4 Truths About Navy Life I Didn’t Believe Until They Happened to Me

4TRUTHS

Before my husband joined the service, we had a lot of sweepingly idealistic ideas of what Navy life would be like. We loved imagining exotic locales where we could be stationed; the idea of our children being world travelers before they were grown thrilled us; and we looked forward to constantly meeting new people from all walks of life. We decided moving every few years would be ‘exciting’; that being on our own would only make us stronger as a family; and then of course there were the undeniable ‘financial benefits’ like Tricare. In short, we were riding the Optimism Express as far as it would take us.

When experienced military members and spouses hinted at the more difficult aspects of military life, we shook our heads and swore that those things wouldn’t happen to us, or in the very least they wouldn’t affect us the same way. Now as I write this,  I can’t help but laugh at how many of the ‘warnings’ I heard from other military wives have come true for us in the last three years.

Here are four things Navy life brings that I was ‘warned about’ by other wives (but didn’t believe until they happened to me):

1. “You will never see your sailor during a sea tour.”

I heard this repeatedly after my husband first got his orders to a DDG home-ported in San Diego, and I can’t even express how much it bothered me back then. Wife after wife would warn me about the difficulty of sea tours, but I couldn’t get myself to embrace the sense of negativity surrounding the topic of ship life and its effect on families. I had already mentally prepared myself for the fact that he would deploy during that time, so I figured I had it handled.

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We are now two years into LTJG’s first sea tour and all I can say is ohmygoshtheyweresoright. The months leading up to my husband’s first deployment, he was at sea constantly for work ups and random underways. We were already burned out on goodbyes and transitions before we even reached the first deployment! When that six month deployment was followed by another three months at sea just a few weeks after they returned, we were hardly even phased (though you never really get ‘used to it’ because it stays so darn unpredictable). Today I got news of more upcoming underways, followed up by a call a few hours later telling me he wouldn’t be able to come home again tonight since he needs to be in so early for an inventory tomorrow (This happens all the time, by the way). Oiiii vey!

Long story short: Everything you hear about sea tours is true. Deployments are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how many separations you will go through, not to mention the insane work hours and duty schedules that go along with ship life. Just because the ship is home, does not mean your sailor is home (something very few of your civilian friends/family members will understand). I personally wish I would have listened more closely to those wives that tried to warn me, so that maybe I could have prepared myself by soaking up some of their wisdom on how to handle this insanity. Instead, I chose to exist in blissful denial, waiting for that first sea tour to slap me in the face. #stillhurts

2. “Your dreams will go on hold.”

All the rapid changes Navy life brings has made me feel like my life is being fast-forwarded. I find myself yearning for a wall where I can mark my children’s heights as they grow and know I can still touch that wall in two/ ten/ twenty years. I crave land to dig my hands into, to plant things that won’t reach maturity for a decade, knowing I’ll still get to see them, pick things from them, eat the work of my hands. I want to paint the walls any color I want. I want my kids to remember a home, not a blurry melange of places we called ‘home’ for a little while at a time.

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Some people are okay with not having those things, and I honestly thought I was one of them until I lived it. Other wives have put other things on hold for this life: careers, having kids, pursuing other personal dreams, living near family. Some people still do everything they want to do in spite of it, which amazes and impresses me, but feels so far beyond the madhouse that is our life in the Navy right now. I often wonder if I had really understood what those wives in the beginning were saying to me about their lives being on hold, if I would somehow feel less of a sense of loss when it became my turn to live it.

3. “Even non-combat positions change them.”

I naively assumed that because my husband was a Supply Officer that military life wouldn’t change him. It’s not like he was seeing combat, right? I assumed he’d stay the same genuinely optimistic, upbeat, endlessly energetic, loving, and hilarious man I knew. Now, I know that inside he is still that guy; but give the Navy enough time and I wonder how long I’ll be able to say that.

The combination of the daily high stress atmosphere, nights of 5 hours sleep or less, ship food, and separations have taken a visible toll on LTJG Hubs. Most nights after work he is so stressed that there is nothing more he’d like to do than to fall asleep at seven, and his threshold for hearing about anything else stressful is significantly lowered. Since joining the ship, his hair has gone from dark brown to what can affectionally be called “salt and pepper,” despite the fact that he is in his late twenties. It breaks my heart to see how chronically exhausted and on edge he is, yet he still tries so hard to be the best dad he can to our two boys so I don’t feel like I am parenting alone all of the time. Sometimes I have to ask myself: Is this really worth it for the toll its taking on him? Will he ever be “himself” again?

4. “The other wives you will meet are amazing.”

I didn’t doubt this one when I heard it so much as I wondered whether it would actually matter to me. After all, I already had some of the best friends a girl could hope for; friendships that had been tried and tested by distance and survived. I am so thankful, however, that I have gotten the opportunity to discover just how true this one is. I don’t know if I would have sought out the military community that I have if it weren’t for how hard the points above above are, and that means I wouldn’t have met the incredible, strong, inspiring and loyal women that I have met since we began this military journey.

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My fellow military wives are a constant source of strength and encouragement to me, and watching them overcome the trials and hurdles that military life throws their way shows me that I can do the same. They “get it” and they know when to commiserate and when to give me a kick in the right direction. Having met them, I have no desire to try and do this Navy life without them.

Now that I’ve come to see how true some of the things I heard were, I think it’s appropriate to share another ‘truth’ I discovered on my own through this Navy journey:

“Even if you sometimes have to fake it, you’ll find yourself making it.”

No, I don’t love military life all the time. Many days it feels like it has already stretched us beyond our limits, and I’ll temporarily lose any motivation to continue making the sacrifices that we do. And yet, the positive posts I’ve written on this blog about our Navy life are not fake, they just reflect another facet than this one. Because for me, it always comes down to this: My husband feels called to the Navy. Even on the days he hates it, he feels like he is where he is supposed to be. I have to trust that he knows what he is doing, and support him as long as I can. I know that if I really asked him to get out, he would. I know that. Instead, I hang on. I hang on for him and I pray when it’s rough and some days I cry and vent to friends/family and then I try to hang on a little longer, because as long as this is his dream I want it to be mine too.

And you know what? I find the more often I try and see the positives of military life, the more they become real for me. If that turns out to be the singular ‘truth’ about Navy life that I actually can control…I’ll take it.

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COMMENT BELOW:
What ‘truths’ did you hear about military life as a new military spouse? Did they end up being true for you?

27 thoughts on “4 Truths About Navy Life I Didn’t Believe Until They Happened to Me

  1. Awesome post, girly! The one thing I didn’t believe was that my husband would work a lot. Well, I knew he’d work a lot, but I figured since he was in a non deployable unit, I’d still see him on a daily basis so it wouldn’t be too bad. I was SO WRONG. With him being a police officer he works A LOT. Every event that happens on base, whether it’s a concert or an air show or whatever it may be, he HAS to work it. Even if it’s an off day. So I’m constantly having to go to on base events on my own or with friends. It kind of sucks, but he can usually get me into the event for free or get me VIP parking since he has those connections. So I guess it works out. Then he has to work weekends and holidays because of course we still need police on those days so while my friends were able to enjoy their husband’s time off for those things, I was celebrating by myself. Ugh. Such a reality check haha

    1. Exactly! I totally thought deployments were the big thing to be worried about, but its those constant, unpredictable separations that really wear on us because then we can’t make any plans or count on him really being there even though he is technically “home.” It’s hard to explain why we can’t hang out all the time to our civilian friends/family even though we totally miss them and want to because of this very thing!

  2. Stay positive! It’s what worked for me these past 18 years as a MilSpouse. It can be hard but equally rewarding. 💙⚓️

  3. Love this, all of these were truths for us in Army life. I’ve heard it said that military members age ten years with every tour, I think it’s true and it makes me so sad!

  4. Hi Mckenna,

    Great read, and you are a great writer! I can relate to everything you wrote. I can also can share it’s not much different on the civilian side. Mark spent 26 years serving his country. He now serves his country in a different way. The civilian sector life isn’t always better. When we are married to driven/passionate men who love God, people, and life and are always giving, it doesn’t change much once they are out. Travel, relocation, stress, and long hours, isn’t limited to the military. What is different? Not having the camaraderie, network, and support on the civilian side, is a true loss. The military supports WAYY more than you will ever realize, until it is gone! Enjoy these things…..the opportunities, the security of a job that truly makes a difference (all your sacrafices matter), and all the places and wonderful ppl you will meet….and then enjoy the beautiful small things; the smell of the flowers, the sound of the wind, the sound of the garage door opening when he comes home, and the smile on the babies face when they see him. Remember, we are married to eagles that soar, instead of ducks that quack!

    1. Thank you for sharing the perspective from the other side! I loved this: “When we are married to driven/passionate men who love God, people, and life and are always giving, it doesn’t change much once they are out.” So much truth and wisdom in that statement. I am doing my best to stay positive, but it is always a good reminder to be thankful for the little things in the midst of the chaos and crying babies! ;)

    2. Thank you for making this point. My husband was active duty for 24 years – he’s been retired for almost nine and in a lot of ways, Navy life was SO much easier! Yes, he had deployments when he was on the ship, but he also had isolated duty stations and we were overseas, which was GREAT, but makes seeing family hard. Think about doing that sea duty or overseas duty before e-mail and online shopping. To be honest, when Dave was on the ship and some of the younger wives would complain when the ‘net was down on the ship for 24 hours my standard reply was, ‘think about what it was like for our predecessors (Viet Nam, Korea, the WWs) to receive letters for MONTHS after they received the telegram or CACO visit.’

      It probably helped that I was in the Reserves, but I had never been active duty and had only been in two years before we married. Really not sure why anyone would not believe the wives who had been doing this for five, ten or twenty years….. are they really that naive?

      1. Ouch. I guess we can be ‘naive’ sometimes when we are new to the Navy and are still clouded by the romance of it all. I know I told myself that every sailor’s pipeline is different and that even if a wife who had been in for 20+ years said something it didn’t necessarily mean it would happen for us (i.e. while this sea tour has been particularly difficult for us, we know guys that were assigned to ships that won’t deploy for their entire sea tour). So I would tell myself we would be one of the lucky ones, and it took a while for me to wake up to the reality that the Navy was really throwing us through the ringer. I don’t think it would be nearly as challenging if we hadn’t had 2 boys in those 2 years, but all things considered I was pretty shocked at how difficult it’s been. If that is what you are suggesting is naive, than I guess I was!

  5. A great title that captures the feeling of “you don’t know until you’re in the thick of it!” I feel many people don’t think about #3. It’s a great addition to your list. This life opens many people’s eyes to things that can alter the way they view the world.

    1. Totally agree; there really is no way to really know what it will be like until you’re living it!

    1. It’s interesting how much I am hearing that these are applicable to every branch! Oh #militarylife

  6. This is a great article! I just married a Navy officer and for now we are lucky we don’t have deployments because he is a JAG on a base. But I know our next tour will be different. I’m trying to prepare myself.
    I think the moving and not having a place to really call your own is hard.
    But the support of the navy spouse community is amazing! It’s so nice to have such a great support system.

    1. I agree! Try not to worry too much about the upcoming tour and just enjoy getting to spend the time with him you have right now :)

  7. I am the wife of a retired army Sgt of 43 years. I want to say there are military wives and those who never accept it. Our husbands have chosen this as their career and you can either support it of fight them tooth and nail for all the reasons you mentioned. For the first 10 years of my married life I fought it. I hated it,his not being home for Mother’s Day,birthdays etc. Then I realized he chose this and if I loved him I would support this and join him in loving the military. This made all the difference in my perception of all the things that military life brings. It is no different for doctors wife’s, shift workers etc. my suggestion is to join them in their love of there career,get involved with other wives,help families of deployed families,develop your own hobbies and accept you are a military wife. Trust me the benefits are well worth it.

    1. I’m not sure if you read the conclusion of the post, but if you did than you know I agree whole heartedly. Although all the points I heard and wrote about DID turn out to be true, I concluded the post by saying that choosing to focus on the positive and embrace my husband’s dream is the best the truth I’ve found. Thanks for chiming in! It’s always great to hear from wives who have a lot of experience with this lifestyle under their belts :)

    2. Rosemary, you are spot on! I never fought it (I did cry most nights the year he was overseas without me), but we came up with so many great ways to deal with the separation. Although my husband retired almost nine years ago we had been on/near a Base until a year ago (he is a Federal employee) and I really feel cut off from that wonderful community. When we do have a reason to go on a Base (med appts an hour away, or the Commissary that is 45 minutes away, but still such a great deal it is worth it to go once a month), I feel like I am home. We didn’t got to a Commissary for the first several months and when we did it was an Army one…. I actually got tear in my eyes when we did go: I recognized everything and could find it more easily, besides there were the wonderful delicacies from Europe & Asia that they carry because we first had them overseas.

  8. So much truth! We’re coming towards the end of our first sea tour and we can’t wait until we’re on shore duty! We got extended an extra 7 months and that has been so frustrating especially for him. Work ups can be the pits, but lately, I’ve been calling the separation prep we shall endure. Everyone deals with it differently, but you got this!!

    1. On my husband’s first (and Thank You, LORD! only) six month cruise the ship ran aground, blocking all traffic in the Suez Canal for six hours. After being towed to Israel for emergency repairs, it came home six weeks late. We had been in official Count Down mode – I think that was the closest I’d ever seen wives to mutiny.

  9. Really great post…! I didn’t grow up as a military brat, but as expat brat and my dad was constantly travelling for work. Maybe not for months at a time, but my mom got us through it, spectacularly may I add. And with no support group! This whole military lifestyle is different for sure and why I’m trying to reach out to others like yourself through blogging, who understands what its like; who I can turn to when I am feeling down and all my friends just say, just get out! You don’t have to do this! But you know that’s not true, you do it because you love them…

  10. I married my husband in 1970 right out of his Navy boot camp. I was 16 and he was 19. No way, either of us were prepared for Navy life. He was stationed in San Diego aboard an LST. there days and weeks of training. He was here today and gone tomorrow. His ship left once for a three week deployment and didn’t return for three months. Anytime, I complained, he said that a wife was not issued with a seabag! I learned to deal with things at home. No money for a repairman, so I learned to fix it myself. We spent 4 1/2 years apart, seeing each other three weekends a month. He spent twenty two years in the Navy.,we have three children, and here it is 45 years later and I still wish he could take a six month deployment just for a break! When it was time for reelistment, it was his choice. I worked off and on when needed. I supported him all the way and wouldn’t go back and change a thing.

    1. YOU are a gold medal Navy Wife! We were so lucky that my husband only had one ship, but it had to do with his rate. He was a Corpsman and eventually became FMF (Navy Corpsman stationed with the Marines). Before we met he was in Diego Garcia for a year. For our second anniversary, I was mobilized for Desert Storm (I was a Reservist). The following year it took a year to get Base housing in GTMO (no off-Base housing available). Then to San Diego for training, for eight months – a First Class pulling duties like an E-3 because it’s a C school. Then he was off for Okinawa and we had to wait a couple of months because he was supposed to have a house before I came over. Then sea duty. Quantico was the best – really a normal schedule. Last was GTMO again (paradise!!!!), but I got mobilized for the second time in my career and my kids and husband went off to another country – thank goodness it was only for three months. When he retired and started working for the Navy as a civilian, he missed the next four Valentine’s Day/Anniversaries because there was a Conference every year at the same time….. obviously scheduled by men! And I echo you… I wouldn’t change a thing!

  11. These are true for other branches, too! I dated my husband for 7 years before we finally married. That included Boot Camp and his first 3 deployments. So you would think I knew what to expect going into a military marriage. But I didn’t. I had no connection to the spouse community during that time, so I think I had the same attitude you express here, that everything will be just fine and people must be exaggerating. After a few years you start realizing that every duty station is different and each will have its own challenges. I have learned to roll with the punches most of the time.
    Writing about some of my experiences has helped me reach out to the next generation of military spouses. I write a military blog called http://www.SeasonedSpouse.com.

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