, I know there are special circumstances with hiring military spouses, but any issue can be overcome. Hire spouses that will only be with you for a year or two. Hire spouses that can only work while the kids are in school. Hire spouses with children and then hire a spouse to watch those children too. Hire two part-time spouses when you really only want one full-time employee. If you want us to trust you, trust us to take care of your properties, because our real interest is in taking care of each other.

There is a push to find employment for military spouses. This would be a meaningful way to fulfill that push. As military housing companies you will constantly have new employees to help you take care of their peers. You will have a constant access to the best and brightest spouses who want to do something to help their other spouses, but also need to earn a living for their families. Yes, you might have pay to train them, but spouses who are trained in one location go on to work that training in others. And they teach others. You are staring at a win-win situation right in the face. Will you take it?

Times are changing. I have always believed being a military spouse is among the greatest honor of my life. And I love my fellow milspos. I will do whatever I can for them, their Soldiers and their families. A lot of us feel that way. We are hoping after all the scrutiny dies down, and you’ve fixed all the problems, you will feel that way too. Show us. Hire military spouses at every level. We won’t let you down.

Sincerely,
Steven M. Schmitt
Mr. Army Wife

Life is a Roller Coaster

Something significant happened to me yesterday.  I rode a roller coaster.  I know, not a big deal.  Yet, for me it was.  For me it was the culmination of a weight loss journey more than a year in the making. Sure, I’ve successfully lost 100 pounds in 2018, but the fact that I rode a roller coaster, and why that’s significant to my weight loss journey is a longer story that started in 2013 when I went to King’s Dominion in Central Virginia.

On that day, close to Halloween, Heather and I decided to spend time together visiting a new (to us) theme park.  Having grown up in Florida, near the best theme parks in the world, we don’t spend a lot of our free time at these venues simply because they never seem to measure up to the ones from our childhood.  It’s hard to compete with the mouse and the wizard.  Still, we do enjoy them from time to time, and decided to take the chance.

One thing that has changed as we’ve gotten older in regard to theme parks is our preferences.  When we were kids, it was rides, rides, rides.  Today, it’s the show schedule.  We want to navigate the park in such a way that we don’t miss the stunt spectacular or the dancing water.  If we happen to come upon a ride with a low wait time while meandering from theater to theater then great, but our goal is never to ride anymore.

So, as we walked into the park, and planned our way to see the limited show offerings they had we looked at the rides.  Since turning 30, roller coasters have had a way of making me queasy and I generally avoid them, but on this day, for some reason, I wanted to give it a try. Heather was up for it too and we got in line.  Before long we were at the platform where riders sat down, buckled up and let the fun begin.  That’s when I felt a new roller coaster experience, I never thought possible.

I didn’t fit.  When I sat, I could feel the fat spilling out the top of the seat.  That wasn’t unusual.  Those things are always small.  When the harness was pulled over my head, I could barely get it down.  Then the belt that connects the seat to the harness wasn’t long enough to buckle.  And it wasn’t too short by three of four inches.  It was a millimeter too short.  I was barely too fat.  The attendant came over and basically shoved the harness down into my gut until we heard the click and I rode the ride.  It wasn’t enjoyable, and it had nothing to do with the uneasy feeling in my stomach from all the twists and turns.

I spent the rest of the day feeling horrible about the fact I was too fat for theme park rides.  I told my best friend about my experience and vowed I was going to lose weight and get back on that ride with no issues. Instead, I just stopped getting on rides altogether.  Three years went by before we even visited another theme park.  When we did return to a park we hadn’t been to since college, we did so knowing I wouldn’t get on any ride that required a harness or seat belt.  We rode the “Cat in the Hat” children’s ride and watched as many shows as we could.  I wasn’t even going to take the chance that a repeat experience would happen.

That’s what made yesterday amazing.  I walked through the turnstile looking for a roller coaster.  Queasiness be damned.  I didn’t care if I puked all over everyone on the ride, as long as that bar came down with ease.  I was ready to stand in line for an hour as long as it meant no attendant would have to help push, pull or slam me into the seat.  I wanted the experience to be so mundane to everyone else, yet so exciting to me.

And it was.  When I stepped into the ride vehicle and put on the safety restraints no one was looking to see if it would fit.  No attendant walked over to make sure it was properly in place.  I just put down the bar, it locked into place and we rode the coaster.  I loved every second of it.  I loved the loops.  I loved the twists.  I loved the turns.  I loved sitting in that car, riding the ride, without worry that I was too heavy to fit. I could just enjoy it and enjoy it I did.

When it was over, Heather and I made our way to the animal adventures show.  There was no rumbling in my stomach and no marks from a seatbelt that was too tight.  I snapped a pic of us with the coaster I’d just conquered and walked away knowing that I could ride anything I wanted.  (We did ride a couple of other things, but still the shows are more our style.)

When I started losing weight in January, I really didn’t think about the roller coaster of the fact that I might be able to get on one with ease after losing the weight, but when it happened yesterday, I remembered that vow I made to my bestie.  I remembered how speaking that goal into existence gave it power.  It may have taken me a bit longer than intended, but after 5 years I’d done what I said I was going to do.  Now it’s time to do more.

My word for this week is aspire, because I want to aspire to be the best each and every time I do something. I also wanted to spend this week thinking about 2019 and what I want to aspire
too in the new year.  If 2018 was the year I aspired to lose weight, then 2019 needs to be the year I aspire to try new things I wouldn’t have at 300 pounds. They might not be things weight related at all, but things I can with confidence try because I’m not thinking about my size or limitations I might have because of the self-conscious attitude I was carrying.

In 2019 I want to continue this healthy journey I’ve been on by getting my body fat percentage down to healthier levels.  I want to publish a book and write a new play.  I want to use my passions for military spouses and woman warriors to engage those communities in new ways.  There are a lot of things I want to do; I aspire to do.  Now it’s time to get on the roller coaster and do them.

It has been said that life is a lot like a roller coaster ride, and it’s true.  Twists and turns, highs and lows, starts and stops.  There are sudden jolts that wake you up, and slow crests that allow you to take a look over the whole park and all there is to experience.  Yesterday, when the ride ended and the locks released allowing me to exit the ride, all I could think about was how I fit.  Isn’t that how we should look at our lives?  When its over, when the adventure is coming to its conclusion don’t we want to say that our lives “fit” into this world because we “fit” into our place the best we could?  Now that’s something to aspire too.

“Advent” ures

adventcandlesWe are in the season. That time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas when holiday music graces our airwaves and decorations grace our homes.  That time of year when cookies and cakes become a little bit sweeter and a lot more festive.  That time of year when wrapping paper and bows make their annual appearance under a bedazzled evergreen tree.  It’s the holidays, and for most of it still is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

For Christian faith traditions this time period is known as Advent.  It’s best described as the time spent waiting and preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  I remember it as a time when special candles were lit at church. There were three purple ones and a pink one placed around an advent wreath.  Each week the priest would light a new wick until all four faintly flickered. That meant Christmas was close, as was the arrival of Santa Claus.  Hey, at least I was anticipating something.

As an adult Advent is much different.  While I love the holiday season with its festivities, I also dread some of the coming complications that always seem to lurk whenever Christmas is close.  My least favorite activity is gift giving and the entire process that comes with it.

“What do you want for Christmas?” my mother always asks.

“I want you to spend the money on your grandchildren.” I always reply.

I don’t really need anything, and if I do need something, I go and buy it before I think about the holidays and my mother’s desire for me to open a gift from under the tree.  In my mind the money is better spent on toys or books for my nephew and nieces.  Plus, as adults, gift giving has become mundane.  I get my brother a $50 gift card to his favorite restaurant.  He gets me a $50 gift card to my favorite clothing store.  Let’s just skip it and save the 50 cents it costs each of us mail the cards via the US postal service.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love giving gifts.  I spend hours mulling the perfect present for my wife.  If I see something while I am out and about that I believe anyone else might enjoy, I’ll buy it in a heartbeat, and there doesn’t have to be a special occasion or reason.  I know a spouse who likes llamas, and I saw a llama iPhone cover, so I bought it.  I thought she’d like it, and I didn’t need to wait until Christmas to let her enjoy it.

But Advent isn’t about the gifts, at least I don’t think it’s supposed to be.  To see if I could find out what it is really supposed to be about, I consulted the experts.  I asked “google.”  Here are what some people have said about advent.

“It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”– Pope Benedict  XVI

Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”– Mother Theresa

“It is now, at Advent, that I am given the chance to suspend all expectation…and instead to revel in the mystery.”– Jerusalem Jackson Greer

“The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment right before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”– Frederick Buechner

Thinking about that last quote reminds me of another one.

“Life is a journey not a destination.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I look back at 2018, I see a year that was much more journey than destination.  I spent the entire year trying to lose weight; trying to get healthier.  I spent time this year, putting words on paper, writing the first draft for a book idea I’ve had for a long time.  I spent time reflecting on where I’ve been and wondering where I might go next, both literally and figuratively.

Which brings me back to Advent. In the religious sense, yes, we are preparing and waiting for a Savior. But everyone, no matter how they celebrate the holidays are waiting and preparing for something else.  They are already thinking about all the great things that will come next.  They are making resolutions.  They are thinking about words that will describe their new year.  They are looking at 2019 staring them in the face.

I’m no different.  When I set weight loss goals for 2018, I did it during Advent.  When I planned my diet and exercise plan, I did it while gorging on Christmas cookies and Egg Nog.  When I set “fitness” as the word I wanted to describe my 2018, I did it before Santa came. My 2018 adventure was set during Advent.

Wait a minute.Adventure.  Advent.  ADVENTure. That can’t be a coincidence. Advent is literally in adventure. Not only that, it’s the beginning of the word.  It’s practically the whole word.  What does that mean?  What does that say about life?  When I look closely, I realize, you can’t have an adventure without starting with an advent.  There has to be a time where you are waiting and preparing for what comes next.  Even if you aren’t actively prepping for an adventure, before something starts, you’re in a period of Advent.

Remember those candles I mentioned at the beginning of this.  It turns out they each represent an attribute we’re supposed to reflect on during this season.  They represent hope, love, joy and peace.  I don’t know about you, but when I think about those four things, I think about how I want my life, my adventure to look.  I want to find hope in where I am headed and what might come before me. I want to love others in the best way possible, so they might love others with the same possibilities.  I want to find joy in every adventure, even if it’s not in the happiest of circumstances.  And I want to have peace, knowing that my adventures are going to better me as a person and member of society.

The fact is that I want to be in a constant state of advent.  I want to always be waiting and preparing for life’s next great adventure. I want the attributes of hope, love, joy and peace to infuse their way into everything I do.  I want to awaken memories of goodness.  I want to serve others.  I want to suspend all expectations, and revel in the mystery that is life.  I want to remember that life is a journey, not a destination.  Life is an adventure.

This advent season, whether you are waiting and preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, or waiting for Santa, take some time to prepare for whatever might be next in your life adventure. You don’t have to plan every step you’re going to take, or wait around for that step to find you, but being in a constant state of advent increases the odds that opportunities for adventures will arise.  Look for them.  Be aware that they will come.  Be ready. Adventures await.  Advent is here.