By Amanda Huffman
A lot of people think they know what military life is like. They don’t.
My husband is a military servicemember and many people I meet assume that my military service starts and ends with my husband’s. But I actually served in the military for six years myself before my husband and I decided to start a family. It was only when I left military service that I began to see the many stereotypes that military spouses face.
Even I thought I knew the challenges of military spouse life while I was serving because I was active in the spouses’ groups and had military spouse friends. But once I left the service and my role, I began to see how many different stereotypes military spouses face from not only those who have never served in the military but from military members as well.
And to be fair and honest, I have to admit that even I initially did not see what would be so challenging about military life. It seemed like it was pretty similar to the life I already had. But when my role as a servicemember was taken away, it was as if the blinders I had on faded away and, little by little, I learned how hard being a military spouse was. When they say, “you can’t understand it until you have walked it,” that’s certainly true about military spouse life.
When you leave the military and become a military spouse, you go from being your own person who can make your own choices to being a dependent. And by “dependent,” it means you are dependent on your servicemember for many basic things. At times, it can make you feel that your voice — and even the things you desire — do not matter.
When I was a servicemember and we picked a new assignment, I had a voice. When I left the military, my voice no longer mattered. And as my life changed and shifted, the mission of the military took priority. My role and my plans could often be thwarted by the military. I’m now aware of two things:
Military spouse life is hard.
Active-duty life is hard.
And I’m sure for other military services, such as the National Guard and Reserves, life is hard from both the servicemember and military spouse perspective.
The general public may not understand this, but it’s something they need to know and they need to stop identifying others by common stereotypes that put people into boxes that often make military life harder than it needs to be. Instead of building community, community breaks down because people assume military spouses are all women. People assume military spouses are not educated and only want to gain the benefits of military life. In reality, military spouses face the highest levels of both unemployment and underemployment because of the sacrifices they make as the move around the world.
People also need to understand that the typical stereotype of American servicemember is just that — a stereotype. I have interviewed hundreds of women who have served in the military for my podcast, Women of the Military, and none of them look the same. The number of times people have stopped me when I said, “I served,” and say, “You mean as a spouse?“ is more than I can count. I always follow up by explaining that even though I am currently a military spouse, I served six years in the military. I am a Veteran, too. But even then some people still do not seem to understand.
Now, I’m working to change the stereotype in my own family and by sharing my story and the stories of other women as part of my podcast. My two boys proudly tell people their mom served in the military. And, for a time, my oldest thought only women could be Veterans.
Last year on Veterans Day my friend sent me a picture her daughter had drawn of a Veteran. It was me. A woman. I did not even know that her daughter knew my story and that I was a Veteran. But she did and when she thought a Veteran she thought of someone who looked like her. It brought tears to my eyes.
I know I am only one person, but I believe that through telling my story and the stories of other women I can begin to make a change — where women are not an anomaly when it comes to military service but instead something children picture when asked to draw a Veteran and consider military service for their future.
When that day comes it will be pretty amazing.
Amanda is a military veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer who served on a combat deployment with the Army in Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career in the Space Force. Amanda is the host of the Women of the Military podcast. There she shares the stories of women who have served or are serving in the military. The podcast has over 200 episodes and over 100K downloads. Amanda is also an author and has published two books. Her first book, Women of the Military tells the stories of 28 military women who served in the military. Her second book, A Girl’s Guide to Military Service, is the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Winner for Teen Non Fiction. It is a guide for high school girls considering military service to help them build a strong foundation for their future career. She also works as a freelance writer and has been featured in a number of military publications including The War Horse, Military.com, Military Families Magazine, Clearance Jobs, Military Spouse Magazine, and more.
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