By Jaimi Erickson
When we received orders to move to the desert this year, I had mixed feelings. It put us far from family and in a very remote location. We had to make hard decisions about the kids’ school options, where we would live, and how we would adapt. Some fellow military spouses told me it was going to be a great experience. Others told me to brace myself.
There are great lessons to be learned from being stationed at the tough duty stations. Learning to thrive in these places can be a roller coaster ride. It is also be an opportunity to grow. Here are 5 things I learned from living in tough military duty stations:
1. Be a Joiner
It always helps me assess what I will like most — and least — about a place when I jump in and get involved. I sign up to join the spouse club at each base when we get there. It is a good step to take in order to meet new people. In some places I have learned that it is not the group for me. In other places it has been essential to meeting friends. The thing about military life is people always shift. The dynamic one year will be different the next.
Another idea for getting more informed about your new area is to take the spouse orientation course at your duty station. In the Marine Corps this is called LINKS. I took the course at our first two duty stations and even volunteered with the program for a time.
Learning about your spouse’s branch of service is a great way to appreciate what connects you to every other spouse at your base. We may not all become best friends, but we do go through very similar challenges in this life. Learning about those common threads helps me keep an open minded and humble perspective.
2. Bloom Where Planted
Embrace the life that a new, unique duty station can offer. We were stationed in the desert for three years. It was a quirky and tough place. Being so remote from most modern conveniences, we had to look deep for the special sites and events in our area. There are unique things to do and see at each place.
It may take a little searching, but when you settle in to a groove you can thrive anywhere. Maybe this means being very active outdoors in one tough place and being more of a homebody in another one. Be open to exploring what is special where you are.
Moving to a tough duty station can take you out of your comfort zone if it causes a shift in your usual pace of life. This actually can be a good “detox” or reenergizer. Life in one place does not have to look exactly the same in another. Bloom where you are planted and however you can.
3. Know That It Is OK to Dislike a Place
When you have given a duty station a good solid try, it is ok if it is not your favorite. I once had a neighbor that just despised our tough duty station. She was always friendly, fun to be around, but knew that location was not her favorite.
Everyone experiences each place in different ways We all have different personalities and interests. It is ok if you are not in a place that you love. The key is to explore a bit to know for sure. Don’t assume right away that it is not for you.
4. It is All Quality Family Time
Ultimately what will matter at the end of military service — and at a duty station — is the connectedness of your family. More than anything else, that is what lasts forever. We leave a place, people, enter into friendships, and fall out of them. Family is what we take with us no matter where we are.
Tough duty stations force you to reevaluate your family values. You have to seriously look at school options in many places. There may be more quality time at home because there is less to do in the area. Nothing is permanent. You can choose year-to-year and kid-to-kid what will work best. This can be a great growth experience for everyone.
5. The Great Duty Stations Feel Like Gifts
After having a tough time or hardship tour, the next place you land can provide a beautiful contrast. The great duty stations feel like gifts after a tough one. And while living in a tough place allows you to gain perspective, your favorite duty station will stand out in your mind. That leads to a lot of deep appreciation for the great experiences.
You may not want to go back to the tough duty stations. However, if you do PCS to those places again, I hope these tips will help you look at the whole experience through a positive lens.