I am an Army brat. I have experienced the joys of adventuring across the country as a kid, and the fears of falling asleep with my dad fighting on the other side of the globe. Every time someone asks where I’m from, I have to do the whole awkward explanation, “well, you see, I lived a lot of places…” at which point their eyes glaze over and they wish they hadn’t asked me. Long story short, when my husband enlisted, I thought I knew everything.
Of course, I didn’t.
And I still don’t.
There are some things that will never change about the Army, whether you’re a dependent spouse or a dependent child. Parades, formal balls, big neighborhoods full of kids: some things never go out of style. But there are some things (most things) that are drastically different, depending on your relation to your sponsor. There are many facets of military life that I had to rediscover when I made the flex from Army brat to Army spouse. (In case anyone is wondering, being an Army spouse is better!) I wish someone would have helped me edit my picture of the Army life by telling me these three realities:
1. Expect Delays.
The Army is famous for it’s “hurry up and wait” policy. As a kid, I do remember gaps of time between my dad’s assignments, as well as cushions of time off between our moves. But those were pleasant delays. As a new Army wife, I experienced very quickly the other kind of delays. The kind of delays where your soldier finishes training, but has to stay on site to await his order. And he is told his orders will be ready within two weeks. But they are not. And so you are living states apart, just waiting. You get the point. It is agonizing, aggravating, and completely unavoidable. My advice: talk, talk, talk through everything. Sometimes, the delay is frustrating but you KNOW it’s going to end (like he WILL get orders eventually). Other times, the delay may be months long (due to injury, or a hold up with getting a clearance) and you have to consider new options (like moving to where he is).
2. Your paycheck is flexible.
While it’s true that anybody can google how much base pay your spouse is earning through the military, those numbers aren’t quite as set-in-stone as I originally thought. Yes, there is a consistent base pay that will not change under any circumstances. But there are many factors that go into the bonuses and deductions you will see on your LES. For instance, jump pay (for Airborne soldiers) is an add-on, however if his jump status becomes inactive, so will the bonus. Similarly, you should be receiving a BAS (food allowance) monthly, but if he is scheduled to eat at the facility on post while training, you won’t be receiving that BAS anymore. The good news: flexibility goes both ways! You can make more money than you initially expected, depending on what your soldier is and isn’t eligible for. For instance, if you live off-post, expect a BAH (housing allowance)! You can certainly rely on a steady influx of base pay, but pay attention to your LES each time your soldier begins or ends a training period or school, because things might change monetarily for you.
3. Being a soldier can get expensive.
Or in other words, his wardrobe might cost just as much as yours! While it is true that soldiers are initially issued the basic clothing necessities when they arrive at Basic Training, that’s definitely not all they will need for their careers. It’s not costly at all to switch patches and ranks as your solider earns promotions and enters various units. But the daily wear and tear on the uniforms adds up over time. There is the costs of dry cleaning and sewing, as well as boot/dress shoe polishing. Sometimes the uniforms need to be replaced, and other times they need to be adjusted depending on the unit. Do. not. get. me. started. on. packing. lists. If your soldier attends a camp or training program, he will have to purchase hundereds of dollars worth of equipment. He will need duplicates, he will need necessities, he will need duplicate necessities. Everything! And yes, occasionally your soldier will receive a clothing allowance, intended to help offset the cost. But it is extremely infrequent, and does not at all add up to the amount that he spends on his uniforms yearly.
None of the above “shockers” are a make-or-break deal for me with the Army. But they definitely took me by surprises, and added some time to my adjustment period from brat to spouse. If you’re a military spouse (or brat, or both), what took you by surprise when your spouse joined? Hopefully nothing too bad! Leave a comment below. Thanks for stopping by!