What I Have Learned These Last Seven Years as a Military Spouse
(Audio Version Below) In these last seven years Chris and I have been through so much together. I have dates for everything in my photo albums on Facebook, but have never written it all out. Right now we are in the middle of a huge transition as we are PCSing (military move) and Chris is beginning a new job in his career. I thought this would be a perfect time to reflect. It is a reminder to be grateful for all the incredible memories, the trials we have overcome and all we have learned. I hope that it can encourage you if you are in the middle of your own storm...military spouse or not. If you are a military girlfriend or spouse just getting started in your journey, in the midst of your journey or finishing your journey, I pray that this resonates with you and helps you to see how much growth you have already had and how much more is yet to come.
SEPT 2013 - NOV 2013 / ILLINOIS: Chris started his journey at Great Lakes, Illinois for bootcamp for two months, just weeks after we got married. It was the hardest thing being away from my person for the first time after being together and inseparable for five years. It grew me so much and little did I know, was preparing me for all that was ahead. I wrote him letters every single day in the midst of being at University and working two part time jobs (one at a Church and one as a gamer...I am a mixed bag, lol). It was a lot, but keeping busy helped me immensely. I also met my best friend who happened to be a Navy wife right as Chris was leaving for bootcamp. She took me under her wing and has been teaching me ever since. The day of Chris' "Battle Stations" at bootcamp which is the big test they have before becoming sailors, she took me on base for the first time ever, I got to use my military ID and we bought matching cups...that we still have and use today. Flying to IL for Chris' graduation was one of the most exciting times of my life. The hype was SO real and I was so excited! Watching Chris graduate and looking through the photos brings me to tears every time. I was so proud and thankful that we had made it through this first huge step.
NOV 2013 - AUG 2014 / ILLINOIS: After bootcamp, Chris was on hold and then in school (ATT & A School) for a total of nine months. Chris' A school was very challenging but he still managed to graduate fourth in his class and I was so proud! The second I graduated college in May of 2014, I went out to IL to live with him. Our first time living together as husband and wife and I was thrilled. The Navy was behind on their paperwork so the first month I was out there I was living in a hotel by myself. One day after arriving we went to pick up our first dog Tech who was my whole world and really got me through that first month. We were in IL together from 5/14-8/14 until we got orders back to San Diego. We were so excited until they changed our orders at the last minute and told us we would be leaving for Virginia Beach, Virginia in just two weeks for Chris' C School. It was the first time that we learned that things can change in an instant and that we truly can't plan on anything. Since I was always such a big planner, I had to learn flexibility and spontaneity. From that point on I have gone with the motto, "I'll believe it when I see it". It was not that hard of an adjustment because I was not going to allow myself to be let down like that again.
SEPT 2014 - APRIL 2015 / VIRGINIA: Our time in Virginia Beach was the easiest time in our Navy journey. Chris' C School was not long hours so we had a lot of quality time together. His Instructor* told us it was "vacation". We laughed, but now after all we have been through, we realize he was totally right. We enjoyed every second. I also had my first job out of college as a Children's Pastor and it was so incredible for me. I made life long friendships with my team and with the children and families. It was my purpose while I was there and it was so fulfilling and enjoyable for me. Chris was my ministry partner and ran all of the tech for our kids programming. It was a beautiful time for us as a couple and we made so many memories together. Chris graduated fourth in his class from C School and selected orders for our home port of San Diego for Chris' first official duty station. *FC1 Gary Leo Rehm died on the destroyer Fitzgerald in 2017. Chris said he was an incredible instructor and man. He died by closing the door to the rest of the ship, which then flooded the birthing where him and 6 other sailors were. He saved so many lives with his sacrifice and is a true hero.
APRIL 2015 - SEPT 2020 / CALIFORNIA: We made the drive cross country in seven days, stopping at the most epic and ridiculous sights that I picked out. I had a blast...Chris said, "Never again". When Chris arrived at his ship it was in the yards. Chris' sea tours are 5 years as his rate (job) is a sea going rate. The yards is when a ship is out of the water and maintenance is being done before it goes out again. It is very long hours and strenuous for sailors. Chris handled it all so well and was learning about ship life. I was working full-time as a Children's Pastor when we got to San Diego so I was busy and we were enjoying being back at our home port. Before a ship goes on deployment there are countless underways. The deployment may be anywhere from 3-8 months, sometimes longer, but the ships are gone for weeks and months at a time before deployment. This was something I never knew. It is a lot of time away from family but it is the standard and you get used to it. Each sailor on a ship also stands watch regularly. For Chris' ship that was every 6 days for the entire 5 years on the ship, which meant that every 6 days he would be gone for 24 hours (which was always longer than that because it also includes the following work day if it isn't a weekend) and holidays are never exempt. During Christmas stand down he would have duty every three days, and even had it on Zeke's first Christmas. This is something I never knew about until Chris got to the ship.
OUR FIRST DEPLOYMENT / JAN-JUNE 2017: Saying goodbye to Chris for our first deployment was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I did not really know what to expect. I knew it would be hard but I didn't know the extent of it. I learned quickly that communication for the Navy was not what I had seen on television for military families. There was no Facetime while he was out at sea and often times we would go weeks at a time with no communication. When he was able to communicate it would be on Facebook messenger and often times he would say one sentence, and then would never receive mine. If you think about it, it makes sense that the communication would be poor, they are in the middle of the ocean. I just feel I had heard from so many military families that they were constantly Facetiming so that was my expectation. Throughout the entire deployment we were able to have an actual conversation a few times while the ship was in port. While on this deployment, Chris earned his ESWS (Surface Warfare) pin which is a huge achievement and was also promoted to Petty Officer Second Class. At one point while Chris was gone I had gone to the emergency room in severe pain and I didn't tell Chris about it. I didn't want him to worry and I figured it was nothing. On my second trip to the ER, they found that I needed to have emergency surgery to have my gallbladder removed. Chris was contacted by the Red Cross and needless to say I learned that I needed to tell him everything and not be concerned about his feelings. He was extremely upset and worried about me and was sad he didn't know sooner.
On May 9th, Chris' ship collided with another ship in the Sea of Japan. I found out from the news and it was a pretty terrifying thing to hear, especially since his C School Instructor had just been killed on another ship from a collision. Fortunately everyone on Chris' ship was okay, but it was a very scary thing.
We really learned how to communicate while he was out to sea...for better and for worse. It was a very difficult time for each of us individually and as a couple. There were things we each needed to work on that came to the surface when Chris got home. Chris was on suicide watch and it was a scary time full of many unknowns. Chris began medication for depression and anxiety and we both made a lot of changes. We began therapy individually and through it all, bounced back stronger than ever. Just a couple of months later, I got pregnant with Ezekiel which makes Zeke a homecoming baby in the military world. It happens a lot, haha! Ezekiel means "God Strengthens" which we thought was so perfect for all we had endured that year. Chris had many underways before his next deployment and was gone more than he was home, which was difficult as he had just gotten home. We never really got to have an adjustment period as they were thrown back into everything right away. There was no relaxation or real family time before he was out to sea again.
OUR SECOND DEPLOYMENT / JAN-APRIL 2018: When Chris left for his second deployment I was five months pregnant. He was gone the majority of my pregnancy with all of the workups before deployment as well. Thankfully my pregnancy was easy and had zero complications. I felt great all throughout it and I worked up until the day I delivered. We were told that Chris would not make it home in time for the birth. I planned everything out and had my best friends and my Mom ready to be there with me. I was sad at the thought he may not be there but I remained positive and hopeful. We also decided to transition to military housing, so while I was six months pregnant, with the help of my friends and family, I moved us from our little apartment into military housing which was a much better fit for our growing family. As my scheduled induction for April 30 was approaching, I made T W O posters for Chris' homecoming. One I made holding onto hope that Chris could, by some miracle, make it home. The other poster I made for what we were told was our reality...period. We had tried everything we could and we were told there was no way. I had emailed Chris and told him although the Navy has told us no, ultimately God is in control, He IS the God of miracles and that we needed to hold onto hope. Two days later Chris called with news that he was being flown home from Peru, just five days before we would check into the hospital to have our son. Truly a miracle and something we are thankful for everyday. If you read my last post, "I never thought my son would be in the NICU" you will see how crucial it was that Chris was home for the birth. I couldn't have gone through all of that without him there.
RIMPAC / JUNE-AUG 2018: When Zeke was just six weeks old, Chris left out to sea for RIMPAC which is a Naval exercise held biannually. I can't imagine how difficult that time was for Chris. I always say he has it way harder than me. I could never imagine being away from my boys! It was difficult for me as well, but I was busy learning how to be a Mom. I also left full-time ministry and began a new position in social media marketing which I am still currently in and loving! I stayed busy and focused on my new job and momming it up...my other new job.
When Chris came home, Zeke was 3 months old. Just two months later we got pregnant with Zane! We wanted them close together and we were thankful that it worked out that way. We knew that Chris was going to be home for a bit and then going to shore duty, so we thought the timing would be perfect. Although he had lots more underways, we did not have to worry about any future deployments.
CHRIS REENLISTS / APRIL 2019: When I was six months pregnant with Zane, Chris reenlisted for another three years, with guaranteed shore duty although we did not know what orders he would receive. This was another huge moment in Chris' career and I was so proud of him for such a big decision. As you can tell by the photos, Zeke was super proud of his Dad too! My best friend was by my side, as always, and it was such a beautiful moment.
ENRO TRAINING IN PENSACOLA, FLA / AUG 2020: When it came time to select shore duty orders, there were no options for Chris' rate. He was left with no choice and was pushed into recruiting. It is very far outside of his comfort zone but I think he will do amazing and continue to succeed and advance in his career, in a new and important way. He finished his schooling and after 2 months away (3 weeks from an underway on the ship, and 5 weeks from schooling), he came home and we reunited as a family last Friday. It has been so sweet having him home and as always, we are so proud!
In the last year and a half, Chris has had even more achievements including completing the Security Reaction Force training, serving as Lead Petty Officer of his division on the ship and many other achievements and awards. He is not one to talk about them so I do not even know about them all. I found out about a lot of them as I was helping him prep his uniform for the one day he was home before leaving for school. I was in shock at all he has accomplished. He is such a humble spirit and it is one of my favorite things about him.
Just last month he was promoted to Petty Officer First Class which is a huge accomplishment. He continues to impress me with his determination and drive. He is the hardest worker I know.
In just three days the moving truck will come and we will begin the next stage of our journey. We are thankful that no deployments are in our near future and although this next season will have it's own challenges, we will remain thankful for every moment we spend as a family. We are so fortunate for these last five years in San Diego with family and friends. It has been a true blessing to have both Zeke and Zane while we have been here and to have so much support during both deployments. I feel so fortunate for this time and I look forward to all that is to come.
I believe that times of reflection are so critical and as life gets busier these moments are few and far between. I want to encourage you to take some time reflecting all that you have been through and all that you are going through. Acknowledge that you CAN DO HARD THINGS. You can do things that you once thought were impossible. You are stronger than you know and you WILL get through this. I believe in you and I am here for you.