SPOUSE STORIES

While our military community is constantly changing and adapting, the one constant is our amazing and inspiring spouses who help fuel our mission through their dedication to service. Hear from a handful of incredible spouses below about how the Air Force community has positively influenced them...AND feel free to submit your own story!

ONE TEAM, ONE FIGHT

For the last 28 years my husband served in nearly every duty status from Active Duty (AD) to Reserve Component (RC) in the US Air Force during his 32-year career. Our family remained committed to the military during 20+ years of war, 9 deployments, and 8 PCSs, thanks in-part to the support of countless military-connected communities. I had an active front-row seat to every moment, including now with my husband as a retired Veteran and my son a third-year USAFA cadet. It has been an often challenging lifestyle to be sure, but worth it for the continued success of our military and their families.


Through the years, I’ve noticed a plethora of programs and initiatives that connect military

families but a culture that maintains a gap between Active Duty Members with their Guard and Reserve counterparts. Distance can be destructive, and I wanted to help connect our communities. It took some time to understand and gather resources for what works, but I found three common practices among families and units that also shared the highest levels of inclusion, resilience and support..


The first practice is to seek diverse perspectives from the individuals around you. In highlighting one another’s lived experiences we discover both commonalities and how added diversity strengthens our toolbox of options. The second practice is intentional inclusion. Consistently inviting all services and families to celebrate and participate in community functions such as religious traditions, social functions, fundraisers, training, promotions/retirements/changes of command, and milestone events like graduations. The third practice was reflection, an intentional effort for each of us to reevaluate bias and misconceptions of other service members regarding their effort, interest or motivations. Military spouses are essential to dissolving the unnecessary division between service affiliations. By forming connections across the installation, we can bridge the Reserve - Guard - Active Duty divide, branch divide, and even civilian-military divide. Bridging this gap among military families matters because we all gain strength from a united military community that supports all service members, regardless of service affiliation. We are one team, one fight.


Paloma G., Air Force Reserve Spouse

BUT WAIT A MINUTE

A few months ago, we embarked on our twelfth move driving from the northern tier to the desert southwest for our new assignment. As I piloted our truck and cargo trailer with the family dog as my passenger, I had ample time with my thoughts. At first, I was trying to mentally prepare for trading feet of snow for a “dry heat”. But ultimately, I reflected back on our time at our previous assignment. How did it go? How did our family handle it? How did my spouse’s organization do during our time there? What could she or I have done differently for our own family and our Air Force family? Is there a Chick-fil-A or In-N-Out Burger at our next stop? All important questions, right? One thing in particular kept dominating my thoughts: Why couldn’t we get more spouses involved in our work and social activities?

To be fair, we arrived at our last assignment in the summer of 2020 smack in the middle of COVID. Obviously, anything non-mission essential was off limits when we arrived. And socializing was at a minimum…and from a distance. That fall, the Spouse’s Club was cleared to host a trivia night. It was a blast! There were probably 60 spouses in attendance, all happy to gather together and enjoy social interaction again. As the trivia game kicked off, I looked around the room and quickly realized I was the only male spouse in attendance. It didn’t bother me at all being the only male spouse there. Happens all the time. I knew we had lots of male spouses on base. Where were they?

I really wanted to try and figure it out. There were the obvious reasons: my spouse was working and I needed to be home with the kids; I have a job and had to work that day; my kids had a sporting or school event; or we were in isolation for COVID. It was the not so obvious reasons that really got to me: I had no idea there was an event going on; I’m new and don’t know anyone; they only do activities geared towards women; I’m not interested; isn’t it just the standard wives’ club? These are all actual responses I got from male spouses.

Honestly, it really bothered me, but I completely understood where they were coming from. I shared these insights with my spouse and my peer spouses. Both had heard similar responses. You have probably heard these responses too. From then on, we tried to account for these challenges when planning events. I would love to say we catapulted from a crawl to a sprint after that. Not exactly. Maybe a slow walk, but better than a crawl. It was progress, and I’ll take it. Gaining one or two more people helps spread the word to others. You have to start somewhere, right? Check out the YouTube video “First Follower: Leadership Lessons From Dancing Guy” if you don’t believe me. So how do we get those first followers? Some of my takeaways (i.e. reflections while driving with a dog breathing in my face):

Communication: We rely on Facebook way too much! Yes, old people like me (I’m 47) use Facebook, but many of our younger Airmen and families do not. Creating a unit page, spouse page, activities page, etc. is fine…if they are seen. How often does someone mention a post from a group or mutual friend only for you to realize it never came up in your feed as you were scrolling? And as you know, there are a myriad of other social media platforms and everyone has their own preference. So, are you supposed to have an account for all of them so you can spread the word? Ask ten people if you can look at all the apps they have on their phone. Each person will have a completely different setup. But they all have a phone. Texting is probably the easiest way to bypass the social media abyss and ensure the information is sent and received. Not everyone wants to give out their phone number. Fair enough. What about email? Consider an announcement app like Remind or GroupMe which they can set up with either a phone number or email. And there is no need for responses. You put the info out there, they see it and decide what they want to do. But at least you know the info got to them. And as a parallel path, ask the Commander or First Sergeant to push out spouse or family event information, as appropriate, directly to the Airmen. If an Airman and spouse both know about it, maybe there is a chance for them to deconflict schedules.

Participation: Every location is limited to the resources of the base and local community. What type of events or activities are possible? And of these, what has the potential to draw the biggest crowd? While I kept hearing that the events were mostly geared towards women, I knew that was not completely accurate. Like social media, everyone has a preference for what activities they find fun and worthy of their time. Painting with a Twist may be stereotyped as a “women’s” activity, but is painting really something only women do? Of course not. I’m not picking on that particular activity, but the stereotype does exist. So, figure out a way to make it neutral with activities that everyone can try. I thought the trivia night was a great event. There is also bowling, cooking class, go karts, axe throwing, glass blowing, trap shooting, roller skating, paintball, karaoke…you get my drift. But more importantly, mix it up! Don’t have the same activity every time.

And for those new spouses that don’t know anyone, drag them along with you. Maybe they are shy. Maybe they are socially awkward. Maybe they are ready to come out of their shell but need that first push. But here’s the catch: don’t abandon them! Keep them by your side until you know they are comfortable and engaged with the people they meet. If you ditch them and they aren’t comfortable, you will struggle to get them to come to future events.

Inclusion: This was by far the biggest epiphany I had. For sure, I want to see more of our male spouses participating. But I want to see all spouses participating. To this day, I listen to peer spouses still use the word “wives” in place of spouse. We are so far beyond that version of the traditional Air Force family. There is quite a difference between the Air Force our senior leaders grew up in and the Air Force our youngest Airman just joined. We have to bridge that gap if we want to retain families. I routinely see Facebook posts on spouse pages that begin with “Ladies” or “Hey Moms” or “Wives of those deployed”. Are they purposely isolating male spouses or those with no children? I doubt it. But I can tell you from the feedback I hear, it does alienate some spouses instantly. Do any of those greetings address a male same-sex couple with children? Nope, keep scrolling. Sometimes I’ll politely ask if their post includes male spouses or Dads. That’s me, so is this information I need? Today’s families come in all varieties and that is truly one of our greatest strengths. We must be deliberate when addressing our spouses and families to ensure EVERYONE is included.

But wait a minute…not every person that supports our Airmen is a spouse! This is a thought that slapped me right in the face (or maybe it was my dog’s tail). Anything with “spouse” in the title (spouse’s club, spouse night out, spouse social, etc.) isolates those that support our single Airmen. Most of our Airmen have a significant person in their life that creates that same support mechanism that a spouse and family provide. Maybe it’s a boyfriend/girlfriend or fiancé, a best friend, a roommate, a relative who lives nearby, etc. I’m not suggesting that we eliminate spouse events. There is absolutely a unique bond that spouses share and it deserves to be nurtured. But the Air Force family includes all those that support our Airmen. We owe it to those people to include them in spouse and family activities when possible. It might allow us to get to know that Airman better and connect them more to the organization. It might allow us to gain a bigger support network for the organization as a whole. The more, the merrier! At the end of the day, we want to take care of those who take care of our Airmen. Our spouses, our families, our friends, our significant others…they are all critical to the health, wellbeing, resilience and happiness of our Airmen. Let’s make sure we invest in them too…ALL of them!

Mark N., Air Force Spouse

KEEP THRIVING


Air Force spouse, Kacey, is humble and kind. Always looking to help others, never striving to highlight herself. Her story is like so many other milspouse stories; full of love, service, strength, flexibility, and resilience. Infinitely worth highlighting.

She met her husband in 2001 in a small town in Iowa during an ice storm. He wanted her number, but she refused to give it to him, so he gave her his instead. A few days later she decided to call him, and they have been together ever since. She officially began her milspouse journey in 2004. Using her new husband’s GI Bill, Kacey completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Resources Management in 2.5 years, graduating Summa Cum Laude. She learned the value of family resources through the support of the AF Education Center. Like many milspouses, Kacey has struggled with employment, leaving multiple jobs and unable to progress, not because of her abilities but because of the needs of the Air Force. Rather than giving in to discouragement, Kacey continued to grind while choosing to support her milspouse community.

Becoming a subject matter expert in milspouse life, Kacey volunteered to lead MTI Orientation and BMT New Spouse Orientation as the BMT Key Spouse Mentor. Through this role, she served thousands of military families, helping the newest spouses in the AF understand their resources and how to build a community of support. Her efforts were noticed and she was awarded as the MTI Spouse of the Year. She was also coined by the Group Commander, which she is especially proud of because even her husband hadn't received that coin.

Though her journey has sometimes been challenging, Kacey isn’t ready to hang up her milspouse hat yet. She believes that the community of other military families makes it all worthwhile. She can see a life at the end of this journey where she and her husband have a farm in Iowa, with a pumpkin patch, goats and AirBnB where she can continue to put a smile on other faces. Until then, she plans to keep thriving and working to support her fellow military spouse.


Kacey G., Air Force spouse

NOT LOST; MAKING IT WORK


J.R.R. Tolkien’s quote, not all those who wander are lost, epitomizes my journey as a military spouse. I have experienced physical relocation, mental realignment, and spiritual exploration, but I never considered myself lost. I was and am on a journey. An adventure. Each day presents an opportunity—and I am ready most days. One of the most challenging aspects of military life for me has been pursuing a rewarding career. I have worked multiple jobs simultaneously to barely make ends meet, we have tried geo-baching, I have gone back to school and started over… All this to say, our family went through multiple iterations to find what worked for us; but none of these experiences were wasted time. Like many spouses, I precariously balance my role as a parent, a military spouse, and an individual. I have oscillated between roles, sometimes focusing more on one area than another—I’ve had seasons or phases, and I became okay with that. I may not have liked each of these phases equally, but I learned something from each one, have amazing friends and memories, and wouldn’t change my experience given the chance. I truly view my life as a journey and don’t see everything we’ve been through as simply a means to an end. We are in a good place right now and I have balance. I know that things could change again, and we may find a new phase—I will “make the best of it.” I am comforted knowing I will learn something, I have an amazing network that supports me and my family, and this life and my unique journey have provided me with the resilience and confidence to be successful and happy. Bring on the next chapter!


Shelley S., Air Force Spouse

AN EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME


14 years together, 7 years married, 7 states lived in, 3 kids, and a lifetime of memories! Life as a military spouse has not been easy. The deployments, moves, and sacrifices are so much more difficult than I realized. But we have made lifelong friendships and had some amazing experiences along the way. We could not be more proud of our guy selflessly serving our country with integrity and honor. Our kids have watched him and have said they want to be in the military one day too. This makes me so proud!!!


Katie C., Space Force spouse

THE GUARD LIFE


There is a perception that military members (and by extension their families) in the National Guard are only familiar with participating one weekend a month and two weeks a year. In many cases, nothing could be further from the truth. My husband has been away from home on Title 10 active duty orders for months at a time each year- for years. Many of my active duty spouse friends have been amazed that my husband has been away from home significantly more than their active duty spouses It is only in these later years that I have been able to sporadically but semi-regularly go see him. What has helped throughout the years and what I advise other spouses to do, is to develop connections within the guard unit and also develop connections where possible within the active duty sites. For example, I have friends within the home station unit and contact people while their member is TDY/deployed and I also volunteer as the POC for the deployed spouse group at the active duty base overseas. I have found that the friendships I have developed and the volunteer connections I have made on an overseas base(s) have helped me feel connected to my husband even when we are not together and have been my saving grace when I can be with him as I am already known to people and they to me. This helps me because either place “feels” like coming home.


Gloria I., Air National Guard Spouse

A FAMILY AFFAIR


We are an active duty mil-to-mil Air Force couple. We have two boys ages 10 and 11. Our oldest son, Demonie, is autistic, full of facts, and absolutely loves Pokémon and animals. Our youngest son, Makai, loves video games, basketball, and pretty much anything outside.

We thrive in the Air Force because it is truly a family affair for us. I was born and raised in the Air Force since both my parents served as well. This way of life is all I know. As a family, we have a natural drive to be successful and to motivate each other to achieve whatever it is that we have our heads and hearts set on. It also takes a lot of resilience and flexibility. This way of life comes with a lot of change and the need to quickly adapt. We’ve also had the luxury of having a solid extended family support system to help when needed.


MSgt Natalie R., Air Force Spouse

IT'S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE


I met my wife and fell in love in high school. We had a plan to finish college, get married, begin our careers, and start our own little family. But, during college, BOOM!..my wife decided to join the Air Force. I knew nothing about the military. I remember the day she left for basic training and wondered if it was her way of leaving me!! I felt lost. Four months later, she called from tech school to inform me we were getting married!! We were moving to Florida and living on base. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I loved her and trusted her. We moved in base housing, and I quickly learned the installation was like its own little city. I had no idea there was a gym, library, education center, grocery store (what’s a commissary?). This wasn’t so bad! I began playing intramural sports with her active-duty co-workers, mostly males, and friendships quickly formed. Soon after, I began meeting their spouses and this was my introduction to the military spouse lifestyle. As a new spouse, they educated me on various military topics, taught me acronyms, and helped navigate me in this new spouse endeavor. I felt connected. Through the years, I was fortunate enough to land jobs at each assignment. Each job varied, but one thing in common, I found most of my co-workers were military spouses. Some new, some old, and from all over the world, but we shared that common bond. I was more experienced now and could start to share some of my knowledge with other spouses and they listened. I felt valued. As my wife’s career progressed, the job responsibilities grew, and the moves became more frequent. Three assignments in three years made it tough for me to find work. Her career became a top priority, my career needed to pause. Time to pivot. My new role would change from earning an income to cleaning the house, doing laundry, paying bills, making appointments, helping with homework, free kid Uber driver. Did I know what I was doing? NO! I felt vulnerable. But I knew I had all kinds of military spouses I met along the journey I could call on for advice. They taught me all the tips and tricks. Before I knew it, I made the meanest PB&J sandwich any lunchbox ever held. I could turn my daughters’ 6 am bedhead into a French-braided masterpiece in under a minute! I had ponytail holders as bracelets on my wrist, like a Dad Badge of Honor! I felt empowered. As my wife’s work hours continued to get longer, the TDYs increased, the mid-week special events and ceremonies never ended; just meant more Movie Nights with Dad and ice cream for dinner (it has milk, it’s healthy)! Through this experience I learned about perspective, I had it all wrong. I was looking through the lens of not having a job; instead of seeing it as my most important job I ever had, being a stay-at-home Dad. My job let me spend more time with my children and support my spouse by taking care of home so she could focus on work. It also allowed time to volunteer at my children’s school, help decorate and set up military events, assist with base helping agencies. I worked with Key Spouses and attended Spouse Club meetings and get-togethers. I felt involved. For a male spouse, being involved may seem intimidating. Maybe you think you won’t be accepted. I am here to encourage you to get out and be active, you might be surprised just how accepted you are! Your voice and perspective is key. Once involved you will see how helpful and embracing the military spouse community is. Military spouse life is hectic and chaotic. It is exhausting and sometimes lonely. But, you are not ALONE! We are in this together. We pick each other up. We answer the call. That’s what gives us military spouses our unique bond...our grit! With over 25 years as a military spouse, and now transitioning to retirement, I’ve had some time to reflect. All the endless nights, the packing up and moves, being the new person, all seemed so stressful at the time. But those are learning moments. They teach us the necessary skills to adapt and overcome. Those experiences mold us. You can plant a military spouse anywhere in the world and they will THRIVE! To all my military spouses, thank you for all you do. What you do does not go unnoticed. I am proud of you and I am proud to be a military spouse. Special thanks to all the spouses that took time to help me, shape me, and better me. I feel honored.


Brian M., Space Force Spouse

MOSTLY LAUGHTER

Hello to all of the Air Force and Space Force spouses near and far. 17 years of marriage, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 9 duty stations, and many great adventures, memories along with deployments, trainings, missed birthdays and anniversaries, some tears but mostly laughter summarizes our life in the Air Force. I’d like to give a special shout-out to foreign born and raised spouses, such as myself, who find their own ways to adapt and bloom.

Pinar M., Air Force Spouse

BE THE LIGHT


Military Spouses always get asked, “what is the best experience you have had

as a spouse?” It’s kind of funny that it’s always a question asked of panel

members. I am going to be super-duper cliché at this moment. The best thing about this life truly has been the people. As someone from a small town, the places we have been set me on a path to meet people, make friends and have life-long relationships with individuals I would have never met. Each person in my circle I truly believe was there in that season of time for a specific reason and I value that friendship. Whether it’s a supervisor from Oklahoma, a family from Germany that allowed me to be a 2nd mom to their kids, or a group of amazing women from the vineyards of Italy, each place has left a mark on my heart because of the people I was blessed to be surrounded by. The second most cliché thing, every single location has something amazing to offer you just need to make sure you are finding the positive and being the light. Sometimes it’s hard to see it while you are in it, but I can guarantee there is always something fabulous where you are. You just have to seek it out.

Krista L., Air Force Spouse

GUYS, GET OUT THERE

I separated from the Air Force in 2006 and became a full-time spouse and have been since that day as my wife is coming up on her 26th year in the Air Force. My journey as a male spouse has been a great one filled with mostly positive experiences. I am an EXTREME extrovert and social person by nature with a big personality which has made making friends easy for me in my time as a spouse. My advice to any and all spouses, especially male spouses, is get out there. Get involved with the spouse’s clubs and/or volunteer to be a key spouse. Even if you are the only male to start with once other males see you out and about, they are more likely to get involved simply because they won’t be the only male spouse. Go to unit and wing functions when spouses are invited, you will find that you will make friends not only with other spouses, but the active-duty members themselves. When my wife’s commander asked me to be a key spouse many many years ago, I was very hesitant to do it. Mostly out of ignorance of what exactly my responsibilities were going to be but also, I didn’t want to be the only guy doing it. Turns out we had another male key spouse within our group, and it quickly turned into 5 male key spouses and 3 females within our Group. I could go on and on and tell funny story after story about my 16 years as a male spouse but I can tell you the friends who became family and the countless families I have been able to positively effect have made it nothing short of a blessing.

Scotty M., Air Force Spouse

LET ME TELL Y'ALL

I am a PROUD Air Force Spouse (Ret), a PROUD Air Force Mama, and a current Air Force civilian employee. The Atkinson Family's Air Force chapter began in 1989...this is when we started "bleeding blue!" Let me tell y'all, our Air Force chapter was a roller coaster ride. The deployments took a toll. The PCS's took a toll. The lack of employment took a toll. Surviving on one paycheck took a toll. One year, my Spouse and I threw around the "D" word...yep, DIVORCE! Neither of us could afford a lawyer, so we purchased a "Do-it-yourself Divorce Kit." When the tolls became more than what either of us wanted to bear, we'd take the divorce kit from the top of the fridge and start filling it out. When we'd talk through our issues, we'd put the divorce kit back on top of the fridge. We repeated this cycle a couple years until we learned that communicating and talking through our issues was difficult, but communicating meant the divorce kit would be banished to the top of the fridge to collect dusk. We decided to toss the divorce kit in the circular file (trash can) and never mention the "D" word again. Did the issues disappear after that? Heck no! We still had issues, but we learned that communication was key to resolve the issues; it wasn't easy, but it was so worth it! My Spouse and I have been married for 32 years (28 of those years were spent in the Air Force)! #Yasssssss #AirForceWifeForLIFE

Bobbie A., Air Force Spouse (Retired)

INSTAGRAM VS REALITY

My husband has been in the Air Force for 19 years and I have been supporting his career for 14 years. While there are many benefits to Air Force life, it can also be overwhelming, challenging, and isolating at times. I have been a part of communities that made me feel included and welcome – and I have been a part of communities that made me feel completely disconnected. Instagram vs. Reality – right? Something I believe every military spouse can do is to leverage their skills, background, and experiences to provide a pathway to connection – with a bonus being a direct positive influence on the Air Force community. Home is where the Air Force sends us – but you should always be proud to showcase who you are and what you bring to the table – whether that table is in the TLF, at a TDY, or in a brand new location. The more we share as individuals, the stronger and more connected we are as a group.

Taryn C., Air Force Spouse

INVALUABLE FRIENDSHIPS

I have been an active volunteer in my base spouse club and key spouse program. What started as a way to make friends in a new area transformed into invaluable friendships, personal growth with public speeches, finding new talents I never imagined, and a sense of fulfillment giving back to my community. As a new SAH parent, I found getting involved with base organizations really filled my days, gave me all the friends with kids I never knew I needed, and filled my heart with joy.

Alley K., Space Force Spouse

A DIFFERENT JOURNEY

I was 26 years old when my husband enlisted. We were already married for 2 years and together for 4 when he left for boot camp. We were completely established with our own home, careers and civilian life when we decided together that him joining the Air Force was the best move for us and our future family. He has now been in for 13.5 years and we have enjoyed the adventure. It was challenging at first since most spouses with husbands at his rank were 5-7 years younger than us, and just starting out in life, we still made the best of it. My biggest advice is to get involved with your spouses squadron. After much hesitation, we finally went and little did I know this one decision would change my life for the better. I met the most incredible people and to this day, even with us living all over the country, we still keep in touch regularly.

Nichole D., Air Force Spouse

FINDING A WAY

My husband and I spent five years, over three duty stations, trying to have our first child. We were stationed at Scott AFB when we had our fifth miscarriage and started working with a specialist 4.5 hours away in Chicago. When we came up on the VML, my husband worked with his leadership and they found a way for us to stay at Scott. They cross flowed him into a new airframe. At great expense to the Air Force, he was only in the KC-135 for nine months. But for our family, it was enough time for our specialist to find our issue and give us a viable pregnancy. We are forever grateful to our leadership for finding a way to prioritize our family’s needs.

Anne P., Air Force Spouse

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